Red Dead Redemption II in 4K has received almost universal praise for being one of the best-looking games seen to date, notwithstanding Rockstar’s misguided attempt to pass off SDR as HDR. But what if you’re playing RDR2 on a 1080p screen? The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro both downsample to create improved 1080p images. How does RDR2 fare after it’s been downsampled? Digital Foundry took a look.
Red Dead Redemption II in 1080p on an Xbox One X
The One X story is simple. Microsoft’s premier console is the only one that renders RDR2 in full 4K (3840 x 2160). Mapping a native 4K image into 1080p (1920 x 1080) is straightforward because 4K has exactly four-times as many pixels as 1080p. Each pixel in the downsampled 1080p image is created from the 4 equivalent pixels in the 4K render to produce a higher-quality picture than you’d get with a direct render in 1080p.
The Xbox One doesn’t tell the game whether it’s being played on a 4K or 1080p screen which prevents Rockstar from building a dedicated 1080p version of RDR2 for the One X. This is probably a moot point as the One X’s straight four-to-one downsample from 4K to 1080p is as good as you’re likely to get.
Red Dead Redemption II in 1080p on an PS4 Pro
The story isn’t nearly as simple for the PS4 Pro. The Pro tells the game whether it’s being played on a 1080p or 4K screen. Rockstar used this information to build a version of RDR2 that renders in native 1080p (1920 x 1080). Thus players with 1080p screens can choose between the straight 1080p render or a version that’s downsampled to 1080p from the higher resolution render used to create 4K on the Pro. Supersampling must be toggled on to access the downsampled version.
Sony’s console isn’t powerful enough to render RDR2 in full 4K. Instead, it skips every other vertical line and renders at 1920 x 2160, half the size of the One X’s native 4K. Still, the 1920 x 2160 render has twice as many pixels as a native 1080p render. A two-to one downsample on the Pro isn’t as good as the four-to-one downsample on the One X but it’s better than no downsampling at all, right? Maybe not. It’s complicated.
The Pro uses something like a checkerboarding technique to construct a 4K image. The reconstructed 4K image is then downsampled to 1080p. The technique used to scale from 1920 x 2160 up to the Pro’s version of 4K produces unwanted visual artifacts which is why some people don’t like checkerboarding. The artifacts are enhanced when the 4K reconstruction is downsampled to 1080p.
Rescaling twice to produce a downsampled 1080p image has mixed results. On the one hand, some features are a bit sharper because the 1080p image was created from a higher resolution render. On the other, side-by-side comparisons of the straight and downsampled 1080p images show the downscaled version looks a little softer and blurrier in some scenes.
Choosing native 1080p or downsampled 4K also affects performance. RDR2’s frame rate is capped at 30 fps and all the consoles hit the target when the player is out in the country. The Pro’s 4K version tends to run slightly below 30 fps in heavily populated towns and cities. The drop isn’t large and it only happens in high-stress scenes involving fast movement or a lot of NPCs. Still, it’s there when RDR2 is played on a 4K TV or downsampled for a 1080p screen. The native 1080p version avoids the frame rate problem with a solid lock on 30fps. Drops below 30 fps on the One X are so rare in both full 4K or downsampled 1080p that they’re not worth worrying about.
The One X is easily the preferred console whether you’re playing Red Dead Redemption II in 4K or 1080p. Performance is slightly but consistently better and the game looks strikingly better in 4K and noticeably better in 1080p.
PS4 Pro players with 1080p screens have a choice to make. The straight 1080p version has consistently better performance in towns although the advantage over the downsampled version is not great. The 1080p visuals are a mixed bag. Some features are sharper in the downsampled version, but the overall image is a bit blurrier. Check out both versions to see which one you like best.
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