The Nintendo Switch turns five years old today — five years without ever addressing the fact some of its biggest games tend to chug and don’t look great on a big screen TV.
I’m here to tell you that not only does Nintendo have a solution for that, Valve’s rival Steam Deck proves beyond a doubt that it would work phenomenally.
Let’s catch you up real fast. Last March, Bloomberg reported that a new Switch would finally throw power-hungry gamers a bone. It’d come with a new Nvidia chip and embrace Nvidia’s DLSS deep learning temporal upscaling technology for 4K-quality gaming when docked to your big screen TV. While it never materialized (reportedly due to the chip shortage) it got a bunch of brains in gear — we wrote how AI could make the new Nintendo Switch a powerhouse overnight, while Digital Foundry showed a convincing sample of what 720p to 4K DLSS upscaling might look like.
But today, we no longer need to guess or theorize, because Valve’s Steam Deck handheld includes AMD’s answer to DLSS right out of the box, letting you enable it globally across any game. And so far, I’ve found it’s an immediate, must-use feature for instant graphical upgrades whenever I plug the Deck’s 3D games into a monitor or TV.
You may want to blow up these images for a closer look.
This is what Elden Ring looks like on a 1440p monitor plugged into the Steam Deck:
Now here’s the exact same scene with AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) turned on — which takes low-resolution frames of your game, runs them through an edge-enhancement spacial upscaling algorithm (based on Lanczos, if you’re interested), sharpens them, and thus makes them look notably higher resolution.
Here, let’s crop in and do an image slider, maybe save you some pinching and zooming if you’re reading this on a phone:
I generally hate to use DLSS and FSR. Unlike some of my colleagues, I consider it far inferior to native 4K or 1440p resolution, and I’d never use it just to boost a game’s performance if it’s already running smoothly. But with portable consoles like the Steam Deck and Nintendo Switch, this could be the difference between looking blurry and playable on a big screen.
But I expect you’ll want to see more examples. Let’s get into it. Here’s Cyberpunk 2077 with and without AMD FSR, again at 1440p:
The benefits aren’t limited to 1440p, of course. I’ve got some 4K screenshots for you as well, including Fallout 4, the original Portal, and some more Cyberpunk 2077 images.
I’ll caution you that the gains aren’t quite as obvious at 4K as they are at 1440p, partially just because the images are higher res and you’ll need to peep more pixels. But even these still images show you what I saw when playing — less blur, more pop.
As excited as I am for this kind of tech on Steam Deck, I have to wonder if it’ll be even more useful on a Nintendo Switch. Partially because I’ve found Nvidia’s DLSS is vastly superior to AMD’s FSR, so I’d expect even more from it.
Partially because I don’t actually expect Nintendo to buck tradition and compete on performance (the company arguably hasn’t done that since the Nintendo 64 in 1996) and this tech is most useful to find some extra framerate or resolution in the couch cushions when you don’t have the performance to spare.
And partially because one of the ways Switch developers have chosen to port challenging games to the platform is to run them at even lower resolution than the Nintendo Switch’s 720p screen (like Wolfenstein: Youngblood at 540p) — and the Steam Deck shows that you can use intelligent upscalers to get a higher quality image on a handheld’s actual screen, too.
Here’s Cyberpunk 2077 one last time, running on the Steam Deck’s own 1280 x 800 screen instead of a monitor or TV. It’s not the worst?
But now here it is at 1024 x 768 upscaled to the Deck’s screen with AMD FSR turned on, and not only does it look more defined, we’re getting notably higher framerate. Ugly black bars on the left and right aside, I found this more playable.
For some game developers, this might be the more attractive use case, particularly since I actually saw a slight performance hit with FSR at 4K. But it’s also possible that if Nvidia actually builds its DLSS-powering Tensor cores into the next Nintendo Switch chip, they’ll be able to handle that load on their own.
It’s always possible that Nintendo will forgo a Switch Pro entirely, never release a more powerful chip or upscaling technique until it’s ready to announce an entirely new console, instead of risking that some people reject the new version the way they rejected the Wii U. And it’s likely that most games would still target the original, bestselling Nintendo Switch even if Nintendo were to announce a more powerful version.
But I’ll stick by my argument last July — Nintendo’s decision to announce an OLED Switch instead of a Switch Pro was an incredibly easy decision for the company, one that let it rake in profits instead of fighting for chips in the middle of a shortage, and you shouldn’t take it as a signal that the rumored Switch Pro is dead for good. And it’s a no-brainer for Nintendo to add the tech. Why let Valve have all the fun?