Ever since Nintendo announced the Switch there’s been much debate as to what the dock actually does. Initial theories suggested it included a discreet-GPU which would help boost performance when Switch was docked. Indeed even Greg Miller from Kinda Funny was still under the illusion it had “some extra power in it” when he spoke to Tim Gettys in a recent impressions video.
To add further confusion I recently read a bizarre article over at Polygon where the writer was actually complaining the Switch could not charge out of the dock. This is simply not true. The Switch will charge from any USB-C source.
Much of the confusion is born from the fact Nintendo stipulated the Switch will run games up to 1080p when docked, but are limited to 720p when in handheld mode. This all makes sense, as the GPU clock speeds are reduced while on battery power, and of course the unit’s screen is 1280×720 in resolution.
So what does the dock do? Well it simply supplies the Switch with a constant power source, so the unit can run at full performance without worrying about battery life. The dock is merely a USB-C hub which powers the Switch, and outputs to your TV via HDMI – much like Apple’s expensive adaptor for the new MacBooks. (It’ll be interesting to see if similar adaptors work on Switch – something I’ll be testing come March 3rd).
All of this technology is already out in the wild, which is why I’m still amazed how shocked people are regarding the speed the image transfers from handheld to TV, and vice-versa. This is happens when plugging your laptop or tablet into your TV with a HDMI lead. It’s nothing magical.
What is magical, however, is Nintendo adopting modern industry standards, rather than the awful proprietary solutions used in the past. I own both a 12″ MacBook and a Google Pixel phone, so the Switch is a welcome addition to my USB-C ecosystem.
Ultimately the dock doesn’t seem to have any hidden powers. It’s more a glorified USB hub with HDMI-out than anything. I’m sure it won’t be long before cheaper cable-only solutions show up on eBay, meaning you won’t have to carry a dock on your travels. Handy if you fancy some TV gaming at a friends, or in your hotel room.