Everything new is obviously better, except when it’s not. The new iPad’s “retina” screen, which displays bright and detail-packed 264-ppi images, is obviously better. All the numbers on its spec sheet are bigger, and its new graphics processor is four times more capable than last year’s. Sam Byford of The Verge recently investigated the impact the new iPad’s screen has actually had on game appearance and performance. The truth, it seems, is much more of a wash.
Byford tested a series of the iPad’s most visually intensive games, including N.O.V.A. 3, Mass Effect Infiltrator, Real Racing 2 HD, and Infinity Blade 2. In the case of N.O.V.A. 3, developers had to remove a number of details and effects in order to get the game running at the higher resolution. In the case of Infinity Blade 2, the game has more detail than the iPad 2 version but it’s still upscaling from a non-native resolution and Byford found a jarring inconsistency with many of the game’s low-res button prompts. Alternately, Real Racing 2 HD was the one standout that looked and ran better on the new iPad without any compromises.
In conclusion, it looks like N.O.V.A. 3 is somewhat of an outlier for having such dramatically different graphics on both iPads, and the newer tablet does manage to distinguish itself with some visually excellent titles. 2D games often look amazing on the new iPad, for instance, of which the likes of Waking Mars, Aquaria and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP are good examples. However, it’s rare to see a technically demanding game run at Retina resolution without some compromises, and rarer still to see one equal or exceed the iPad 2’s graphics performance at 2048 x 1536. The A5X and Retina display are both very impressive components, then, but it’s clear that in gaming much of the former’s capability is limited to supporting the demands of the latter.
As rumors circulate about Apple continuing to incorporate “retina” grade resolutions in new laptops and iMacs, the story is a fine reminder that while new displays are always exciting, they come with intense new processing demands and, in most cases, the capability of the display is out ahead of the processor on the inside.