Nintendo says it has no plans to release a new model of its hybrid home/handheld Switch system this year. But president Shuntaro Furukawa said something similar in an interview in January 2019, and then company launched the Switch Lite in September. But even if the next Switch revision isn’t coming this holiday, the company probably has another Switch in the works.
Switch is selling well for Nintendo. It’s on the same pace as PlayStation 4 in terms of consoles sold. But Nintendo will want to keep that momentum, and the way it does that is by releasing revisions. It released the Nintendo DS, DS Lite, and the DSi. For the 3DS, it released 3DS XL, 2DS, New 3DS XL, New 3DS, and New 2DS. So even with Switch selling well on the strength of games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a new model seems inevitable.
And if Nintendo is designing a Switch Pro-like device, then it shouldn’t waste a cent trying to add support for 4K. Not when so many other potential hardware features would make a bigger difference.
Let’s get into why 4K is a waste and why Nintendo would be much better off focusing a Switch Pro around other improvements.
This story is the first entry in GamesBeat’s What’s Next, Next Gen series, which explores what really matters in upcoming gaming hardware.
4K isn’t worth the performance hit
I like gaming in 4K, but I like it on my PC in my office, where I sit about 2 feet away from my monitor. At that distance, my 32-inch monitor looks incredible at 4K. But I also have a PC plugged into a 4K TV in my living room, but I set that computer to run at 1080p instead. This is because I can’t see the difference between 4K and 1080p on a 55-inch display from 10 feet away. On top of that, my TV has HDMI 2.0b and can run at 120Hz (or 120 frames per second) at 1080p. And I’ll take those frames over the resolution even if I could tell the difference in resolution.
And honestly, even my main, powerhouse PC can barely run 4K games at 60 frames per second. If certain games start to chug, resolution is the first change I make. The truth is that even leaning into a 4K monitor, the difference between 1440p and 4K isn’t worth a huge hit on performance.
Now, even a Switch Pro wouldn’t run in 4K in handheld mode. The screen is too small for that to make a difference, and it would require way too much power to make sense for the battery. But even plugged into a TV, I don’t want to give up framerate for resolution. It’s not worth it.
What a Switch Pro needs instead of 4K
If Switch Pro doesn’t have 4K, then why would Nintendo even make it? I know that 4K is still a buzzword in gaming and for televisions, but it’s low on the list of changes that would make for a better console. I’ve put together a few upgrades that will make games look and perform better.
Let’s start with the assumption that a Switch Pro would get a more powerful processor from Nvidia. The Tegra X1 that’s in the Switch is a solid mobile chip, but Nvidia could easily improve on it. And a better chip would be necessary to get the most of the hypothetical Switch Pro’s new display.
Support for 120Hz and HDR
While I don’t think a Switch Pro needs to support 4K, it should still support upgraded display tech like a 120Hz refresh rate and high-dynamic range (HDR). And Switch Pro should support both on TV, but it should also have a 120Hz HDR display.
While 4K is difficult to notice on a small screen, a high refresh rate is not. And 120Hz would make Nintendo games look smoother than ever. Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are going to support 120Hz televisions as well, so it’s likely that we’ll get some indie games that shoot for over 100 frames per second. And it would be great if we could get the benefit of that on the Switch as well.
HDR is another feature that can drastically improve image quality. It expands the color gamut and contrast over traditional LCD displays. This makes photorealistic scenes look more natural, and it can make lights and shadows pop off the screen.
There are already smartphones that support both high framerate and HDR like the Razer Phone 2. And, coincidentally, the Razer Phone 2 and recent Switch models both use IGZO LCD displays. So Nintendo is already dabbling in the right technology to make these moves.
Oh, and as for resolution, stick with 1080p on TV and 720p for handheld. Those are both more than good enough.
But the biggest improvement Nintendo needs to make to the Switch is to the storage. The current Switch systems use eMMC flash memory as well as a slot for expandable SD storage. Now, eMMC is essentially a sort of internal SD card, and while eMMC and SD cards are cheap, they are also slow compared to an SSD.
If Nintendo wants to set a Switch Pro model apart, it should make the leap to including a significant amount of internal SSD storage. While eMMC tops out at a transfer rate of about 400MB per second, an NVME SSD (like the kind in Apple’s iPhone) is capable of transfering data at 3,500MB per second. This could drastically improve load times and make the Switch Pro feel like an overall snappier device.
SSD prices are coming down, and they should drop even further as Microsoft and Sony begin purchasing them at scale for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. And sure, eMMC is still cheaper, and Nintendo should definitely keep using it in its more affordable Switch Lite. But Nintendo could set the Switch Pro above the Lite and original model (and at a higher price) by promising to mitigate loading in most games.
Why a Nintendo Switch Pro makes sense
I don’t know how likely it is that we’ll get a Nintendo Switch Pro with these features. We may not get a Switch Pro at all. But I think that a more powerful processor seems like a given. The company has already worked with Nvidia to put a revised chip into the Switch. But instead of using that for performance, Nintendo dialed everything back to get more battery life. But the Switch now has a battery life of 7 hours-to-9 hours. That’s more than any other handheld gaming system since the Game Boy.
The next time Nvidia has a revision for the Tegra chip, it won’t make sense to amp up battery life again. Instead, the extra juice should go toward improving performance. And that’s going to give Nintendo an opportunity to sell a new device at a higher price point. A higher refreshrate screen can take advantage of that power. And HDR and an SSD could help justify selling the Switch Pro at $300 or even $400 — especially if PS5 and Xbox Series X come in at $500 or $600.