Performance mode favors smooth gameplay with higher frame rates. Quality or resolution mode sacrifices frame rate in order for a game to look its best. Other modes allow for high-framerate output or prioritize effects like ray-tracing. What you choose depends on preferences, the game you’re playing, and the capabilities or your display.

On modern consoles, you’ll find options for fine-tuning fidelity and frame rate. They first appeared in the PS4 and Xbox One era, but they’re now commonplace on PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. Here’s how you can tell which is best for you.

Consoles Have Graphics Options Now

Like PC users, console gamers now have a choice of variable graphics modes. These don’t exist in every game, but they’re increasingly common. They’re particularly prevalent in big-budget “triple-A” titles and first-party games from the likes of Sony and Microsoft.

The PS5 even includes a game presets menu under the main console Settings that lets you specify which mode you’d like to use when a game gives you the option of doing so. Xbox has no such menu. Regardless of which platform you’re using, you will find these options in-game Settings under a heading like “Video” or “General” though be aware that you may need to restart the game for the changes to take effect.

Choosing a graphics mode on a console is a simpler experience than doing so on a PC. PC users have all manner of controls available over individual elements including shadows, reflections, and anti-aliasing. They can also decide on the precise render resolution, whether to use upscaling technologies like NVIDIA’s DLSS, and optimize performance by using different drivers.

On a console, you’ll get a choice of several modes (usually two). These are usually known as performance mode and quality (or resolution) mode. You don’t get to make changes to individual elements or specify a render resolution, but you can choose from presets.

Though this choice may seem self-explanatory, you might not always want to pick the same mode for every game. The level of optimization a game has received, the type of game you are playing, and personal preference can all influence what you decide.

Performance Mode Favors Frame Rate

Picking “performance” or “frame-rate” mode means that you’re choosing to sacrifice overall graphical fidelity to hit a higher performance target. For many modern titles, this will mean targeting 60 frames per second instead of 30. For some, it means a more consistent 30 frames per second with a reduced possibility of performance dips.

To achieve this, you’ll see a cut to the overall level of graphical fidelity. This could mean less detail on-screen at any one time, shorter draw distances, simpler geometry on models, and less complex effects for lighting, particles (clouds), reflections, and shadows.

Native render performance may also be lower, which means the game will run at a lower resolution. A dynamic resolution is more likely to be used to reduce or increase overall resolution on the fly to maintain performance. Some effects like ray tracing and real-time global illumination may be cut altogether, leading to less realistic lighting effects.

The upside is that you’ll get smoother gameplay that can maintain a higher frame rate. This makes performance mode good for fast-paced, action-oriented games like first-person shooters, racing games, and competitive online experiences. This is the same reason PC gamers who are serious about online play buy high refresh rate monitors.

Some Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 games may even target 120 frames per second with their performance modes, but you’ll need a TV with a 120Hz panel if you want to make use of this. These modes require 120Hz mode to be set up on your Xbox or PlayStation, and may also be labeled “high frame rate” mode (making even more severe cutbacks to improve performance).

Quality or Resolution Mode Prioritizes Fidelity

On the other end of the scale is “quality” mode, which may also be called “resolution” or “fidelity” or “graphics” mode depending on the game. This is the mode to pick if you’d rather see a game at its best, regardless of what effect that may have on the frame rate. Generally speaking, the majority of titles will use quality mode by default.

Quality mode is a graphical showcase. You’ll get higher render resolutions, possibly even native 4K, with higher boundaries for dynamic resolution scaling. This mode will push a console’s hardware to the edge, squeezing as much detail on screen at once while still (hopefully) offering a “playable” frame rate.

Expect more complex shadows and reflections, a higher level of overall detail, and more “little touches” like more visible blades of grass or increased foliage density. If the game makes use of ray tracing, you’re far more likely to find it in quality mode (though some games provide separate dedicated modes for ray tracing).

Tchia (PS5)

This comes at the cost of frame rate and usually means limiting a game to 30 frames per second. On top of this, you may encounter more unwanted slowdown where the frame rate drops below its 30 frames per second target. This can cause inconsistencies with frame times, where the game can feel sluggish to play due to new frames not being delivered in a timely manner.

Ultimately, performance here depends on the level of optimization a game has received. 30 frames per second is a very playable frame rate when a game is optimized well. If there are relatively few stutters and episodes of slowdown, you might prefer the overall level of fidelity when compared with performance mode.

In-Between Modes Also Exist

Some games feature even more modes to choose from, bridging the gap between the two or going a step further than the highest or lowest rungs. For example, “Performance RT” mode found in Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PlayStation 5 targetted 60 frames per second while still incorporating ray-traced elements like reflections.

Other games, like Dirt 5 on Xbox Series X featured three modes: performance, quality, and a separate dedicated 120Hz mode. The latter was aimed specifically at players who desired the highest possible frame rate, which delivered a noticeable downgrade in overall quality but seriously smooth gameplay.

Some games, like Deathloop on PlayStation 5, have performance and quality modes (both of which could hit 60 frames per second), with a separate 30 frames-per-second locked ray tracing mode that incorporates ray traced shadows and ambient occlusion.

Since ray tracing is an expensive rendering technique, expect lower frame rates but more realistic and interesting lighting. Higher frame rate modes that push beyond the 60 frames per second barrier are going to need to make some serious sacrifices to both levels of detail and resolution.

As future consoles become more powerful, these lines will begin to blur. Though the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are capable of ray tracing, the hardware is still relatively underpowered for these sorts of rendering techniques at anything approaching the native resolution of a 4K display.

What Should You Choose?

Which mode you choose depends largely on your personal preferences and what you’re currently playing. It also depends on the level of optimization a game has received. Consistency is often more important than the raw numbers. If a game delivers a consistent 30 frames per second and looks great doing it, you might prefer to leave the eye candy on.

But if you’re a sucker for 60 frames per second (and we don’t blame you), performance mode is where you want to be. In-between modes like “Performance RT” allow you to claw back some fidelity while holding on to higher frame rates and smoother performance.

Forza Horizon 5 (Xbox Series X)

If you want the absolute best quality graphics you can muster, stick with quality. It’s often worth putting a game into quality mode just to see how good it can look, even if you don’t intend on playing through it in anything other than performance mode. Slower-paced titles are perfect fits for fidelity graphics modes.

Play around with the different modes to see what you prefer. Some players might not notice the benefits of performance mode, while others might not appreciate the higher levels of detail in quality mode. PlayStation 5 owners can nominate their favorite graphics mode in the console’s settings, which saves time when starting a new game.

Graphics presets aren’t the only options you have with your Sony or Microsoft console. Check out our favorite Xbox Series X accessories and our top-rated add-ons for PlayStation 5 too.

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