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Could Nintendo’s Switch pack 1080p or 1440p support after all?

We’ve seen a rapid reappraisal of Nintendo’s Switch hardware in recent weeks. For months, scuttlebutt pointed to a Pascal-derived product, only for multiple sources to specify that no, Maxwell and the 20nm Tegra X1 was the basis for Nintendo’s next-generation device, rather than a 14/16nm Pascal SoC. Information on the screen has pointed to a consistent 720p, but a recent report claims that Nintendo will opt for something considerably higher-resolution.

Takashi Mochizuki, the Wall Street Journal’s Tokyo-based technology reporter, has published a series of tweets from Ace Research Institute analyst Ace Yasuda, who claims that Nintendo will use DisplayPort over USB-C to provide a 5Gbps connection for external video, and that the display will be a 1080p screen with a 1440p resolution target when the handheld is docked. His series of tweets is below:

TakashiTweets

The USB-C over DisplayPort tweet implies that the Nintendo Switch is using USB-C’s Alternate Mode for DisplayPort support with a USB 3.0 / USB 3.1 Gen 1 controller. The idea that the controller might feature a 1080p or 1440p screen is interesting — it’s possible that the displays on the developer units were initially 720p, but that Nintendo managed to source higher-resolution displays with resolution targets it found more appealing.

It’s also possible that the reason we’re seeing variable information about the Switch’s capabilities is because Nintendo plans to use upscaling to improve visual fidelity. Frankly, this is probably a smart move — it doesn’t cost nearly as much power to upscale content to a higher resolution target than it does not natively render it in that mode to start with, and if the rumors we’ve seen on CPU and GPU clock speeds are true, the Switch won’t have a lot of horsepower to spare when running in tablet mode. Game developers might have the option to target 720p (native tablet resolution) or upscale a 540p output to 1080p. Once docked, the system could increase its clock speed and upscale 720p to 1440p for 4K televisions.

Instead of arguing over the relative merits of 720p vs. 1440p, I’d suggest thinking about the Switch as a set of competing interests that Nintendo has to balance. It has to keep its own costs low to make the Switch attractive at its price point. It has to keep battery life reasonable. It needs to offer enough performance in handheld mode to make people want to play its console on the go, and it needs to offer enough performance in docked mode to allow it to demonstrate superiority over the Wii U. If you told me that Nintendo used a 720p in its tablet, I’d believe it. If Nintendo unveils a Switch with a 1080p display, I’d believe that, too. The question at this point isn’t “Could Nintendo build a tablet with X resolution?” it’s “What set of clocks and features did Nintendo decide to target?”

Even the question of whether or not the Switch can easily push 1440p ultimately comes down to what kinds of games Nintendo wants to build. Just as the PS4 Pro can push native 4K in some titles but uses checkerboard upscaling in others, Nintendo will have a range of resolutions and capabilities for its next-gen SoC. With a 256:16:16 core configuration, Maxwell isn’t going to push some amazing 1440p experience, but there’s no reason simple, lightweight titles couldn’t hit those targets. Ultimately, I don’t think it’ll matter much. Not many people will decide to buy or not-buy a Switch based solely on whether it outputs in 720p, 1080p, or 1440p.

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