I Don’t Expect a 4K Nintendo Switch

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

It’s been talked about for years, and the latest rumors are that an upgraded Switch console is coming soon, this time really just adding that this new Switch will have a slightly bigger display and will upgrade from LCD to OLED. This has sparked my interest in thinking about what this mythical device is going to do.

One thing that gets thrown around a lot is that this is going to be the model that plays games in 4K, and my position on this is no, absolutely not. Most games on the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles don’t even run at 4K, and even high end PC gamers tend to cap out at 1440p, so expecting a portable console like the Switch to pull this off is a bit of a dream, in my opinion.

When we look at the state of games on the Switch today, there’s still so much room for growth at the existing 1080p max.

First off, most Switch games don’t run at 1080p in the first place; in portable mode some games run at 480p, which is the same as same as GameCube games from 2001. A more powerful processor would better be used at simply getting games to run at 1080p in docked mode and 720p in handheld. Higher would be great, but let’s hit the current target before thinking about multiplying the pixel count by 4x or more.

Second, frame rates on a lot of games are 30fps (or lower) when they are 60fps on other platforms. I think about Apex Legends, Fortnite, Doom Eternal, and many more cross-platform gams that are technically on Switch, and their conversions are achievements, but they’re harder to play (especially competitively) at lower frame rates from everyone else. Hell, even Nintendo’s own Bowser’s Fury game runs at 30fps which is very unusual for a Mario game in the past few decades.

And finally, there is general level of detail in games. Games built only for the Switch often do a good job of using assets that look good on the Switch, but most third party games look rough on the platform. It was one thing in 2017 when the Switch launched, and it’s only gotten worse since then. At this point, if a game is available on Switch and any other console/PC, I’m going to get the non-Switch version because the graphical downgrade is just too much and makes me feel like I’m playing a less-than version of said game.

So do I want a more powerful Switch? Absolutely! I just think that some parts of the press (specifically the tech press/pundits, not gaming press) treat resolution as the top indicator for how good games look, when this is far from the case. If Switch games were seen as lagging behind other game consoles by only doing 1080p games at 60fps, then I’d be on board that a mid-gen upgrade should increase the output resolution, but as I’ve argued above, the max resolution is not the limit on Switch games right now.