How Nintendo could use A.I. to bring 4K gaming to the Switch Pro

Rumors have been swirling about a forthcoming new console from Nintendo, possibly called the Switch Pro. It is said to be a bit larger and more powerful, but now, we’re hearing about a possible feature that could be a changer for Nintendo’s handheld/console hybrid.

While Nintendo’s console contemporaries — like the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and modern gaming PCs — can game in 4K, that’s not the case with the Switch. It currently maxes out at the native 720p of the screen when in handheld mode, or up to 1080p when docked and connected to a TV. The screen resolution isn’t expected to change with the Switch Pro, but Nintendo may be using an Nvidia technology to better compete with its competitors.

Nvidia’s DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) is the technology in question, which was originally designed for PC graphics cards, like the company’s GeForce RTX 3080 GPU. The Switch Pro won’t have the graphical prowess required to support 4K at the hardware level (even the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 struggle with this), but that’s where the A.I.-powered magic of DLSS comes into play.

Nvidia DLSS 2.0 update
Nvidia showcases DLSS 2.0 on Mechwarrior 5

DLSS to date has been an exclusive technology on PC graphics cards, as the software-based technology relies on machine learning and A.I. to upscale images by using the power of the tensor cores found on Nvidia’s discrete GPUs. Essentially, DLSS allows the game to upscale a lower resolution game image to 4K — based on using machine learning to train the game by using thousands of hours of gameplay — without taxing the hardware too much. With the GeForce RTX 3090, Nvidia claimed that DLSS 2.0 can extrapolate details and upscale an image as high as 8K.

So, how will the rumored Switch Pro use DLSS? Well, the current Nintendo Switch relies on an Nvidia-made ARM-based Tegra system-on-a-chip (SoC), and it appears that Nintendo would turn to its silicon partner once again for the Switch Pro’s processor. As an Nvidia-exclusive technology, this would be a requirement to use DLSS. It would, however, be the first time DLSS would come to a processor that uses an ARM-based design. The implementation of how DLSS would work with ARM is unclear, but it seems to be a solution the company has been working on.

Nvidia’s ambition to port DLSS 2.0 to Tegra shouldn’t come as a surprise. The company had posted a job listing in 2020 for “a Senior Embedded Software Engineer for the Tegra Solutions Engineering team to work on next generation graphics and A.I. technologies for gaming consoles and A.I. edge devices” who will also “work on solutions to use artificial intelligence in graphics technologies like Nvidia’s DLSS 2.0,” according to a Reddit post.

While 4K will be supported on the Switch Pro, Bloomberg recently reported that gaming on the console could still be limited to 720p when using the handheld’s built-in screen, which will get a size jump from 6.2 inches to a larger 7-inch panel when the Pro launches. When plugged into a TV, the Switch would rely on DLSS to upscale images to 4K UHD resolution, so it’s unclear if the 720p limitation on-device is due to the screen’s resolution itself or if additional hardware, found in the Switch Pro’s accompanying dock, has a role in boosting the resolution to UHD.

The same report suggests that new code will require DLSS to work, as it does currently on PC games. Unfortunately, this means that game developers will have to enable DLSS for titles to take advantage of the boosted 4K resolution when docked and connected to a larger UHD television set. It’s also unclear that if new game purchases will be required with the additional code work, or if existing titles can be updated for free.

While 4K support will be a big selling point of the upgraded Tegra processor on the Switch Pro, the refreshed console will also get a more powerful CPU and increased memory, Bloomberg stated.

In addition to UHD support, the new Switch Pro will also ship with a new OLED panel that’s said to be manufactured by Samsung Display for its 7-inch screen, which should be an upgrade from the LCD display on the current model.

Industry insiders anticipate the Switch Pro could launch as early as the holiday shopping season at the end of the year, but the timing for a debut of Nintendo’s updated console is just speculation for now.

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