PlayStation 4 Pro Review: Is This “4K” Machine Worth An Upgrade?

Sony Ps4 Pro Flat Thumbnail
Print
by Rob Williams on November 10, 2016 in Gaming

Sleek and black like my morning coffee, a PS4 Pro arrived filling me with more excitement than that bucket of candy you tore through. Recent press touts the console’s advancement into 4K and HDR, but is that enough? With a console in-hand, I turn speculation into fact. Let’s figure out whether or not the PS4 Pro is right for you.

A Look At PS4 Pro-specific Updates & Final Thoughts

As mentioned a couple of times already, the PS4 Pro isn’t going to magically improve your games, and if you already own a PS4, you best be prepared to not notice anything different with the OS itself.

What’s new is almost entirely tied to the games that can make use of the improved hardware. A notable exception is that with the Pro, you’re able to record video at the glorious resolution of 1080p – assuming the game you’re playing runs at that resolution (or better).

To give an impression of the differences, I took screenshots with the handful of games I have that support the PS4 Pro, and also the main menu screen, which was more to show the lack of difference there.

Note that all screenshots taken on the PS4 Pro have been resized to 1080p for the sake of not looking ridiculous on the vast majority of monitors. 4K screenshots can be had here:

Note: PS4 images on top; PS4 Pro on bottom.

The PS OS has gone unchanged on the Pro outside of some specific options being added to the menu. The extra resolution hasn’t changed the scaling of any UI elements that I could see. These screenshots can attest that if there are changes, they’re going to be very difficult to find.

Because non-Pro game screenshots on the Pro save at 4K resolution, I believe that the entire OS is upscaled so that when true 4K content is viewed, no resolution change needs to take place (avoiding a temporary black screen during the transition).

PS Main Menu - PS4 1080p
PS Main Menu PS4 Pro Resized 4K To 1080p

Campo Santo’s excellent Firewatch received a PS4 Pro update just in time for the console’s launch, and it makes an enormous difference in the level of detail. After looking at the Pro version, the non-Pro version will look downright blurry. Unfortunately, performance hasn’t improved at all, and this is a game that really needs some TLC in that area. If you haven’t played this gem, check out our review.

Firewatch - PS4 1080p
Firewatch PS4 Pro Resized 4K To 1080p

Unfortunately, none of the games I was able to test have deliberate detail improvements, but instead just increase the resolutions to, in effect, mimic anti-aliasing, even on smaller monitors. You can see that improvement in inFAMOUS Second Son quite well: signs are crisper, and so are the textures.

inFAMOUS Second Son - PS4 1080p
inFAMOUS Second Son PS4 Pro Resized 4K To 1080p

The same applies to Uncharted 4; the increased resolution makes edges seem less blurry on equal-sized displays, thanks to the simple math of compressing 4 times the pixels into the same amount of space.

Uncharted 4 - PS4 1080p
Uncharted 4 PS4 Pro Resized 4K To 1080p

Wrapping things up, Ratchet & Clank backs up the results we’ve seen so far; the Pro makes things crisper.

Ratchet Clank - PS4 1080p
Ratchet Clank PS4 Pro Resized 4K To 1080p

It’s unfortunate that these are the best examples I can share right now. It’d be nice if more games were updated for increased image quality over increased resolution, but that’s something that could change. And with that said…

Final Thoughts

I’ve thought a lot about the PS4 Pro ($399.99) since its announcement two months ago, and while I’ve been quite critical of it leading up to this point, I can honestly say that after giving it a hands-on test… that criticism was warranted.

From the get-go, I hated the fact that Sony was pushing this as a “4K” console, when even high-end gaming PCs can’t handle that resolution with ease. As mentioned multiple times, I value 60 FPS over a higher resolution any day of the week, and as evidenced so far, 60 FPS is an afterthought for most developers (refer to the list here). Or, if it’s not an afterthought, 60 FPS is still missing from the vast majority of launch PS4 Pro titles.

So what’s the Pro upgrade really give us? Well, as seen in the shots above, the biggest advantage is increased crispness. Is that really worth $400? Of course not. Would it be much more worth it if developers actually increased detail levels and / or performance? Absolutely.

Sony's PS4 Pro

This all said, one thing I should mention is that PS VR owners should benefit more from the Pro than those with 4K TVs, although as I don’t own a PS VR, I couldn’t conduct that sort of testing. Thus, I regret not being able to get into more specifics about that here. Further, even if you’re not a PS VR owner, it could be that you play games that have more worthwhile updates on the Pro; I am limited to what I own.

To me, the Pro simply isn’t worth an upgrade based on what I’ve seen, but to be more accurate: it’s not worth an upgrade right now. The current state of things is downright ridiculous, in my opinion, but things should improve.

To counter the negativity a bit: while 60 FPS or increased detail might be rare right now, it’s almost no surprise given that most of the updated games have been in development for a while – upgrading them now just isn’t something most developers will want to put that much effort into. Things will hopefully change as time goes on, as games just entering the development stage now are built with the Pro architecture in mind.

I hate to be so negative, but I can’t recommend an upgrade to the PS4 Pro right now unless you have a specific reason to. I’d recommend everyone else but die-hards, PS VR owners, or first-time PS4 buyers to hold out until that reason comes along.

Pros

  • The PS4, but faster (+31% CPU; +227% GPU).
  • Runs quiet in limited testing (more testing will be done soon).
  • Extra USB port at the back.
  • Can record gameplay at 1080p.
  • Hard drive can be replaced with larger one or an SSD.
  • USB and Wi-Fi upgrades over the original.

Cons

  • Number of titles supporting Pro features right now is small.
  • Too much focus on 4K, and not enough on increasing detail levels.
  • Lack of 60 FPS titles, at least right now.

Nov 10 Addendum: This article originally showed worse detail in Ratchet & Clank on the Pro. This was due to the level not being fully loaded at the time the screenshot was taken. This has been fixed in the review.

Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an 'Advocate of the consumer', focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

twitter icon facebook icon googleplus icon instagram icon