Exploring the Future of Racing Sims and Gaming with 4K
It appears that the future of gaming may be upon us and it wears the name “4K.” With four times the numbers of pixels on the screen, all your games are supposed to look extra crisp and all those little details will stand out in the distance. Imagine how much better a game like Forza Motorsports or Gran Turismo would be if they looked even better.
Two of the latest and greatest racing games out right now, Grid Autosport and Next Car Game, both are 4K ready, and I wanted to see if there really was a big difference in how it feels to play a racing game with a setup like this.
I was able to snag a 4K resolution monitor from the fine folks at Asus, and I got to work. With the cost of 4K monitors still high, is this something anyone should consider?
Check out the future of gaming in 4K after the break.
A look at the games
For this look at 4K gaming, I have a pair of racing games to look at. Both games are supposed to be 4K ready, and should give me the fewest issues with use.
Grid Autosport is the latest game from Codemasters, and is the third game in the Grid series. Codemasters is the team behind the Dirt series, and the yearly F1 releases. Grid Autosport is a racer that splits the middle ground between full simulation racers like Gran Turismo and wild arcade games like Need for Speed. As it is a brand-new release, it has some of the sharpest-looking graphics we have seen from a racing game that was created for last-generation consoles.
Next Car Game is a new game that is still in development from the team at Bugbear Entertainment. Bugbear is the company that created some of the best arcade racers of the last few years with titles like Ridge Racer Unbounded and the FlatOut series. They were also the masterminds behind the classic rally sim, Rally Trophy. Next Car Game is a modern take on the type of aggressive and destructive racing style of the FlatOut series. It is being built from the ground up to take full advantage of next-generation hardware in consoles as well as the power of the PC. The game should be one of the best-looking racers, and with all the detail built into the destructible car models, it should look great in 4K resolution. The only downfall is that it is an early access game. This means that the game is still in a beta form and is not completely finished so there may be some quirks and bugs to deal with.
A look at our hardware
Of course, you need a 4K monitor to actually play games at 4K so we are using the Asus PB287Q.
If you have read some of my other game reviews, you are probably familiar with my test PC the Moebuilt Mk 2. To do this test I had to make some upgrades, and Asus was willing to help make it happen. Since 4K is four-times as many pixels on screen at one time than normal 1080p, it takes four times as much power to get the same gaming experience. Since my old video card wasn’t able to push that much data, Asus sent me a Strix GTX 780 6GB video card. This card is one of the fastest gaming cards on the market and was easily able to handle our two test games at 4K resolutions.
Of course, you need a 4K monitor to actually play games at 4K so we are using the Asus PB287Q. Don’t mind the silly name, all you really need to know is that this is one of the only 4K monitors on sale today that is designed to be great for gaming. It has a full 60 Hz refresh rate and a 1ms response time. It has been garnering tons of awards from some of the biggest names in the business since it was announced, and it should give us the best experience for our test.
When playing Grid Autosport, it made everything look so unbelievably sharp especially objects in the distance.
From the moment you get it set up, it is obvious that this is the future of the PC and gaming. Everything looks so incredibly crisp that you can’t quite believe you are looking at a PC monitor. Think about your fancy new smartphone screen that is so crisp you can hold it inches from your face and still not see any pixels. Now make that thing 28-inches and set it on your desk. You get the idea.
When playing Grid Autosport, it made everything look so unbelievably sharp especially objects in the distance. This actually made it better for me on certain tracks as I could more clearly see the track ahead to prepare for braking points and more. Normally for most games, increased graphics doesn’t really alter the game aside from making it nicer to look at while playing. Because of the nature of a racing game, being able to see farther ahead in crisper detail helped my gaming tremendously.
I had a very hard time trying to capture identical images during an actual action sequence, but you can see here in the starting-grid photo how the resolution changes the details of things. If you look closely at the Mercedes you can see that the edges of the rear spoiler are crisp and smooth on the 4K side, but jagged on the 1080p side. You can see the same increase in quality when looking at the small brackets mounted on the bumpers. Still again, the most important increase for me, you can see in the balloons. On the 4K side, the balloons are visibly sharp and crisp, while on the 1080p side they are merely blobs of color. When you are blasting down the track at 100-plus mph, that crispness makes all the difference.
The entire game feels like it was built from the ground up to be played in 4K. The menus all scale perfectly, the graphic details and textures are all 4K ready, there are no problems or issues in any way playing Grid Autosport in 4K.
Grid Autosport looks great in 4K, but the differences are subtle. With the Next Car Game, the differences are massive. In this menu shot from the Next Car game you can see that every surface gets crisper in 4K and there is a lot more detail. From the tread on the tires, to the scratches in the windshield, there are tons of extra details. You also see a lot better aliasing performance in 4K. Aliasing is the issue where angles lines appear jagged. If you look at some of the straight edges in the photo, the 1080p side appears very jagged while the 4K side has everything looking very smooth.
To get an even better idea of the difference, take a look at this zoomed in photo of the windshield.
Unlike Grid Autosport, this increased graphic fidelity doesn’t really do much to enhance the overall gameplay. Instead, it just serves to make the game more enjoyable by way of eye candy. Being able to see more detail in the crushed sheetmetal of you and your competitors is really cool and makes the game feel more real, but you won’t have any real advantage by opting up to 4K resolutions.
One of the largest issues with 4K is a problem called scaling. If your program or game is not built to display 4K content it will most likely make everything really small. Basically, since the program can’t show you four-times more pixels than it did before, it just makes everything four-times smaller.
While Grid Autosport runs perfectly in 4K, I ran into some issues with Next Car Game menus. You can see very plainly here in the screenshot of the Next Car Game’s main menu that the 4K side has very tiny menu pieces and bars while the menus on the 1080p are relatively massive. If your eyes are good this may not seem like too much of an issue, but that smaller icon is not only harder to see, it is much harder to click on.
The Asus PB287Q is very affordable in the grand scheme of 4K monitors, but with an MSRP of $699, it is far from what I would call “cheap."
This is not just an issue with Next Car Game. Windows in general will give you this issue. Everything becomes so small you can barely click on it. This image of three desktops laid on top of each other gives you an idea of what I mean. The 4K monitor is only 1-inch larger than my 1080p monitor, but look how much “larger” it is in comparison. To get that look, Windows just shrunk everything and it is all very hard to click on or read.
This will get better with time as more people buy UHD monitors, more companies will make their content 4K ready. For now though, it is something to be aware of.
Price is also a sore spot for this scenario. The Asus PB287Q is very affordable in the grand scheme of 4K monitors, but with an MSRP of $699, it is far from what I would call “cheap." You run into the same issue with the graphics card. That Strix GTX 780 that Asus loaned to me is what I would call a minimum level for good 4K gaming, and it carries a price tag of $599 right now. That means that just to get the hardware to start 4K gaming, you are out $1,300. Ouch.
This is my least favorite part of using the 4K monitor for normal tasks. While some programs will scale to be much smaller on 4K, there are other programs that don’t get smaller at all, they just make everything larger to fit. This makes everything look very grainy and awful. Sadly, this is not something that easily shows up in screenshots and photos but it is easy to notice. Think about when you zoom into a photo on the internet and it gets blocky and fuzzy. Now imagine if every website you went to on the internet looked like that. You can see how this is an issue.
Just like the small-size scaling issue, this will get better with time, but it is something to make a note of.
There are some issues, and it is very obvious that there are few hurdles to overcome before using a 4K monitor for everything, all the time, is a viable option. That said, playing games in 4K is amazing. At first I just assumed that it would all look a little nicer, but I wouldn’t care much or think it was that much better than normal 1080p. I could not have been more wrong. I have to send this monitor back to Asus in a few days, and already I am looking at getting one for myself. The difference it made in my racing on Grid was beyond belief. Being able to see the destruction on cars in Next Car Game was the coolest thing I have seen in a video game in a long time.
If you think 4K is nothing but a gimmick, I’ve got news for you. You. Are. Wrong.
4K resolution is hands-down the next step in the evolution of gaming and I can’t wait. Now, does anyone want to loan me a few hundred dollars?