New comments from Nintendo of America boss Doug Bowser makes us think the Switch Pro may not deliver true dazzling next-gen performance.
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Nintendo is reportedly making a new Switch model that’s capable of outputting a 4K video signal. Bloomberg reports the upgraded Switch, dubbed Switch Pro, will feature a new chip allowing 4K gaming. We know the console will also feature a new dock because the existing dock’s video switcher can’t output 4K video. The new Switch is also expected to have a larger 7-inch OLED panel.
The Switch Pro’s 4K capabilities have triggered mass speculation. The consensus is that the Switch will use NVIDIA’s DLSS tech to upscale native images for 4K TVs. This would require a new chip revision because DLSS requires NVIDIA’s newer Tensor cores to operate.
Identifying the Switch Pro’s possible internal chip is tough, and techies think it could use low-powered version of NVIDIA’s Orin SoC, which is build on 8nm and features an Ampere GPU with Tensor cores. NVIDIA is making a 15-watt Orin S-1 chip optimized for cameras and this could fit the Switch.
Theoretically this would be a big upgrade over the existing Switch–a big enough upgrade that the Switch Pro could be considered a new generation and not an iterative console. If this info is accurate, the Switch Pro would be a leap over the Switch, and wouldn’t be equivalent to something like the New 3DS iteration of the 3DS handheld.
There’s just one potential issue with this idea: Nintendo’s messaging.
Nintendo has traditionally positioned fun over graphics and hardware power. The Wii and Wii U, for example, don’t use particularly groundbreaking chips. Neither does the Switch, whose weaker Tegra X1 means lots of compromises for developers. That hasn’t stopped the Wii from becoming a juggernaut and the Switch from outpacing Xbox One console sales.
Nintendo executives have been very careful with their messaging about new hardware. One thing is always consistent: Talk of new experiences. All of Nintendo’s consoles have delivered new experiences across their generations, and the Switch Pro’s reported specs seem to indicate a generational leap. But is 4K gaming really that new of an experience? Does it match with Nintendo’s emphasis on fun vs graphics?
If the Switch has taught us anything it’s to keep our expectations in check. The NX led to lots of wild theories and speculation, most of which ended up not being true. We’ve fed into it ourselves with articles on Nintendo’s patented Supplemental Computing Device, which could be an add-on processing box to boost console power (think of a dock upgrade versus an actual console upgrade).
It’s hard to say what Nintendo will do, and no one knows for sure. For now let’s take a look at how Nintendo has conveyed its stance on new hardware.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Nintendo of America boss Doug Bowser reinforces the company’s goal with hardware:
“We are always looking at technology and how technology can enhance gameplay experiences. It’s not technology for technology’s sake. It’s how specifically can technology enhance a gameplay experience.
“And then where do you apply that technology? Do you want to apply it on current existing hardware or platforms, or do you want to wait for the next platform? And then what’s the right gameplay experience with that? There’s a host of factors that goes into it, and it’s something we’re always looking at.”
At the same time, Nintendo has made transformations in its hardware cycles and has adapted uniquely to the market. The Switch Lite was a big example of this. The Switch isn’t just a console any more, but a family of hardware. The Switch Pro is believed to be the father of the pack with its upgraded hardware–but how much of a hardware upgrade is still in question.
“As we enter into our fifth year, Nintendo Switch really is redefining what a console life cycle can look like,” Bowser said.
Now lets look at historical statements from Nintendo concerning hardware.
In 2018, Nintendo’s Shinya Takahashi told the BBC that: “Nintendo constantly works on hardware, so we have been doing research and development and you may see the new system sometime in the future.” That’s pretty vague but it’s nonetheless true.
Then in 2019, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa also confirmed new hardware was always in development at the company:
“We cannot comment in regards to speculation and rumors about new hardware or software. It would spoil the surprise for consumers and is against the interests of our shareholders, so we are withholding any discussion. We are constantly developing new hardware and new software. We’ll let you know as soon as anything is ready to be announced,”
2020 delivered our biggest look into Nintendo’s hardware-making process when senior executive officer Ko Shiota said consoles are built to deliver unique experiences rather than push high-end gaming.
“Nintendo Switch goes beyond what we imagined as it develops. A product like the Switch wouldn’t have happened had we simply jumped on the technology bandwagon and worked to create the highest-spec hardware.”
“The hardware we create is a dedicated system for playing games, and as a dedicated video game system, it should be a device that enables people to enjoy quality game experiences in whatever way is most comfortable for them in a given situation. In our hardware development, we are constantly looking for technologies that can best deliver those kinds of experiences, and studying how we can offer them in unique Nintendo-like ways.”
Would a Switch Pro deliver a unique Nintendo-like experience, or even a new experience, by outputting to 4K with possibly higher frame rates? The last part would be true. 60FPS gaming would breathe life into specific games, and DLSS upscaling would make games look and feel better on higher-end displays. But is that something unique? Not really. It’d be the software that’s unique.
Gamers may want to temper their expectations and instead not expect massive dramatic upgrades with the Switch Pro by virtue of how Nintendo has discussed hardware in the past, the emphasis on fun over graphics and performance, and the traditional smaller leaps in generational performance.
Then again the Switch is kind of an anomaly, and it’s the platform Nintendo has been working towards since the old NES and Game Boy days.