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Weekly Musings #20 - Whither 720p and Widescreen Gaming?
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: November 1st 2004

One of the amazingly important things to me, since I acquired an HD-capable 51" widescreen TV, is games that support High Definition formats. Sure, I can use the TV's "full screen" mode to widen existing games at the expense of some stretch; this works decently well for some games, and horridly for others. But there's something just completely, wonderfully cool about finding games that support a widescreen aspect out of the box and are progressive scan.

The Gamecube is my second best console in this regard. Every game on the Gamecube can be displayed in 480p, simply by holding the "B" button on boot. And many games on the Cube (such as Soul Calibur 2 and F-Zero GX) have selectable Widescreen format support. But 480p is as high as the Gamecube goes. It's a start, but not as good as things COULD look. Besides, much as I hate to say it, the Gamecube doesn't have the games to hold my interest. I'm about to dump a couple more titles that I find I just don't play any more, which will leave me with a mere  five Gamecube titles left on the shelf. While there are plenty of cross-console titles for the Gamecube, I'd prefer to play them on the PS2 or Xbox first based on the control schemes.

The PS2 is the worst. 480i, all the time. Yes, there exist VGA adapters that work with some titles, but they won't feed properly to my TV and I really don't feel like trying to make that happen in any event. Hopefully this will be corrected in the PS3.

In any event, I've come to rely on the capabilities of the Xbox for my intensive gaming. It's the only console with both progressive scan and true 5.1 audio support built in (the Cube uses virtualization modes that don't quite cut it). It's got four controllers natively, unlike the PS2.

And it can handle the 720p graphics mode, which I consider the "holy grail" of this generation of games.

Even so, I'm feeling rather let down. So far, the number of decent titles I've seen with this support is easily in the mere single digits. Only a few titles come to mind: Tony Hawk (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, Tony Hawk's Underground, Tony Hawk's Underground 2), X-Men: Legends, Steel Battalion, Enter the Matrix. Soul Calibur 2 has 720p, but not widescreen (in widescreen, it just puts black borders on the sides and keeps the aspect ratio the same).

I'm fully aware that just about every Xbox title around supports 480p. And if more of them were like the Dead Or Alive series or Legacy of Kain: Defiance and supported 480p in widescreen then I'd be okay with that.

HDTVPub keeps a database of HDTV-enabled game titles. So does HDTVArcade. The list only proves the point; far too few titles support more than the basic 480p mode. It's not that it's not doable, either, or that it's not desirable. Gamers would have been ecstatic if they'd learned that they could play Knights of the Old Republic, for instance, in Widescreen or 720p. Sports titles like Outlaw Golf could look even better; most EA Sports games include a Widescreen option even if they're only in 480p.

Halo2 is only 480p, but they're supporting Widescreen. With an FPS, I expected this, as they've got to keep that framerate up and Bungie's pushing the boundaries of what the Xbox can do already. MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf looks to have the same approach.

Still, a man can dream. Since they're all pushing 480p as standard now, hopefully the next generation consoles will default up to 720p for those of us who've invested in a quality display setup.

Got Comments? Send 'em to Michael (at) Glideunderground.com!
Alternatively, post 'em right here for everyone to see!

Weekly Musings #20: Whither 720p and Widescreen Gaming?


Added:  Monday, November 01, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

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