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If you have not heard of RPCS3, I won't blame you. I hadn't heard of it until today and for good reason. RPCS3 is an open-source PlayStation 3 emulator for Windows and Linux. Since I still have my PS3, I have no need for an emulator, so I have never gone looking. What drew my attention to it today, however, was the addition of 4K support.
I initially thought that I wouldn't be impressed. I have seen side-by-side comparisons of 4K upscaling on literally dozens of console games and have consistently been underwhelmed. The improvements usually amount to a sharpening of the picture and removal of some of the jaggies but these upgrades are barely noticeable when you are sitting 10 feet from the screen. At the end of it all, you're still looking at low-res textures in high-definition.
So when I fired up the video above, I was expecting the usual. What I got was something that genuinely impressed me. The improvements to Yakuza 4 (1:24) were particularly remarkable. Seeing this made me want to play through some of my favorite games on RPCS3.
The new rendering options can actually support up to 10K on most PS3 games. Of course, few rigs (if any) could take advantage of gaming in 10K.
"We doubt many users will have the setup necessary to benefit from 10k today," said the developers. "Emulation is all about preserving for tomorrow."
Red Dead Redemption rendered at 3840×2160. (Image via RPCS3, scaled down to 1680x945)
The results in the video were achieved using RPCS3's 4K rendering and 16x anisotropic filtering (AF) capabilities. Best of all, game performance does not even take a hit with the increased resolution.
"All processing is done CPU side, and as far as the GPU is concerned it is simply rendering 2006 era graphics (yes, the PS3 is 11 years old now). We’re happy to report that anyone with a dedicated graphics card that has Vulkan support can expect identical performance at 4k."
The reason that the difference is so remarkable is that PS3 games already have high-resolution assets. It's just that on the PS3 hardware, those assets were compressed to run in 720p giving up detail and resolution. RPCS3 unleashes those textures as they were meant to be seen. In the part of the video showcasing Demon's Souls, you can see the chainmail go from a mottled grey smearing to detail great enough to distinguish individual links in the chain.
"High resolution rendering is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving graphics quality," said developers.
The RPCS3 team is working on adding custom anti-aliasing, texture scaling algorithms and possibly patches for specific games, all in an effort to make the PS3 offerings look their best. I, for one, will be interested to watch this emulator evolve. You can download RPCS3 here.