Microsoft Reportedly Relaxing Xbox One Kinect Requirements, Giving GPU Power A Boost

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News Posted: Sun, Jan 26 2014 5:30 PM
News from gaming insider Pete Doss is that Microsoft is mulling significant changes to the restrictions it places on developers regarding the Xbox One's GPU. Reportedly, some 10% of total GPU horsepower is reserved for the Kinect -- 8% for video and 2% for voice processing. Microsoft is apparently planning changes that would free up that 8% video entirely, leaving just 2% of the system's GPU dedicated to voice input.

If Microsoft makes this change, it could have a significant uplift on system frame rates -- and it's not clear that developers would necessarily need to patch the architecture to take advantage of the difference. Generally speaking, in the PC realm, swapping between two GPUs within the same architectural family doesn't require a driver update provided both cards were covered in the previous driver.

It's not clear how flexible the Xbox One is in this regard, but early adopters might see benefits from this change without even needing to update their software (past the patch that releases the additional resources). The reason for the shift is almost certainly the fact that the Xbox One has gotten chewed on by the PS4 over variance in frame rate. The details vary from game to game, but in the recently-released Tomb Raider (for both PS4 and Xbox One), multiple independent reports indicate that the Xbox One is running closer to 30 FPS, while the PS4 is pushing 60 FPS.

Is 8% Enough To Matter?

Generally speaking, yes. 10% is considered the rough marker for noticeable improvements, though this can vary depending on what form the speed improvement takes. The eye is very sensitive to changes in rate-of-movement, which is why latency hitches and jerks are far more annoying than a steady slow frame rate. Most people will take a constant 30 FPS over a 40 FPS average frame rate that bounces between 20 and 60 FPS, and this sensitivity is why -- our brains evolved to notice sudden changes in motion because it's one of the best ways to avoid being something else's lunch.



But what Microsoft is also tacitly admitting with this move is that the Kinect just isn't important to people the way it wanted it to be. Giving developers the freedom to use the extra horsepower sucked down by the Kinect is a good thing for developers and gamers, but it also means that at least these first games aren't using the Xbox hardware to create the kind of alternative gaming environments Microsoft wanted.

It also may be a sign that coders are having trouble ringing full power out of the Xbox One in general. Digital Foundry recently did a test of the 13GB Dead Rising 3 patch, with extensive performance comparisons before and after the patch was applied. Despite the developer's promises, they found no significant differences between the two in gameplay or in cut-scenes.

The gap between the GPU performance of the Xbox One and PS4 isn't sufficient, on its own, to explain why the PS4 is pushing 60 FPS while the Xbox One can't manage much above 30 FPS. We suspect that these issues are tied to the difficulty of leveraging the Xbox One's SRAM as compared to the PS4's unified approach. Future titles should exhibit less of a gap as developers get their legs underneath them and learn the system architectures. 
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DanBorin replied on Sun, Jan 26 2014 5:54 PM

Silly consoles. When will they ever learn

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semitope replied on Sun, Jan 26 2014 6:41 PM

"our brains evolved to notice sudden changes in motion because it's one of the best ways to avoid being something else's lunch. "

evolution garbage on a flipping tech website. wow.

 

The ps4 has a GPU that is 50% more powerful, doesn't it? I mean, even if they get the memory configuration of the xbox one down, I think the gap is large enough for these differences to remain. The developers might prefer optimizing for 30 fps on the xb1 because it doesn't quite reach 60 fps on the regular. All they might end up with is a game that does 45fps and may dip low enough for the change to be noticeable, so they put it at 30. On the ps4 they might get a situation where it gets 60fps regularly and the dips don't pass 50 fps. 

We should not forget that the ps4's processor is also supposedly faster than the xbox one's processor. 

What I am curious about is why they are not used to the ram configuration on the xb1. Its similar to that on the xbox 360, isn't it? One thing that might come out of this is a kinectless xb1. Lower price as well. 

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Joel H replied on Sun, Jan 26 2014 7:42 PM

Semitrope,

"The ps4 has a GPU that is 50% more powerful, doesn't it?"

The PS4's GPU is 50% more powerful than the Xbox One's in terms of raw throughput, yes, but GPU performance rarely scales perfectly linearly. Even if it did, a 50% performance gap would be 45 FPS for the PS4, 30 FPS for the Xbox One. Reports of the PS4 running at 60 FPS suggest that other factors are in play here.

Also, you have that backwards -- Microsoft shipped the Xbox One's CPU at 1.76GHz versus 1.6GHz for the PS4.

The RAM configuration on the Xbox 360 was significantly different than the Xbox One, but we can't comment much past that. The Xbox One's EDRAM cache isn't fully understood at this point in time. It exists to boost performance, but it's not clear exactly how the CPU and GPU address it.

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RWilliams replied on Sun, Jan 26 2014 11:36 PM

It was so hard reading this over my GTX 780 laughing its ass off. Since when did NVIDIA start shipping its GPUs with butts???

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semitope replied on Mon, Jan 27 2014 1:48 AM

@Joel H

I realize its not one to one but the difference is not just 50% more GPU. there is more bandwidth among other things. My guess is that the ps4 will be more able to maintain higher framerates and will end up with more 60fps games as a result. The dips will be less severe than those on the xbox in addition to the lower framerate on the xbox. Think one article quoted that the ps4 did not drop very much from 60fps while the xb1 version only reaches 45 in less active scenes.

The PS4 might have a faster CPU. the clock speed has not been announced and there have been reports that benchmarks show the PS4 CPU performs better.

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=737629&page=23

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xpox poop

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It serves Microsoft---right, to have this problem;since,they "CHEAPENED" the internal components..compared to what their competitor(Sony) put in their console unit. I saw this way back,when internally both systems were "compared".

And the "fact" that Infinity Ward ..who makes COD:Ghosts--stated that the PS4 could support 1080P at 60FPS,and that the Xbox One...could NOT;and,had to drop down to 720P to get that 60 FPS.

I even spoke to a Microsoft Tech and asked him "Why",did Microsoft do this...there was dead silence;then, he responded with:"I....don't know". I said to him:"You mean to tell me that..knowing what your competitor would have internally,your bosses decided to "lessen" the video support within the Xbox One...and you say to me..that you don't know?!?!"

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acarzt replied on Mon, Jan 27 2014 2:10 PM

A tech is going to be the low man on the totum pole... No tech is ever involved in the decision making. How can you expect him to know what the engineers designing the hardware were thinking? Microsoft is a big company, and departments aren't going to be sharing information 100% of the time.Things like this are need to know only.

Anyway, who really cares? They picked a design, they stuck with it and developed around it. Now we have the Xbox One the way it is. Technology changes too frequently and they can't just suddenly change the design halfway through. Changes like that push back release dates, and then newer and better hardware comes out and they would have to change everything again to keep up.

Look at what happened to Duke Nukem Forever, they changed engines twice during development and the game kept getting pushed back.

If you want cutting edge hardware and graphics, buy a PC.

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Joel H replied on Mon, Jan 27 2014 4:34 PM

That's an interesting story. Doesn't necessarily prove anything about underlying performance -- even if the Sony consoles are clocked higher or have more resources devoted to the game, the size of the gap between the two consoles points to something being unoptimized on the MS side more than it suggests an advantage that large for Sony.

It really *is* a matter of degree. Tell me that the PS4 is 20% faster than the Xbox One, and I can buy that. Tell me that it's 2x faster, and that's not just going to be the hardware -- the software isn't optimized, most likely. That's particularly true given that both chips have a GCN GPU and the same CPU. Bandwidth *could* explain it, but I'd bet it's a combination of bandwidth *and* poor cache utilization.

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RiCoFrost replied on Mon, Jan 27 2014 5:48 PM

All in all the xbox still looks awesome. Its a marked improvement from xbox 360. Both consoles are a marked improvement.

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@semitope

I'm sorry that any mention of the theory of evolution is scary to you.

To make sure that you don't experience any discomfort in the future, we will be visiting you and removing any advancements based on science.

Enjoy you blessed science free existence, in animal skins and stone tools.

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