Update: PlayStation 4 Pro comes out next week (November 10), but before we have one in our own home we thought it’d be a good idea to revisit the highs and lows of the system we saw firsthand at Sony’s New York City event.
Unfortunately … to be honest, it’s not capable of a ton more than the previous generation – it’s more like an HD update to Sony’s high-selling system rather than a full-on sequel.
That said, the big change for people who own a 4K Ultra-HD TV is that the system can natively support games rendered in 4K resolution (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) with HDR, or high dynamic range, technology. But more than just a higher resolution, Sony says that developers will now be able to add additional details – like better ambient lighting, particle effects and more detailed textures – to all games going forward.
But do a few extra details and a fancy resolution mean you should buy a PlayStation 4 all over again?
For all intents and purposes, the PS4 Pro looks like Sony just stacked half of an original PS4 unit on top of another. (Jokes of Nintendo GameCube units taped together come to mind.)
The console embodies the same rhombus-like silhouette … only slightly taller. Even the hardwire connections remain the same: HDMI-out, auxiliary audio, digital audio output, USB 3.0 and Ethernet.
And, considering Sony hasn’t said “boo” about what is specifically inside the console, we’re not 100% clear on why the PS4 Pro is any bigger than its predecessor.
Our best guess is that the improved internals generate more heat and require more power, and thus require more room for both a larger power supply and better cooling.
Other than that, you’re looking at a simply bigger PS4.
What can it do that my PS4 can’t?
That’s the million dollar — or rather, $400 — question, isn’t it? Well, after sitting through a few hands-off demonstrations immediately following the press conference, I can tell you two things that it does really well.
4K and HDR. And, that’s about it. However, the PS4 Pro is Sony’s first 4K console, making it a landmark in and of itself.
The PS4 Pro can natively render 4K visuals to TVs that support it. This means far more detail in your games than you’re used to unless you’ve been gaming on a high-end gaming PC.
I witnessed the new PS4-exclusive adventure game Horizon: Zero Dawn switch between native 1080p and visuals upscaled to 4K, and the difference was night and day. The pockmarks in a nearby cliff face in the background were immediately noticeable, only to return to muddy texture maps when swapped to 1080p.
As for HDR, this allows the PS4 Pro to highlight far more details in a scene in the distant background than ever before. I was shown pre-alpha gameplay of Mass Effect Andromeda in which even distant ambient lights were visible and vibrant. In another demo of Infamous: First Light, the sun itself appeared lost in a texture map compared a bright and defined orb in the sky through HDR.
Of course, neither of these enhancements will work if your TV is not a 4K and does not offer HDR rendering – for you, Sony says you’ll get to see additional particle effects and high-res textures thanks to a new “Pro Mode” that developers will be able to enable in all PS4 titles going forward.
Speaking with a few PS4 game developers on the event floor, we learned that their game assets are rendered at an incredibly high resolution and with 100% of the sRGB color gamut anyway. So, what the PS4 Pro is doing is bringing those high quality assets better to bear.
Our first take
The difference between a PS4 game in 1080p and the same game in 4K and HDR is night and day, without question. Gamers that have a TV that offers both 4K resolution and HDR rendering and (somehow) not a PS4, you’re in for a treat.
But, for those in almost every other scenario, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about this device – additional details and all. If you’re using a traditional HD TV, there likely won’t be enough here to warrant you to upgrade from your first-gen PS4. And even for those with a 4K HDR television, there aren’t any PS4-exclusive games that hugely benefit from this advanced hardware.
If you don’t have a 4K HDR television and don’t plan on buying one, then there is zero point in buying a PS4 Pro until you do so. The fact that the PS4 Pro doesn’t support 4K Blu-ray makes it an even harder $400 / £349 to justify – a fairly strange point considering that Sony was one of the biggest proponents of Blu-ray last generation as well as the creator of the medium.
Our takeaway? The PS4 Pro is a minor iteration on an already hugely successful game console that might have trouble finding its way into a ton of living rooms this holiday season if only for how narrow of a niche it fills.