Why is my new Xbox 360's output all pixellated?
August 30, 2010 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Xbox 360. HDMI. 1080p monitor. Why am I only getting a 720p picture?

I feel a bit sheepish posting this question because I'm more tech-oriented than your average person, and it seems like an eminently Googleable problem, but searches are just turning up a ton of irrelevant information and I am stumped.

I just got a fantastic deal on one of the new "slim" Xbox 360 consoles. I plugged it into my 23" Acer monitor with an HDMI cable, hoping to see a beautiful 1080p picture, but was met with blurry, pixellated text and interface elements in the Dashboard.

The Xbox says it is running at 1080p. When I go into the monitor's menu, it says it is receiving 1080p. When I tell the Xbox to use an "optimal" resolution, it chooses 1080p. But the picture looks exactly the same as if I set the Xbox to use 720p instead. 480p looks even worse, naturally, but 1080i and 1080p show no improvement over 720p that I can see.

Let me stress that I am certain the monitor is capable of displaying 1920x1080 pixels. It does so with my iMac, over the very same cable (and a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter), all the time.

All of the support materials and instructions, etc. that I can find online (and on the Xbox itself) are not helpful; they just say that to get the best picture quality, to use an HDMI cable and choose a resolution that is native to the monitor.

Actually, most of the materials say to use a Microsoft-branded HDMI cable. But this is just advertising, isn't it? I can't possibly need Microsoft kit to make this standard connection work?
posted by Ryon to Technology (19 answers total)
Are we talking about the dashboard or in game? Very few games are technically native 1080p on the Xbox, most are upscaled in some matter just to get to 720p. Hell even the dashboard is "only" 720p.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:52 AM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: edit: ...which I think is crazy.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:53 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: I did read about games not necessarily supporting full HD, but the dashboard is only 720p? That is crazy, but I guess you just answered my question.
posted by Ryon at 10:55 AM on August 30, 2010

Yeah, very few games actually run at 1080p. In fact, I can't think of any just off the top of my head, but I'm sure some of the big names do.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:56 AM on August 30, 2010

The crazy people at Beyond3D's forum have more information than you probably are looking for on this subject. By my count there are about 4 Xbox 360 titles that support 1920x1080p natively.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:59 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I believe the dashboard should run in 1080. I had some problems recently when I switched my Xbox from one display to another which were solved by resetting the console's display settings.
posted by JohnMarston at 10:59 AM on August 30, 2010

At that small screen size, you shouldn't notice the difference between 1080p and 720p if you're in a normal living configuration (5-6ft from the television).
posted by geoff. at 11:00 AM on August 30, 2010

I run xbox games at 1920x1080 resolution on my monitor, although I'm not sure if it works for all games. When you say that you tell the xbox to pick the optimal resolution, are you picking it by hand? I have a drop down list that lets me choose 1920x1080.

I'm guessing it's a game thing, too. Are you playing old xbox games? Have you tried something recent, like Fallout 3?
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2010

I don't use HDMI, though, which may mean I have different menu interactions.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:02 AM on August 30, 2010

The xbox 360 internally renders games at 720p and upscales or downscales are requested. 1080p requires more GPU processing power, more bandwidth, larger buffers, higher fill rate, etc than 720p. The Xbox 360 is over 5 years old and costs less than the video card in my mediocre gaming rig. I think just getting 720p out of that beater is something of a minor engineering miracle.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:06 AM on August 30, 2010

Plenty of big budget games can't even output at 720p, let alone 1080p. Initially Microsoft required that all games released for the system must output in at least 1280x720 (720p). Microsoft dropped that requirement about a year ago:

When the Xbox 360 was released, Microsoft stated that all games must run at a minimum resolution of 1280x720 on screen, qualifying them for the 720p HD standard. Only a few games have managed to get around this caveat, including Halo 3, which runs at 1152x640 and Call of Duty 4 which runs at 1024x600. Games such as these lowered they resolutions in exchange for more graphical effects to be processed at once. The give and take was acceptable to Microsoft and their sub-720p screen resolutions were allowed.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:11 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: JohnMarston: thanks for that tip, but it didn't seem to do anything.

geoff.: I understand that idea, but I'm sitting right in front of a monitor on my desk. I was just hoping the text on the dashboard would be crisper.

SpacemanStix, damn dirty ape, others: Again, I understand that due to processing limitations, most (nearly all) games will be upscaled, but the dashboard interface is not particularly intensive and I guess I assumed it would be rendered at the full 1080p. Opinions so far seem to vary on this issue. Does anyone know definitively?
posted by Ryon at 11:14 AM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Also, SpacemanStix: I do get a list and I've tried selecting 1080p manually, but at the top of that list an option for "Optimal Resolution," and when I choose that it sets itself to 1080p. The Xbox happily applies these settings but neither seems to bump up the apparent resolution of the dashboard.

I guess my new, more specific question is whether the "NXE" dashboard interface is meant to render in full 1080p or only upscaled 720p.
posted by Ryon at 11:19 AM on August 30, 2010

OK, you guys are getting render resolution and output resolution confused. Regardless of what resolution a game renders at (which as noted is often not 1080p on 360 or PS3), it will output at 1080p if you set it to 1080p.

So on component, VGA, etc you can set it in the dashboard to 1080p and it will upscale. If it didn't your TV would anyways.

However HDMI is supposed to do a "handshake" with the TV to determine the proper resolution. On any DLP/LCD/etc TV, there's essentially a fixed resolution which it should report via this handshake and then the 360 will use that.

So it sounds like, for some reason, the 360 is getting negotiated down to 720p. If you have an LCD TV @ 1080p, it's still getting "displayed" at 1080p, but the TV will usually report the pre-upscaling resolution.

The NXE can definitely output 1080p. I'm not sure why that's not happening, except to say that HDMI, especially the older your TV is, is flaky. You could try component or VGA connections if your TV supports them.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:48 AM on August 30, 2010

The NXE dashboard renders in 720p but will upscale to output 1080p over an hdmi connection. It could be a problem with the handshake between the monitor and the Xbox, as wildcrdj suggests, especially if the monitor is older. We should also know the native resolution of your monitor as that could be the problem. Also some monitors do a bad job of 1:1 mapping or hide the option under a menu.

So what year is the monitor and what is the native resolution?
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:24 PM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: For the last few people trying to diagnose the wrong issue:

The Xbox says it is running at 1080p. When I go into the monitor's menu, it says it is receiving 1080p. When I tell the Xbox to use an "optimal" resolution, it chooses 1080p. But the picture looks exactly the same as if I set the Xbox to use 720p instead.

The complaint is that the hardware all says 1080, but the UI is still looking like 720p.

This means that everything is working fine, end to end.
posted by Rendus at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: Ahh, yes I see now. Dashboard appears to always render at 720p upon further research, so everything is Normal.

(Would it really matter that much? I suppose the text could be a little sharper or something, but since the Dashboard is just a set of menus it's not the kind of difference you'd get in a game)
posted by wildcrdj at 12:42 PM on August 30, 2010

Best answer: So the problem is: Despite the Xbox and monitor both saying 1080p, the picture quality is clearly something less than native 1080p.

The answer is: Because the Xbox renders at a sub 1080p resolution (and in some cases sub 720p) for all but a handful of games (listed in the earlier B3D link), what you are actually receiving is an image rendered at 720p (or potentially lower) and then upscaled to 1080p. This is the cause of the slight burryness and pixelation and is normal.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:54 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Not what I wanted to hear, but at least nothing is wrong with my equipment. Thanks, all.
posted by Ryon at 1:48 PM on August 30, 2010

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