Back in 2006 (when the current generation of consoles was still called the next generation) we did our first Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3 graphics comparison. Since then we've released rounds 2, 3, and 4, but we hadn't touched the third rail--the PC--until now. The graphics comparison features started out as a way to examine which console had better graphics, but readers began asking us to include PC image comparisons for games available on all three platforms. We focused on more recent games for our current comparison, because those are the games people are still buying and playing. You'll likely recognize many of the shots from our previous graphics comparisons. The results aren't terribly surprising, but the differences are still interesting to see. A well-equipped PC beats both consoles easily--of course, that same PC also costs three to four times more than either of the consoles.
On the PC, we used FRAPs to capture images at 1920x1080 resolution. We equipped our test PC with high-end components, a GeForce 280 GTX, and a quad-core Intel Core 2 CPU. The PC allowed us to enable high-quality settings in most games and have plenty of power left over to kick antialiasing up to 4x and anisotropic filtering up to 8x. For the consoles, we captured all of our images over HDMI with games running at 720p resolution, and we enabled full HDMI range on the PS3.
Each game has four sets of rollover images. The first image is a full screenshot set resized to fit the width of the page, followed by a zoomed-in image set that we created by cropping the original screen grabs to show you how the games look at a 1:1 pixel ratio. To easily compare the PC to the consoles, we scaled down the original 1920x1080 PC images to 1280x720 and cropped from there. The third and fourth image sets follow the same pattern. Mouse over the captions to swap the images back and forth. Keep in mind that these are large screenshots, so viewers with slow Internet connections should expect to wait a while for images to load.
Fallout 3A Washington, DC, teeming with automotive executives seeking government aid isn't nearly as dismal as the postapocalyptic DC setting in Fallout 3. Shadows and lighting change according to the game's day-and-night cycle, and we made sure to match timestamps for our comparison shots. In what will come as no surprise, the PC shames both consoles in the image-quality comparison. Everything from the textures to the antialiasing to the reflections looks better on the PC. Foliage, piping, and far-off buildings look far superior on the PC due to transparency antialiasing effects. Even draw distance is better on the PC, as the rocks and a fence near the burned-out bus aren't even visible on the consoles.
Dead SpaceDark corners, slow player movement, intense music, and monsters with a propensity to crawl out of walls left us reaching for a pair of adult diapers while taking screenshots. Once again, the PC is the overall champ here. A high-end video card goes a long way when it comes to running a game at insanely high resolutions with detailed textures and superior antialiasing. Objects in the seating area and the sheets of paper in the middle of the room get blurrier and blurrier as you switch between the platforms. Even the text readout that's practically in front of your character's face looks better on the PC.
Call of Duty: World at WarCall of Duty: World at War puts you in the thick of both the Japanese and Russian WWII fronts. The platforms look largely the same, except that the PC edges out both of the consoles in antialiasing and textures, which you can see in higher detailed surfaces and smoother edges in the PC shots. Interestingly enough, we also noticed that the water-landing scenario shown in the second set of shots plays differently in the PC version. When your character gets pulled up from the water at the start of the level in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game, he remains stationary. In the PC version, the waves actively push your character around, making screenshots more difficult to capture.
Grand Theft Auto IVGrand Theft Auto IV finally made it to the PC; unfortunately, it arrived with its fair share of performance problems. At times we experienced massive texture issues that caused the game to render nothing but water with our lonely car sitting on top of the waves. The game's lighting and shadowing also rendered incorrectly, creating nasty shadow bands over the buildings and streets. We didn't include images of the graphical artifacts because we didn't see them frequently enough warrant documenting. Generally GTAIV runs fine, and RockStar has released a patch since our testing that should clear up most of these visual oddities.
GTAIV is the one game we tested for this comparison that didn't let us max out the image-quality settings on the PC. At the moment, no video card has enough RAM to load up high-quality textures with high resolutions at maximum-quality settings. We could, however, load up medium textures with very high-quality rendering and mostly maxed-out sliders. Surprisingly, GTAIV does not support antialiasing in any form, which heavily detracts from the game because the city environment has a lot of hard edges, wires, and random foliage. Even with all the problems, GTAIV looks better on the PC by a wide margin. The PC's high resolution and draw-distance levels keep higher-quality textures, lighting, and transparency effects visible farther into the distance.