Multiplayer: Do Not Adjust Your TV Set

Gamers can keep their standard TV sets — for now, at least.

There's nothing wrong with my TV. And, I'm guessing, there's nothing wrong with yours.

Over the last couple of years, major video game companies have promoted the idea that we now live in the Microsoft-coined "HD Era." In this gaming age, apparently, a high-definition TV is required to appreciate cutting-edge games on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

That's what I've been told. But I recently stopped believing my ears and instead started trusting my eyes.

A couple of years ago, representatives from game publisher Capcom showed me an early build of the company's zombies-in-a-shopping-mall game "Dead Rising" for the Xbox 360. They were showing me something that couldn't be made on an older game console. There were too many detailed zombies rendered on the screen and too many loose items on mall store shelves for me to pick up and swing at the undead. Like every Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game I've ever been shown in a game company demo, "Dead Rising" was displayed on a high-definition set.

Last summer "Dead Rising" came out, and I played it at home. I saw everything I'd seen at the demo event. But I was playing on my standard-definition TV set, the one I bought in 2001.

Then last fall I played "Gears of War," a game I'd been shown in HD many times before. One thing the developers liked to show off was how you could walk up to a brick wall during a storm and see rain glistening each individual brick. Guess what I saw when I tried that out on my SD set? The same thing.

Some of my friends thought I was being stubborn and maybe a little cheap because I wasn't going out to buy an HD set. I told them that it didn't look like I needed to. Technically there is a difference between the two technologies: SD sets display as little as a sixth of the pixels of an HD set, which means that an SD set will never be able to show as much detail at as grand a scale as an HD one. Watch a sportscast in either format and the difference in how real the athletes look will pop right out. But when it comes to game graphics, we're not talking about ones that can make characters look even as good as the actors on old '80s TV shows appeared when I watched them two decades ago. Why should I need HD?

My hunch was that video game graphics still had a lot of room to improve on standard sets and that the "HD era" didn't need to be enjoyed only on HD sets. "Gears," and more recently the photorealistic "MotorStorm" on PlayStation 3, seemed to be proving me right.

Last week I found an unlikely ally: Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, the company behind "Gears of War." He was in New York to demonstrate "Unreal Tournament III" — a game that, like "Gears," is designed to bowl over players with industry-leading graphics. I pegged Rein for an "HD-era" guy. I asked him what he thought of my love for my SD set. He told me, bluntly, that I was right. He told me Microsoft's marketing pitch about HD sets being needed to appreciate HD visuals was an overstatement.

"The amount of crap that can go on in the scene isn't defined by the monitor, it's defined by the graphics capabilities," he said. "I think Microsoft made a mistake when they tied Xbox 360 so much into HD TV. What they should have done — it's complicated jargon, but they should have talked about high-definition visuals and high-definition TVs as separate things. Yes, the high-definition TV will improve the look of the high-definition visuals, but you still get much higher-definition visuals on Xbox 360 than you do on Xbox or PS2. Much higher."

I was ready to walk away and declare victory for us salt-of-the-earth folk still playing games on old TVs. But Rein wasn't done. "In actual fact, the apparent resolution goes way up on an SD TV," he continued. "Because what is ultimately happening is the picture is being down-sampled." He was getting technical and starting to lose me. He told me to imagine looking at a really detailed picture on my computer and then shrinking the window the picture is in. The image would look even better than an image initially made for the smaller window.

I thought he was just trying to butter me up. Following that argument, "Gears" and other games should look even better on my TV than on a big HD set. Not quite, he said. To see "Gears" on a big set in as much detail as I see it on mine, I would need a high-definition TV. " 'Gears' looks every bit as good on an HD TV as it does on your TV, except there's more of it."

So there you go. A man whose company is based on providing gamers with product that has great graphics says it is OK for me to stick with my 2001 TV. Take solace, old TV people, we're not as wrong as the marketing folks said we were.

— Stephen Totilo

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