Sony’s new PlayStation 4 Pro plays the same games as the regular PS4, but will make many of them look better. Photo: Sony The upcoming PlayStation lineup. From left: the new PS4, PS4 Pro, Dualshock 4 controller, PS Camera, PS VR and Move controllers. Photo: Sony
Sony has announced two new versions of its PlayStation 4 will release this year, including one with greater graphical capabilities than the standard console.
At an event in New York City, Sony took the wraps off a new standard PS4 — which is smaller than the existing device but functions exactly the same — plus the PS4 Pro, a bigger and more powerful machine.
The Pro has a higher clocked processor and a more powerful GPU than the standard, and while both consoles play the exact same game discs and downloads, game developers have the option of adding graphical bells and whistles that only players with the Pro will see.
Sony explained that this strategy is a way to give players and game developers choice over the fidelity of the experience, while also making sure every player can play every PS4 game.
The Pro is capable of outputting games and streaming video at 4K resolution, something the regular PS4 cannot do. High Dynamic Range (HDR) is also coming to games and streaming video on PS4 however, since HDR only requires a compatible TV and not a heap of additional processing power, the capability will come to all PlayStation 4 consoles via an online update next week.
Sony said some developers are working on PS4 Pro and HDR updates for games that have already been released, meaning players will see improvements in the games they already own if they have an HDR TV or upgrade to the new console. Developers will also be able to give Pro-exclusive graphical touches to games running on the upcoming PlayStation VR headset.
It’s worth noting that, when it comes to gaming on the PS4 Pro, there’s no upgrade that applies to every game. So it’s not true to say the Pro “plays PS4 games in 4K”, or that it makes all PS4 games look better. Rather, the specific in-game differences between the Pro and the standard PS4 will differ from game to game.
Examples shown off during Sony’s event included drawing extra environmental details on screen, adding water reflections, increasing shadow complexity, applying physics to objects like a character’s hair, displaying the game in 4K or applying an algorithm that makes game textures better. It just depends on what the game developer decides to do with the extra resources, if it decides to do anything at all.
Importantly, some of the improvements made possible by the Pro console won’t require a 4K TV to see, meaning players using standard Full HD TVs will still see improved graphics using the new console.
With the release of PS4 Pro, the platform has come much closer to gaming on PC in the sense that two people could buy the exact same game but — depending on the machine they have and the kind of display it’s connected to — get a range of different results. The key difference is that players won’t have to change settings themselves to optimise performance, and that Sony is guaranteeing all software will run well on the base hardware.
In Australia the new-look PlayStation 4 will be available on September 15. It will cost $439.95 with a 500GB hard drive or $509.95 with 1TB. The PlayStation 4 Pro, which has a 1TB hard drive, will be available on November 10 at $559.95. So should I consider a PS4 Pro?
Incremental updates like this are pretty new to video game systems. Usually you can make a hardware purchase decision based solely on the software available for the system, but the new paradigm means software is tied to a family of consoles rather than a specific machine.
If you already have a PS4, the upgrade will come at a big price considering all the games you get will also be playable on your old machine, but it may be worth it for some (especially those with 4K HDR TVs). Upgrading will make sure you get the best version of future games, and may improve the graphics of games you already own, depending on whether the developers take advantage of the extra grunt.
If you don’t yet have a current generation console, the PS4 Pro is only $50 more than the 1TB PS4. It could also potentially tip the scales in favour of Sony’s platform compared to Microsoft’s Xbox, which has also seen a recent revision of its standard console with the Xbox One S and plans a more powerful box in 2017. Yet while the PS4 Pro is certainly more capable than the PS4 or Xbox One S, which are comparable in terms of processing power, one has to assume next year’s Xbox will raise the bar again.
In terms of streaming video, the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Pro both handle 4K HDR, while the standard PS4 does HDR only. Bafflingly, since it’s a Sony standard, the Xbox One S will play 4K HDR Blu-Ray discs while no version of the PS4 will.
If you don’t care about 4K or HDR at all, the only advantages the PS4 Pro appears to have over the standard PS4 are that game developers can choose to make their games look nicer on the latter, and PSVR owners with a PS4 Pro may get a bit more out of their virtual reality experiences.