Nintendo and 4K: How a patent reveal keeps the mind busy

For a company that outright denies the coming of a 4K device, Nintendo sure seems to take an interest in the technology behind it. Merely days after responding to the rumors of a 4K Switch, a newly published patent throws us off balance once more. Why is Nintendo investigating a DLSS-like upscaling technology? And why would Nintendo mention 4K in its patent if they’re not even gonna give us a 4K device? Why!? Talk to us, Shuntaro-san…

So, what kind of technology are we talking about? According to the released patent application, we’re dealing with  “systems and methods for machine-learned image conversion”. If you’d like to know how that works, I’ll try to break it down for you in understandable terms.

Imagine you have a low-res image and you want to make it high-res. What this technology will do is take that image and break it down into blocks of pixels. Each block gets analyzed and provided with context data. After that’s done, the blocks are fed into an activation matrix and run through a trained neural network. The result: an upscaled version of your low-res image. Got that? Neat-o!

It now turns out that Nintendo is working on a similar technique. But the question is why. According to some, upscaling might be the answer to cloud gaming. Having low-res source material upscaled to provide a player with crisp images, benefits both parties. But it’s that mention of 4K that has us on our tippy-toes again.

“It will be appreciated that while the specific example embodiments discussed in connection with FIGS. 2 and 9 are provided in the context of converting 540p images to 1080p images that the techniques discussed herein may apply to converting other resolutions into new resolutions. For example, whenever 540p is mentioned herein, similar techniques may be applied to 1080p source images. Also, whenever 1080p is mentioned in connection with a target image, the techniques discussed herein may also be applied to 4k images (e.g., 3840×2160).

Maybe it’s just very unlucky timing. Having this go public immediately after denying the existence of 4K dev kits doesn’t help. I mean, finding 11 smoking guns is one thing. Having ammo added to it now, that’s can’t be a coincidence. I guess the future will tell.

To be continued…