As leaks begin to mount about a new Nintendo Switch revision, colloquially referred to as “Switch Pro,” one recent suggestion had enthusiasts scratching their heads: 4K support. How exactly would a dockable console like Switch, designed for portability and decent battery life, muster the teraflops to run games at 4K resolution?
Bloomberg Japan, who previously reported on Nintendo’s upcoming manufacturing plans, now has an answer: a new chipset, courtesy of Nvidia, that will leverage the GPU maker’s proprietary upscaling system, according to “people familiar with the matter.” This system, dubbed Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), has so far only been available on Nvidia’s RTX line of graphics cards, and it relies on “tensor” GPU processing cores. Their machine learning computations, as trained on thousands of hours of existing game footage, interpret a game’s lower-resolution signal, then upscale the image to resolutions as high as 4K (or in the case of the $1,499 RTX 3090, as high as 8K).
If you’re unfamiliar with DLSS, check out my recent review of the RTX 3060, where I reviewed the progress Nvidia has made with DLSS since its retail debut in late 2018. It has progressed enough to take native resolutions as low as 1080p and boost them closer to 4K, often with fewer visual artifacts than image-smoothing methods like temporal anti-aliasing (TAA).
Where’s the new chip, doc? The dock?
This prediction isn’t completely out of left field, considering Nvidia’s Tegra X1 chip already powers existing Switch and Switch Lite consoles. However, exactly how an additional DLSS-capable chip will be implemented in the next Switch revision remains unclear. Tuesday’s Bloomberg Japan report only specifies that this DLSS-equipped Switch will “reproduce game visuals at 4K quality when plugged into a TV,” as opposed to the system’s portable mode—which Bloomberg insists will remain a 720p panel, albeit a smidge bigger at 7″ compared to the current Switch’s 6.2-inch panel. This Nvidia chipset will be paired with “a better CPU and increased memory” compared to the existing Switch, Bloomberg reports.
This doesn’t clarify whether any new or upgraded components will be built into the next Switch’s TV dock, or whether extra processing power inside the Switch itself will be left dormant until it’s safely plugged into a dock—and thus able to, say, benefit from a more robust cooling or ventilation system. (If you’re wondering, Nintendo certainly isn’t saying, as the company did not offer any comment to Bloomberg on Tuesday.)
We didn’t necessarily expect any increased power on Switch Pro to work retroactively on existing hardware, but Bloomberg’s report confirms that pessimism: Switch Pro features like DLSS will require “new code” to work. Whether this means we should expect Switch Pro-exclusive games, or fuller backwards compatibility found in jump from Xbox One S to Xbox One X (or PlayStation 4 to PS4 Pro), remains to be seen.
Bloomberg’s report predicts that the next Switch will jump in price, but those claims aren’t backed up by the unnamed sources offering details on the upcoming system’s technical makeup. That being said, predicting how much a new mass-manufactured gaming device will cost, or whether anyone will be able to buy one, feels like dark comedy at this point in 2021.
Nintendo has yet to formally announce either a mid-generation Switch refresh or anything resembling a wholly new console. Previous corporate statements have only gone so far as to say new Switch models weren’t coming to market “any time soon” and that the Switch had recently reached the “middle” of its lifespan. But years of rumors about a refreshed, higher-powered Switch model finally firmed up earlier this month when Bloomberg reported manufacturing plans for the new model—and its jump from LCD to OLED technology, along with a jump in screen size.
As Nintendo fans continue to wait for previously announced software like a sequel to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s easy to wonder whether Nintendo is waiting to announce Switch Pro alongside a healthy slate of new games, all primed to take advantage of increased specs.