Upscaling vs Native 4K: What’s the Difference?

In the wake of Sony’s announcement of their Pro version of the PS4 supporting upscale 4K, and Xbox also pulling out the supposed upscale 4K with their One S, it begs the question, what exactly is upscaling and how is it different to native 4K resolution?

digital_video_resolutions_vcd_to_4k-svgFirst of all, what is 4K? 4K basically refers to a display resolution of 4000 pixels horizontally and 2000 pixels vertically. Right now the industry standard for consumers is 1080p, which refers to 1920 pixels horizontally and 1080 pixels vertically. What this means is basically a resolution that’s nearly four times the detail of today’s industry standards.

Native 4K is still in it’s infancy and thus very expensive to maintain, as you need a powerful PC rig to output at 4K natively, not to mention having a monitor/TV that is capable of displaying 4K. Therefore, that’s where the current technological trends for gaming lies; in upscaling.

This begs the question: what’s the difference between native and upscaling?

Upscaling is simple: it means taking a source that isn’t full resolution, and outputting it to a full resolution source. Essentially, it’s mimicking 4K resolution without the original source being 4K. For video games, stretching a 1080p game to four times the resolution will obviously come out badly, so what current technology allows for is ‘interpolation’. Interpolation refers to a mathematical standard where the original source is filled with intermediate pixels to fill the dead space, therefore upscaling the image to a 4K standard. It’s not always accurate, and simulating the missing pixels come at a cost of additional blurriness and colour loss. Because the amount of detail remains the same in both images, it should be noted that upscaling 4K won’t improve upon the detail that much.

On the other side of the coin is nNative 4K. Native 4K is simple enough: it’s basically the original source that’s already at a 4K quality standard. Walk into any electronics good store and notice the crispness of the demos running on any 4K television: this is 4K native content, built specifically to show off the full resolution of 4K, and there is no way your Xbox One S or PS4 game will look as clear as that, not yet anyhow. Don’t be fooled by the fancy tech: 4K for gaming as an industry standard is at least a generation away.

Generally, the closer you are to a screen, the more details you can pick out, and therefore there is a sense of diminishing returns the further away you are from your TV/monitor. Even with 20/20 vision, sitting five minutes away from a 60 inch 4K TV won’t make enough difference to justify the purchase. The leap from Blu-Ray to 4K is also less of a leap that standard definition to HD was.

Both the Xbox One S and the PS4 Pro have 4K upscaling capabilities, while the rumoured Xbox Scorpio will have native 4K capabilities.


4K upscaling is actually useful as a backwards compatibility measure, as games and older media do end up looking clearer and better than the original resolution. Upscaling is also a perfectly reasonable stopgap, as native 4K is still a while away.

In the end, it’s just another step in the progress towards better graphics, smoother performance and higher resolutions. 4K TV prices are quickly dropping so it looks more and more likely that 4K will soon become the industry standard.


In the end, both offer upscaling 4K, but the One S does offer media playback of physical 4K content like UHD Blu-Rays, while the PS4 Pro only supports 4K streaming. However, there have been confirmed reports of games that will run natively 4K on PS4 Pro (such as Elder Scrolls Online and The Last Of Us), which will look far superior with a native 4K resolution. While neither console provides the perfect 4K experience, it seems the PS4 Pro has the slight edge by providing native 4K resolution for at least a few games.

  1. 5 minutes ==> the writer wants to say 5 feet away, which for a 60 inch TV means very close, from where you can actualy see the pixels and from where the resolution does matter.
    We should pardon the writer because it was writen more than a year ago. For 2018 standards native 4K already makes sense as Netflix (for example) started to stream 4K already. 4K games exists and are many and the blue-rays 4K becomes cheap.
    Thanks for the explanation between the native and native. This is what I was searching for.

  2. So a Custom PC with a high end graphics card over 1K, can’t push 4K over 60 fps, how do they expect $400 consoles to push 4K content ?

    1. Ah, there’s the rub. Some people are just pissed that they spent a small fortune on their high end PC’s and now a $400 console passes them up and they cant handle it, so they say it isn’t possible.

      1. Watch all the reviews, ahaha, it really definitely isn’t possible, especially with an AMD GPU. Top kek.
        no games even stay on 4k atm, when it does its under 30 fps, most of the games can’t even hit 60fps on 1440p. good joke.
        “4k consoles” was just a marketing scheme to sell 4K TV’s and monitors, and its working. Next gen consoles will most definitely be able to, but that’s a decade away.
        Console peasants trying to talk smack, I own all consoles and a PC, best of both worlds, but i won’t lie to myself that a console is better than a custom PC. You can keep telling yourself otherwise.

        1. Um, no. Not even a little bit. Just no. The RX 480 can play quite a few 4K games for under $300 at 30 – 60FPS. What’s wrong with AMD by the way? True 4K consoles are coming, in a very long time. And even then, the price of a 4K TV will far exceed a PC that performs similarly, especially with AMD releasing PC processors for under $400 with top of the line i7 performance.

  3. There is a major difference between xbox one s and ps4 pro

    The GPU is 2xs stronger

    So yes while xbox one s and ps4 pro cann both upscale, the xbox one s will be upscaling from 720 or 1080p to 4k

    I’ve heard a lot of reports that horizon will be 1880p and mass effect will be 1440p up scaled. So expect a lot more improvements with lighting, textures, draw distances, shaders etc

    So there will be differences for sure

  4. ill even one up the author and say distance and could be sitting to far back from your 1080p could be sitting to close on your 720ptv and same for 4k tv its all about the distance to get the most out of the resolution to begin with.

    that also extends to size of your tv i have a 40″ 1080p led tv this site show you should be 6 ft away from your tv at 1080p. if you have a 40″ tv with a 720p resolution. you should sit at about 8 feet away.a 4ktv you need to be at about 4feet away…lol.there goes your eye site.

  5. if you could afford a 4k pc you would see the difference.4k gaming on pc is still very expensive and in now way shape or form these consoles upscaleing can even come close.sore it mite look better then 1080p but its no where near 4k native on pc.

  6. What’s amazing to me is that NOBODY is stating that if you buy a 4K TV (especially a good one), the TV has the ability to upscale the image to 4K. If you have a really good receiver, that upscales the image to 4K to your TV.

    So why do we need these machines to do what my TV and receiver already does?

    1. Because you’re not going to get a good looking upscaled 4k image from a crappy 1080p (or below) image. The television upscalers can’t take crap and make it cheese. Which is precisely why sub 1080p television images can look abysmal on 4k televisions. The upscalers can’t create magic. The image, at the source, matters.

      1. Well you aren’t going to get a good looking 4K image from this PS4 Pro either and I highly doubt it will be better than the TV and receiver upscalers. The PS4 Pro can’t do 4K and it doesn’t have a UHD Bluray drive so any physical media will have to be upscaled as well.

        Not to mention, as you’ve stated stream 4K may not look as good as 1080p blu-ray at times. PS4 Pro is for the PSVR , nothing more. XBOX One S is for 4K movies nothing more.

        1. Yikes. Nothing like talking from the rectum with no actual technological facts to back it up. The bottom line is for a year, the ps4 pro will produce the best looking and likely best playing version of games for any console. Period. And if you have a 4k hdr television, it will be even better for you. You say “you aren’t going to get a good looking 4k image from this ps4 pro”….digital foundry was suitably impressed by the images they saw. See? They actually saw it….you probably don’t even have a 1080p television, much less a 4k hdr set, so you haven’t actually seen anything. Case opened, case closed.

    2. It’s not the upscaling you are buying one of these upgraded console versions for, it’s the additional hardware performance they will give. He says, stating the obvious lol

  7. “Even with 20/20 vision, sitting five MINUTES away from a 60 inch 4K TV won’t make enough difference to justify the purchase.”…Where do they find these writers?

      1. It means 60 inches, it is because of the tralation, if you read in spansh it saiy minutes but if you rea the originaila it say inches

  8. Scorpio we be future proof, due to ever game being native 4K with power to spare. Plus have a Blu-ray drive included. That has been confirmed by Microsoft at #E3 2016. Look it up, you should know that.

    1. How about we wait until, you know, the Scorpio is actually tested before assuming what it will or will not do. How many times do you have to be fooled before you take a more pragmatic approach, and make Microsoft prove their claims rather than just falling for them blindly. They didn’t prove Milo and Kinect, they haven’t proved “the power of multiple xbox one’s in the cloud”, they haven’t proved a lot of things.

      As a gamer, I really hope the Scorpio can achieve 4k@60fps. But as a pc gamer, who is going to be updating his rig for Cannon lake and Volta, I am realistic based on the specs Microsoft has given for the Scorpio. Unless they are going to make a change and go with a Zen processor, that Jaguar upclocked cpu is going to make native 4k@60fps a non starter, because make no mistake, there will be bottlenecking going on.

      1. Microsoft knows what they’re doing will a little better computer Wizardry I’m sure they will get it in line before launch. Besides I get a bottleneck sometimes when I’m doing my thing always push through.

        1. Fucking computer wizardry? It’s not even microsoft that develop CPU’s and GPU’s. You can’t push through a fucking bottleneck, you can’t force your hardware to 100% utilization magically. Why don’t you do some research before spouting shit out your mouth.

  9. Sigh….

    The Xbox One S can ONLY UPSCALE from 1080p (or lower) to 2160p (4k).

    The PS4 Pro can also do that, but the more than twice the graphical power also allows developers to render in a resolution that is between 1080p and full 4k (2160p), like 1800p and then upscale that to 2160p. This will result in a much better picture than what the X1S is capable off.

      1. The X1 is nothing more than a last gen 720p console that upscales to 1080p or even 4k in the oh so much stronger S model! lol!

        And do you even speak English? WTF is ‘itidi’?

        1. Low blow assuming that an unintelligent response must be coming from an Xbox gamer. His comment was bad but so was your response.

          1. A PC gamer or a PS gamer wouldn’t have needed to react in a nasty way like that so the conclusion that he’s an Xbox fan seems correct to me.

          2. As a primarily an Xbox player and fan I take offense to your assertion that I am unintelligent simply because I like Xbox. Your comment in response to his could be seen in that way. It could also be seen in a more flat way. Since I don’t know you it is reasonable to assume you are hostile to Xbox fans based on the rest of your comment.

          3. Nope, I’m not hostile towards Xbox fans, just to people who are hostile to me. It’s really that simple.

            Let’s be honest here, only an Xbox fan could flip out like that about something PS related. A PS fan, Nintendo fan or PC fan wouldn’t have a need to. Look at it from that viewpoint and you can feel relaxed.

    1. Sorry Garfield, but, you are comparing 2 different leagues, PS4 is to Xbox One/Xbox one S as Ps4 Pro is to Xbox Scorpio..

      Xbox 72op-900p
      PS4 900p-1080p
      Ps4 Pro 2k-3k (enough to have VR in 1080p looking as beautiful as a ps4 badass game)
      Xbox Scorpio 4k
      Phil said in the e3 Conference, that de developers are free to use the extra power for 4k games, or 1080p kicking ass graphics.
      Movies are in 1080p and instead, we don’t get to play games with Avatars graphics which i prefer this over 4k

      1. Yes but this article is talking about upscaling like what the Xbox One S does is the same bloody thing the PS4 Pro does! Yes, it’s using the same or same type of techniques, but it really matters what the original render resolution was, there’s a huge difference between upscaling 1080p to 2160p or 1800p to 2160p, you can’t deny that.

        It says stuff like “In the end, both offer upscaling 4K”, yes, but from a different source resolution which the writer is not mentioning making it same similar.
        And then says “While neither console provides the perfect 4K experience, it seems the PS4 Pro has the slight edge by providing native 4K resolution for at least a few games.” making everyone believe that it will either do the exact same thing, upscale from 1080p to 2160p and have a handful of games in native 4k!

        It isn’t mentioning AT ALL that it can do more than that…

        Also, I feel it’s more like:
        PS4 Pro: 2-3k and some in native 4k
        Scorpio: 3k and some in native 4k, tho more than PS4 Pro

        And in 1080p Scorpio will show it’s real edge… In 4k don’t feel it won’t be such a huge difference, especially not with 3rd party games.

    2. your are a blind idiot…lmao just stop while you are ahead..its just getting dumb with you now.

      is it now our upscales is better then your upscale…nanana….lmao grow up.

      1. Hey, facts that are staring you in the face are being ignored by you. Good luck with waiting a year for your less than 4k console!

    3. The One S scaler is getting praise from audio/video philes. that’s pretty major…
      even from sites such as Forbes (who pretty much hate xbox)…

      1. Forbes hates Xbox? Then they just hate everything ‘cos they keep writing negative Sony articles too 🙂

        It doesn’t matter how good the scaler is in the X1S, it still is upscaling from 1080p or lower and not from 1800p or higher like the PS4 Pro is doing.

        Besides, the scalers in Sony’s TVs have been getting praise for a while now, Sony knows their shit…

        1. i will never knock sony on a hardware level… their arent new to the game at all.. in fact one of the best at it.

          love or hate xbox, most don’t see it in action… they just talk about it…

          the one s has a few magic tricks up it’s sleeve… to give a pretty convincing pic…

          1. But you have to admit that 1800p (EIGHTEEN HUNDRED) has way more actual information of the image than 1080p has, which makes it easier for an upscaling algorithm to make it look good at 2160p.

            No matter how good the scaler in either of the consoles is, fact remains that more source pixels means better results.

            Look at some of the 900p X1 games that are being upscaled by the same scaler tech as in the X1S to 1080p and compare them to the 1080p versions on the PS4. Sure, you have to look closely to see it, but the differences in image quality is there. And the difference from 900p to 1080p isn’t all that big, but between 1080p and 1800p it’s huge.

            No way can an image be upscaled from 1080p to 4k look better (or the same) than 1800p upscaled to 4k no matter how good the scaler is…

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