Note: There seems to be confusion about this article, but to clarify, the point isn’t that the screen on the controller can’t run at 1080p or 720p. That was never going to happen. The point is that there will be many games that can’t run at 1080p via the television because of the way the controller is used.
It was confirmed at E3 2011 that the Wii U will support 1080p. But the word “support” doesn’t mean “all games will run at 1080p”. It just means that, in theory, they could run at the higher resolution. And according to a post on NeoGAF, developers may need to take advantage of this fuzzy language, since it may be difficult for them to make their games playable in 1080p without shunning the touchscreen controller (or lowering the frame-rate to the point of near-unplayability).
If this second-hand source of information is to be believed, the Wii U is “not a console that looks to manage software with complex engines with such ease that their resolution might be 1080p, even at 30 fps”. Instead, “the 720p resolution is best suited for these titles to have a smooth framerate, in addition of the sub-screen”.
The source is quick to note that, the games on the Wii U that he’s sourcing this information from have “an intensive use” of the touchscreen controller, with this sub-screen displaying 3D scenes and a “different angle of what is on the TV” (which we’ve seen in Killer Freaks from Outer Space and Ghost Recon Online). This is worrying at first thought, as it seems like the Wii U is underpowered. That’s not necessarily the case though:
The system is therefore capable of displaying a main screen of AT LEAST comparable quality than current gen versions in 720p (with I guess, a certain amount of AA, etc.) AND another 480p content on the tablet.
It’s also mentioned that these games:
…aren’t tailored from A to Z for the Wii U particularities. And everything is still in development, + dependent of the evolution of dev kits that are changing regularly (at least until now). So it can only improve, and the situation may be different for Nintendo and first-party titles.
And they’re also running on the V4 dev kit, while the V5 kit is “a little more powerful”. But the new kit alone is not enough to “push these games from 720p to 1080p”. But, with all of this in mind:
…the end result on the main screen will be prettier than on PS360, with a higher resolution (many current gen content are not in true 720p) and especially in conjunction with a heavy use of the tablet. We might expect that games leaving [the tablet controller] for simple things will be even more impressive on the TV.
As far as rumours are concerned, this feels legitimate. It’s detailed, it’s backed with reasoning that makes a lot of sense, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo wasn’t able to offer full support for 1080p when use of the controller is concerned. It seems like a trade-off they would make to lower the price of the system.
But of course, it is a rumour, so be skeptical and be patient. We’re a few months from E3 2012, and that’s when we’ll have a much clearer understanding of reality.