Nintendo will release a new souped-up Switch Pro in 2020 with 4K gaming support, Kantan Games analyst Serkan Toto predicts.
Nintendo could make a splash in 2020's next-gen market with a new Switch model, complete with beefier internal hardware like a new chipset and increased RAM to enable 4K gaming. Now that Nintendo has the handheld market completely dominated with the base Switch and on-the-go Switch Lite, it might be time for Nintendo to challenge the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X directly.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Nintendo will launch a Switch Pro in 2020, my guess is at $399," Toto told GamesIndustry.biz.
"More specifically, I predict 4K support, bigger cartridge sizes, and of course beefed-up components. I also think the device will launch after the summer holidays to counter the roll-out of the PS5 and next-gen Xbox later in the year - along with a first-party, system-seller game."
There's lots of merit to this prediction and Nintendo has some really interesting possibilities for Switch upgrades.
Switch Pro possibilities
Nintendo could release a brand new Switch Pro SKU that hits, say, 4K 30FPS with upscaling and natively boosts resolution and performance of older games. We could see the Switch Pro also get special developer-designed enhancement upgrades to even out perf, FPS, and visuals. Remember all Switch games have been downscaled in many ways due to the lower-end Tegra X1 processor's limited capabilities. The Switch's current hardware simply can't keep up with PS4 or Xbox One power, which means Switch games typically run at lower frame rates with a lot of visual and performance features culled.
The Switch Pro could even out this discrepancy and give developers lots more flexibility when porting their games.
The Switch Pro would be iterative and play all existing Switch games, of course, sharing features and architectural similarities with the current Switch systems--at least when it comes to OS and game-building tools.
Console-only Switch Pro
The new Switch Pro could be one of two things: A dedicated console-only box that doesn't actually have any tablet portion for on-the-go play, or a more powerful version of the current hybrid Switch model. I'm betting on the former. Right now Nintendo has two handhelds--one that docks, one that's handheld-only--so they don't explicitly need another on-the-go device.
A console-only Switch Pro would sit alongside the Switch family and give consumers a dedicated home gaming solution. Sure it breaks the Switch name, but then again so does the Switch Lite simply because it doesn't transform.
A Switch Pro console would also alleviate the need for variable hardware performance since it's console-only.
The Switch has two performance modes: Docked Mode, where the Tegra X1's GPU is fully unlocked to run at 768MHz when hooked up to a TV via the dock, and Handheld Mode, where the GPU is halved to run at 302.7MHz.
Games always run worse in Handheld Mode thanks to the halved GPU. Nintendo chose variable perf to ensure battery and thermals remained manageable when playing on-the-go.
A dedicated Switch Pro would simply deliver the same continuous performance all the time, maximizing frame rates, resolution, texture and lighting effects, and all the other bells and whistles that developers could pack in.
In 2018, Nintendo confirmed it was experimenting with new Switch hardware, and Research and Development spending has spiked.
Nintendo is also buying up Macronix chips en masse, which could indicate new hardware is on the way, but we don't know exactly what type of memory is being purchased. Nintendo currently only uses Macronix CMOS flash chips in its JoyCon controllers when it comes to hardware, and also uses Macronix's unique XtraROM storage for game cartridges.
Switch Pro add-on box
Nintendo could also take a rather unconventional route with upgrading the Switch. Instead of making a brand new system, they could release an optional add-on box that boosts power of the Switch you already own.
Think of it as an Expansion Pak from the old Nintendo 64 days, only on a much bigger scale.
It'd essentially be a processing box not unlike an external GPU enclosure that accelerates perf of your current Switch. You'd plug the box into your Switch dock via USB-C and reap the benefits of the extra hardware.
There's actually strong evidence Nintendo is (or was at some point) making this kind of device.
Back in 2016, Nintendo patented a Supplemental Computing Device for this express purpose. The SCD had many functionalities, though, and wasn't just about boosting processing power for gaming. A portion of the SCD patent defined extra CPU usage for stronger bandwidth, folding in with a massive online gaming infrastructure that we now call Switch Online.
I also predicted that the SCD could facilitate game streaming on the Nintendo Switch, possibly via NVIDIA's GeForce Now servers. This would circumvent the Switch's limited hardware.
Nintendo is actually experimenting with game streaming on the Switch, but only in Japan, and it's a weird rental type of service that isn't ready for widespread adoption (yet?).
What chipset will the Switch Pro use?
So what chipset will the Switch Pro use? To hit 4K gaming it needs a nice upgrade over the current Tegra SoC.
Right now the Switch uses NVIDIA's Tegra X1 to enable 720p 60FPS and 1080p 60FPS (mostly 1080p 30FPS) gaming. The Tegra X1 was originally made for autonomous vehicles, but was adapted into the Switch because of its versatility and decent power and perf.
In 2019, Nintendo rolled out two new Switch SKUs that used NVIDIA's refreshed 16nm Maxwell Tegra X1 chip (revised Switch and Switch Lite).
The 16nm Tegra X1 reduced power consumption, raised battery life, improved thermal efficiency while also closing a hardware-based vulnerability that allowed hacking. This refresh didn't actually change CPU/GPU performance though.
It's possible Switch Pro could tap NVIDIA's newish 12nm Tegra Xavier SoC for improved performance. It could also use a supercharged Tegra X1 too with tons of customizations (think of how AMD built the custom Jaguar SoC for the Xbox One X).
But I do think the timing is off. Nintendo would be better-served to release the Switch Pro after the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X in 2021 or even 2022, after Microsoft and Sony have duked it out in the next-gen arena.
Nintendo typically launches its systems in between or after MS and Sony consoles. They're highly unpredictable and mysterious nature makes every hardware release special and interesting, and that's not a trend I expect them to give up any time soon.
Last updated: Jan 3, 2020 at 06:11 am CST
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