Analysis: Red Dead Redemption on PS3 vs. Xbox 360

Red Dead Redemption

Does Red Dead Redemption have a resolution problem on Sony's PlayStation 3? Is it even fair to call a "sub-high-definition" resolution choice a "problem"? Will anyone who doesn't own both systems care? Is raising the point a waste of space? Am I standing on the lip of a lava pit goading readers to push me in?

Tahoma or Sans Serif? DVD or Blu-ray? S-Video or HDMI? Electronic paper display or LCD? We choose technology--yes, fonts are technology--based on visual parameters all the time. While it's silly to dismiss a game because of minor visual disparities on one platform versus another, it's just as silly to pretend those differences aren't there.

They exist in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Red Dead Redemption, just as they did in Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV. As far as I can tell after messing around with both versions, and granted I'm speaking unscientifically, they look to be the same differences. Like GTA IV, Red Dead Redemption on the PS3 appears to be internally rendering at a lower resolution--some think 1152 x 640, or GTA IV's PS3 resolution--after which it's being software upscaled to 1280 x 720, or 720p, with quincunx anti-aliasing applied to smooth things over. That's compared to the Xbox 360 version, which runs natively at 720p, isn't being software upscaled, and employs 2x multisample anti-aliasing.

Consequently--and just as in GTA IV--the PS3 version of Red Dead Redemption looks notably murkier (though some might justifiably argue "smoother"), as if the world were overlaid with gaussian blur. It's noticeable immediately in the intro shot of the steamboat chugging into Blackwater port: Where the buildings, trees, mountains, and steamboat itself are crisply defined on the Xbox 360, they seem dimmer and slightly unfocused on the PS3, an effect that looks like interpolation to my eyes, i.e. how an LCD handles images when output at any of its non-native resolutions. The effect is continuous throughout the game: Objects with fine mesh textures look fuzzed from a distance. Tree branches, shrubbery, and the tangles in tumbleweeds lose their distinctness. The edges on distant buildings and right-angled objects seem to ripple and flicker more when shifting your view back and forth.

Conversely, and for technical reasons I'd only be guessing at, the PS3 version also looks a shade warmer than the Xbox 360 version (though it's easy to tweak the latter by fiddling with your TV's color temp settings).

Some people prefer Rockstar's approach on the PS3, for the same reasons they'll overlay a photo with slight blurring in Photoshop to "soften" or "warm" it. Others (like me) prefer the crisper--or as Rockstar's Sam Houser put it to 1UP about GTA IV, "more clinical"--look offered by the Xbox 360. For me, it's more a matter of sighting objects (or hostiles) accurately from a distance. You don't need me to remind you how important this can be in multiplayer.

As usual, my advice is to buy for the console you own. I'm not dithering to save myself from the frier, it's simply true given the obvious economics. If you own both consoles, on the other hand, your choice is between "crisper and slightly sterile-looking" versus "slightly unfocused but warmer." If you've played GTA IV and had to make this choice before, you already know the drill, and probably which way you roll.

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