Switch Pro Rumors Point to 4K Power, But Does That Matter?

We break down the recent Switch Pro rumors and give our thoughts on what the upgraded Nintendo Switch might be like.

CES 2020 is off to a strong start already with a sexy shot of the Xbox Series X chip, some slightly dubious Xbox Series X mockups, and some PlayStation 5 info as well. Since CES is an event for big, flashy tech, Nintendo was obviously absent — directly, at least.

The day before the event officially opened, Taiwan-based outlet Digitimes posted a story claiming that Nintendo is actually gearing up to launch the long-rumored Switch upgrade, unofficially called the Switch Pro. This information reportedly comes from unnamed sources Digitimes has in the manufacturing sector.

The full report is locked behind a paywall, but Kantan Games analyst Dr. Serkan Toto provided a summary of the main points on Twitter. The big takeaways are that the Switch Pro would launch later this year, and it would come equipped with a superior GPU and a magnesium alloy chassis.

It's not new news, really. We've been following these kinds of Nintendo Switch Pro rumors since they first surfaced last year. But since the new year dawned, we've been getting a lot more chatter about when the rumored Switch Pro will be available and how powerful it might be.

Toto claims the Switch Pro is coming this summer, before the PS5 and Xbox Series X "holiday" launch. That would coincide with presumably more demanding games like Breath of the Wild 2 and maybe Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Nico Partners' senior analyst Daniel Ahmad says there's a small chance of a Switch Pro in 2020, while Wall Street Journal tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki said — also based on sources in the manufacturing sector — the Pro was supposed to launch last year. 

That there's no consensus on when a Switch Pro might launch isn't surprising. This console cycle has been mostly atypical, and software is a big determiner in when a Switch Pro might appear because the upgraded system needs something strong at launch.

For example, Breath of the Wild 2 might launch this holiday season, but would it be enough to convince people saving for a PS5 or XSX to also buy a Switch Pro? Summer 2020 seems convincing based on that, but it's highly unlikely we'll see a game like BotW 2 that early.

The system's power issue is another factor. Toto claims the Switch Pro would have 4K support, among other "beefed up" components. That actually fits with the Digitimes claim about an improved GPU and even the magnesium alloy chassis (to help keep the accompanying heat down).

The big question is do we even need a powerful Switch Pro? And the natural corollary to that question is whether Nintendo would invest in making something a lot more technologically advanced given its brand and market niche.

The available evidence doesn't rule out a 4K Switch or demand for it, but it doesn't really support it either.

The brand argument is a valid one. NPD Group analyst Mat Piscatella said Nintendo wouldn't push for a 4K Switch because Nintendo doesn't build its brand around graphics and pushing technological boundaries; it's fine with moderate upgrades. That's true, but it also hinges on the idea that 4K is still cutting edge tech.

The Xbox Series X apparently promises 8K support. That's good news for all six people who have 8K sets worldwide, but it's also setting a new standard for what games and developers should push for.

Meanwhile, Sony is taking steps to ensure it finally offers stable 4K with the PlayStation 5, on top of ray tracing and a host of other technical improvements. In short, if the Switch Pro did, indeed, include true 4K (3840x2160 res) support, it's still basically a current generation enhancement implemented at the beginning of the "next-gen".

However, it's highly likely the Switch Pro won't go that far. Digital Foundry's Rich Leadbetter analyzed the Switch's Nvidia Tegra chip right after the system launched in 2017 and discovered the chip allows for the possibility of substantial improvements, especially when docked while still allowing for backwards compatibility.

This means it would upgrade without creating the barrier between New-3DS-exclusive and non-exclusive games, something which didn't work out all that well for Nintendo in 2015.

The last thing you want to do when launching a system upgrade is completely alienate the tens of millions of consumers that already have a strong interest in your software. That goes double when you've put all of your emphasis on one bit of hardware (now the 3DS is basically dead), and it seems doubtful most Nintendo consumers would even want that kind of upgrade.

I spent some time scouring Reddit, looking for a general consensus about Switch graphics and found a majority of users are happy to accept slight downgrades in exchange for portability. Most responses to the Digitimes article mentioned stable framerates for games like the upcoming Breath of the Wild 2 and enough extra juice to encourage more AAA ports from developers.

Otherwise, Nintendo fans seem happy enough with the graphical quality of games like Luigi's Mansion 3 and being able to play the likes of The Witcher 3 on the go.

It's almost inevitable we'll see a Switch Pro... at some point. Outside of the rumors and reported insider information, there's the fact that Nintendo and Nvidia worked it so the system can support a substantial upgrade, especially when docked, without pushing the boundaries enough that it leaves other Switch owners in the dust.

It seems most likely this is how the Switch Pro would be, an extra boost over the very slight enhancement the original Switch and Switch Lite already received. It would follow Nintendo's usual middle-of-the-road approach like Piscatella mentioned, one that emphasizes different playstyles and improved experiences over graphical innovation and creating artificial audience segments because of hardware barriers.

That seems to be more in line with Nintendo's M.O., and something we might learn more about during any of the upcoming Nintendo Directs in 2020. 

Contributor

Josh Broadwell's gaming career began early--1993, to be exact--when he was introduced to the Super Nintendo and Super Mario World. Despite all the magnificent games the SNES and, later, the original PlayStation had to offer, it wasn't until the GameBoy Advance era that he finally discovered RPGs, which quickly became a favorite genre. He holds a BA in history, an MA in history, and is currently pursuing an MA in strategic communication.

Published Jan. 8th 2020

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