PlayStation 3: chasing the 1080p dream – part one of an 88-game mega-test

Sony’s PlayStation 3 first launched in November 2006 and right from the get-go, the platform holder faced a stiff challenge in the form of Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Here we were looking at two machines of the same generation, Sony’s fiercest rival launching a full year ahead of the competition – and packing a hardware advantage in the form of its Xenos GPU from AMD. With hardware locked years prior, how did Sony react? Part of the marketing response was to concentrate on something Xbox could not deliver: full support for the new HDMI digital video standard, including the ability to output at full HD – 1080p.

Of course, in the years since, we know exactly how this situation played out – or do we? Today, I’m really excited to reveal the public launch of DF Retro’s biggest project yet: a generation-wide analysis of just how well PlayStation 3 delivered on its initial 1080p promises. Split into four parts, with a new episode launching every Sunday at 3pm BST, John Linneman aims to cover every single PS3 title we’ve managed to track down that supports 1080p resolution, to rank them all, and then – at the end – to see which year was best for full HD gaming on the ‘Triple’.

First up, a disclaimer: we can’t cover every single 1080p game. Some may have slipped through the net, others supported 960×1080 output (or even lower on the horizontal axis) as a fallback option when 720p was not available, and we’re not particularly interested in those. However, across the four episodes, we cover a total of 88 titles. In an era where many PlayStation 3 (and indeed Xbox 360) games struggled even to deliver native 720p rendering, the full HD credentials of Sony’s machine were left in tatters across the years, but perhaps surprisingly, there are many, many highlights – as you ‘ll discover over the weeks.

Part one of John Linneman’s biggest DF Retro project yet, covering the first two years of the PlayStation 3’s full HD library.

Part one deals with the first couple of years’ of PlayStation 3 gaming – and it kicks off with a truly spectacular 1080p60 release. Ridge Racer 7 is a platform exclusive that, perhaps cruelly, remains locked to the PlayStation 3 to this day, but it’s a stunning 1080p60 celebration, significantly superior to its Xbox 360-exclusive predecessor. Ridge Racer 7 concentrated on simple, but highly effective imagery in order to deliver a virtually locked 60fps full HD experience. It’s 1080p ‘done right’, its philosophy in exploiting the PS3 hardware laying the foundation for many of the system’s best full HD offerings.

I won’t go into any depth on the rest of the line-up – John’s video is worth the watch – but there’s much to enjoy in this first episode. You’ll see Blast Factor, the first title from Bluepoint Games, you’ll bear witness to the full horror of Marvel Ultimate Alliance in its 12-20fps 1080p mode (spoilers: 720p isn’t that great either), you’ll baulk at Sega’s Full Auto 2 and then there’s the debut of Gran Turismo HD – an interesting demo from Polyphony and the first 1080p release that wouldn’t quite deliver a full, full HD experience.

There are other interesting takes on 1080p too – NBA Street Homecourt from EA Sports actually offered up both 1080p30 and 720p experiences, and it was also the first full HD title for Xbox 360 too (with added MSAA, absent on the PS3) – if you ignore the Quake 2 port we discovered years later to be running at 1080p on the Microsoft console. But returning to the PS3, what about digital release Flow from That Game Company, which seems to be downsampling to 1080p from 1440p?

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. We’ll leave you with a few more tantalising titles contained in this first episode, some names that’ll take you back to a very different era: Sega’s brilliant Virtua Tennis 3, Sumo’s fun Super Rub-a-Dub and of course, Super Stardust HD – Housemarque’s astonishing shooter that launched at 1280×1080 before releasing a full HD upgrade in the years to come (thanks to optimisations delivered for its stereoscopic 3D release). And add to that Factor 5’s Lair with its multi-sampling based horizontal upscaling, Q-Games’ first Pixel Junk title, Loco Roco, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue… whether they’d 1080p showcases or performance disasters, they’re all fascinating to behold.

I hope you enjoy this work and if you want to support efforts like it, do consider the retro tier on the Digital Foundry Supporter Program.. Work like this exists only because we have the investment from supporters to make it happen. Join us to help us make more and get a bunch of supporter-exclusive retro shows, early access to most DF content, bonus material, behind-the-scenes videos and much more. The full, complete video – weighing in at three hours 16 minutes – has been available to supporters for some time. Next week, we’ll be back with the second episode of this epic, covering 2008-2009, and trust me – you won’t want to miss it.

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