For 4K’s sake…
Back in March, the internet was set ablaze with rumours that Sony were going to be releasing an ‘upgraded’ PS4 at some point in the future, as well as the now traditional “slim” redesign of the system. Skip forward 8 months, and the PS4 Pro is upon us. A machine targeting “discerning console gamers” who want to get the best performance from their dedicated machines without jumping into the PC performance rat-race, how big is the jump from the PS4, and more importantly, is it a justifiable upgrade for users?
Coming in slightly larger than the launch PS4 and noticeably heftier than the recently redesigned “Slim” PS4, the PS4 Pro is definitely a substantial machine, whilst still fitting the design elements of what people deem acceptable as “console sized”. The design of the Pro and the Slim share the same design language, and much like its sleeker sibling, the Pro genuinely looks a lot nicer in person than it does in photos. A mirror-finished PlayStation logo sits atop the Pro, which is a nice touch whilst keeping the same aesthetic as the Slim. The ever present dual USB ports at the front are joined (finally!) by a rear port, primarily targeted at those with a PSVR unit to keep things nice and tidy. Also round the back is an optical audio port, somewhat cruelly jettisoned from the Slim model. It’s good to see that the port hasn’t completely fled Sony’s design documents, as there are a large number of high end headsets and accessories that still use it. The Pro also comes bundled with the newer design of Dual Shock 4, complete with see through section on the touchpad for the light bar to shine through. Rounding out the package is a mono headset, and all the cables you’ll need to get set up.
Most of the marketing around the PS4 Pro has focused on the system’s capability of running games in (or around) 4k resolution. I have been openly sceptical about the capabilities of a console that can natively run modern AAA games at a native 4k resolution, but there appears to be something backing up Sony’s claims. I don’t have a 4k TV myself, but we’ve tried it out on fellow NGB-er Andy’s 4k HDR-enabled set. Resolution-wise, there is a definite crispness to the image that isn’t achievable on 1080p, although that’s not to say that 1080p is suddenly bad. In fact, the jump doesn’t seem anywhere near as severe as the one from SD to HD, or even the leap from 720p to 1080p, despite the numbers of pixels being pushed becoming astronomically huge. Where the PS4 Pro can’t achieve a native 4k, then developers will be faced with several options to push their games to something close to it. The first is Checkerboard Rendering. This technique will render the game at a resolution higher than 1080p, but not at a native 4k (More than likely 1440p). The PS4 Pro will then take the image and apply some advanced processing techniques to upscale it to a resolution that is, so we’re told, almost indistinguishable from native 4k images. We’ll see how this pans out going forward, but the early signs are very promising. Images on 4k sets definitely do look sharper when either of the processes are being used, but when combined with HDR, it’s another story.
Whilst the standard PS4s have all been upgraded to allow HDR signals to be passed through to compatible TVs, the resolution will still be hampered by whatever the game can be rendered at. In the case of some titles, this may be down to 900p, or even 720p. With the PS4 Pro, games all run at a native 1080p at a minimum (provided a patch has been applied), which definitely helps things. Uncharted 4, however, looks absolutely staggering. An incredible looking game in its own right, the HDR/4k update provided by the PS4 Pro elevates it to another level. HDR really does need to be seen to be believed, and it improves the clarity of colours and lighting well beyond any resolution enhancements on their own.
Of course, the above paragraph is rendered somewhat moot if you don’t have a shiny new TV with all the bells and whistles on. Fortunately, the PS4 Pro has you covered. The messaging around “What it can do for 1080p” has been muddy at best from some developers, but the best example that I’ve seen so far has been Rise of the Tomb Raider. Benefiting from a simple menu option that basically asks you “Do you want more frames per second, or more pretty things?”, the game switches up on the fly between a high frame rate mode and an enhanced detail mode. Of these, the most striking is the high frame rate mode, catapulting Lara’s movements into an almost locked 60fps (I rarely saw any drops during my time with the game). It even exceeds the original PS4 resolution, achieving that locked 1080p60 that so many people have been craving on consoles since the new generation arrived. The “enhanced detail” mode offers up some fantastically detailed textures in the environments and character models, and runs at a permanently locked 30fps. It’s a rock solid frame rate and enhances the game substantially. The details appear subtle at first, but the more you play, the more you realise just how much more detailed things are.
This is something that I noticed throughout the time I’ve had so far with the PS4 Pro as well. Games that have a dynamic resolution, or a lower resolution overall, suddenly find themselves running at a permanent, native 1080p. Games such as Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1, which are both really good looking in their own right, suddenly look noticeably crisper and more atmospheric. Frame rates are tightened up as well, with Battlefield clinging to its 60fps closer than ever. Titanfall 2’s frame rate rarely wavered for me throughout the entire campaign on the standard PS4, but replaying areas on the PS4 Pro at a locked 1080p60 was really impressive. As mentioned above, sometimes the individual differences are relatively subtle, but put them all together and you’ve got a much nicer looking game on your hands.
It’s probably about time that I talk about the PSVR. I stated in my review that I’d yet to have any issues with it when I wrote it. That, for the most part, remains true. There are issues surfacing involving the PS4’s Rest mode and the tracking of the headset and controllers, which I have noticed on infrequent occasions, but this is always resoluved by a restart of the PS4. Overall, the standard PS4 performs admirably with PSVR, and it’s still a hugely enjoyable experience. With PS4 Pro, however, this steps up to another level. The extra graphical horsepower under the hood is put to great use with the VR headset, providing an experience that I can only really describe as “a bit more stable”. Edges seem a bit more defined, and the ‘shimmering’ effect that’s been present in a few games has been all but eliminated. It definitely doesn’t suddenly make PSVR unplayable on the standard PS4, but there is a marked improvement with the PS4 Pro. It may be something of a placebo effect, but I also feel like the tracking has improved a little bit as well, and I’ve yet to encounter any of the issues mentioned above.
Outside of games, the PS4 Pro feels quite a bit snappier than the older members of the family. Things like scrolling through your friends list suddenly feels like the information is instantly there, rather than pausing to load from the internet. General stuttering that crops up every now and then on the PS4 is eliminated. Some of this, presumably, is down to the addition of an extra 1GB of slower, DDR3, RAM. This RAM is used to swap out non-gaming applications that would usually be detrimental to performance in the regular PS4, ensuring that things like Netflix and iPlayer are kept separate from your marathon gaming sessions. A few people have asked about noise levels, and I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the pro. Even running Rise of the Tomb Raider with all the graphical effects turned on, the fan was still quieter than my launch PS4.
The PS4 Pro clocks in at £349, which is the same price as the original PS4 was on launch around 3 years ago. It’s a very strange product, and it’s the first time this “mid cycle upgrade” has been done in the home console space. Sony have promised that there will be no PS4 Pro exclusive games, modes or competitive benefits to players (eg, no multiplayer at 30fps/60fps differences). With Microsoft looking to do the same thing with an even more powerful box this time next year, the console race is turning into an entirely different beast altogether this generation.
With the PS4 Pro, Sony have introduced a whole new option to the console market. If you’re in the market for a new console, it’s difficult not to recommend the PS4 Pro, unless the additional £90 is a genuine barrier. However, if you already own a PS4, the question becomes a lot trickier. If you care about your games, how they perform and still want to stick with a console, then the PS4 Pro is a viable upgrade. If you have a 4k TV and want to squeeze the best out of a console, then it’s a viable upgrade. If you have a PSVR, then the PS4 Pro provides a noticeable improvement to the quality of experience you get. However, if you just want to play games and aren’t fussed about the difference between 30/60fps or 900p/1080p, then it’s difficult to recommend. It’s no secret that here at NGB most of us consider the PS4 our console of choice, and with the PS4 Pro, the best just got better.