A demo of Unreal Engine 5 running on the upcoming PS5 was running at just 1440p resolution, 30 FPS, and lacked ray-tracing.

The video is a decent graphical showcase of what the next Unreal Engine can do but is relatively disappointing on a technical level. Many gamers are expecting up to 8K games, 120 FPS, and jaw-dropping ray-tracing from the next-gen consoles, but the current demo is more along the lines of the performance from the current PS4 Pro and Xbox One X.

Digital Foundry interviewed Unreal Engine’s developer, Epic Games, to find out what’s going on. Nick Penwarden, VP of Engineering, said:

“When GPU load gets high we can lower the screen resolution a bit, and then we can adapt to that. In the demo, we actually did use dynamic resolution, although it ends up rendering at about 1440p most of the time.”

Dropping to 1440p doesn’t bode well, especially at just 30 FPS and without ray-tracing. However, Epic claims the demo was to show off Unreal Engine 5’s tech and “trade-offs” to deliver specific resolutions, frame rates, and features will be up to developers. On ray-tracing specifically, Epic Games confirmed that it was not used in the PS5 tech demo but it will be supported in Unreal Engine 5.

Last month, a former PlayStation developer praised the Xbox Series X while expressing concern about the PS5.

“The machine that Microsoft has put together is an absolute beast compared to what Sony has put together,” said Chris Grannell, an industry veteran who spent years at PlayStation studios behind the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn and the WipEout series. “You start looking at the real-time ray-tracing capability … that’s where Sony has been caught off guard.”

Microsoft’s upcoming console has a power advantage with the Series X touting 12.155 TFLOPS of performance compared to the PS5’s 10.28 TFLOPS. While TFLOPS are not a complete measure, there’s a clear power advantage between the two and developers will likely developers have to make fewer trade-offs for Microsoft’s console. 

In response to a recent question on Twitter asking what technologies will bring about the greatest advances this generation, Xbox head Phil Spencer said:

“[Ray-tracing] on console will be great. I’m very focused on the work we are doing around Dynamic Latency Input (DLI).

In my view, the feel of games this upcoming generation will change as dramatically as any since 2D to 3D given CPU upgrade, DLI, memory bandwidth and SSD.”

Spencer took over leadership of Xbox from Don Mattrick back in 2014 after the disastrous launch of the original Xbox One and has been credited with restoring the brand.

During the Mattrick-era, Xbox was criticised as focusing more on becoming an “all-in-one” entertainment system rather than a games console. Spencer has since made it clear that Xbox is a gaming brand.

Under Spencer’s leadership, Xbox launched the current most powerful console: the One X. Spencer and his team also launched the innovative Xbox Game Pass which offers hundreds of games on-demand (including from Microsoft’s first-party studios on day one) while helping to fund smaller titles from indie developers.

While the majority of games are third-party and cross-platform, many gamers have been drawn to Sony’s consoles for the strength of their first-party studios like Guerilla, Naughty Dog, and Sucker Punch. Xbox has been on its own spending spree in recent years, acquiring talented studios like Rare, Obsidian, Ninja Theory, Double Fine, inXile, Turn 10, Playground Games, and more.

With a power advantage and arguably the strongest strategic positioning it’s ever had, the Xbox camp looks like it won’t give the PlayStation side such an easy time in this upcoming generation. Grannel believes that Sony “rested on their laurels” following the PS4’s success,  and the Unreal Engine 5 demo may serve as some evidence the PS5 may struggle to achieve the high expectations of this upcoming generation.

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