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Sony’s PS4 Pro: The Pros, The Cons & The Baffling

Date: September 9, 2016
Author(s): Rob Williams

After months and months of waiting, Sony unveiled its newest, “highest-end” PlayStation 4 this week, the PS4 Pro. This launch proved that the rumor mill can be scarily accurate sometimes, but even so, there’s proven to be a lot to take away from the announcement. Most of it is good, but some of it is bad. And then we have the downright baffling. As you’d expect, we cover all of that here.



Introduction; PS4 Pro: The Good

I debated writing this article, but considering the fact that I can’t stop thinking about it, I guess it’s best that I do. As you’ve no doubt seen by now, Sony finally took the veil off of its PS4 Pro, the console formally known as PS4 Neo. With it comes some great news, some bad news, and some downright baffling news. I’ll tackle all of that here.

Earlier this year, I penned an article taking a look at what the PS “4.5” could be, or at least what I wanted it to be. While Techgage is almost entirely PC-focused, I’ve owned consoles all of my life, and while I was late to jump on the current-gen bandwagon, I ended up doing so with the PS4 last December. For the most part, I have few complaints outside of the obvious (eg: performance).

What I wanted most from the PS4 Pro is for developers to patch their already-released games, either to improve their performance (ideal) or visual quality. Perhaps even both. Fortunately, that is going to be happening, although we’re unsure at this point the extent of it. That’s just one perk of the new Pro model, though, so let’s get right into a look of what this thing is all about – good or bad.

The Good

It’s Faster!

This one is a no-brainer. We knew that the PS4 Pro was going to be faster, but I admit I didn’t realize it was going to be this much faster. The launch PS4 boasted about 1.8 TFLOPs of throughput, while early rumor put the PS ‘4.5’ at twice that: 3.6 TFLOPs. That would have been a tremendous gain to begin with, but Sony pushed things even further with a GPU clock boost, settling us at 4.20 TFLOPs. Blazing-fast for a console (NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1060 6GB is spec’d at 3.8 TFLOPs before GPU Boost).

sony-ps4-pro

4.20 TFLOP is a substantial boost, but it doesn’t come close to the required performance for ideal 4K gameplay. So what you should expect from this performance is either improved fidelity at 1080p, improved frame rates, or a combination of the two. Fortunately, as I’ll tackle in a moment, some developers are planning to give people the option, which to me is downright amazing – it’s something I’ve wanted but didn’t actually expect to happen.

The CPU and GPU are not the only components to get a boost with the PS4 Pro; the Wi-Fi has been upgraded to 802.11ac, and a USB 3.1 port has been added to the back. While this won’t increase performance, the PS4 Pro also upgrades the storage to 1TB, which is in itself a massive gain over the original 500GB. But… we’re still dealing with mechanical storage, which in most regards is slow. Oh so slow.

That said, Sony made the right decision to go with mechanical storage because an SSD would have increased the price by at least another $100. I hope that like the original PS4, Sony will let people upgrade their PS4 Pro to an SSD themselves (if interested in in-depth HDD vs. SSD testing on this, please let me know in the comments).

Old Games Can Be Patched/Updated For PS4 Pro

How I love the idea of this. As a massive Destiny fan, I crave the thought of being able to tear-it-up through Bungie’s created world in fluid 60 FPS, like I do Trials Fusion, Worms W.M.D, and a few others. PS4 Pro can make that possible, but it’s up to Bungie (or a game’s respective developer) to pursue it.

Over at NeoGAF, it’s been revealed that Rise of the Tomb Raider will be updated for the PS4 Pro, and when it is, it’ll introduce three different rendering options. For those with 4K screens, the game can be rendered at that resolution at 30 FPS. Those content to stick with 1080p will have two options: go all out on the detail, but retain 30 FPS performance, or reduce the detail to enjoy the fluidity of 60 FPS.

the-witness
The Witness will be patched with PS4 Pro optimizations

As I was penning this piece, I received an email from the developer of The Witness highlighting a similar move. Word is that Jonathan Blow is keen on releasing a patch at the launch of the PS4 Pro to introduce different rendering options, and these are creative.

If someone owns a 4K TV, the game will be run at 1440p and then be upscaled. This will be done to retain the 60 FPS performance the game currently delivers at 900p on the current PS4. However, while the gameplay will be upscaled, the UI will be native 4K. This might actually help with the impression that the game is actually rendered at 4K, although the gain from 900p to 1440p is significant in itself (a 2.5x increase in pixels).

Those sticking with 1080p will see even greater improvements: the game resolution will be boosted to 1080p, and so too will the MSAA value, from 2x to 4x. Again, this will retain 60 FPS performance.

As if that choice wasn’t enough, Blow is also hoping to add HDR support.

If many developers take the lead of both Rise of the Tomb Raider and The Witness, the PS4 Pro is instantly going to become alluring to many more people. Unfortunately, there is one caveat to be aware of, which I’ll tackle in “The Bad” section.

It’s Not That Much More Expensive Than A Regular PS4

The PS4 Slim is going to retail for $299, which is $100 less than the original cost when it first came out. Replacing that $399 price tag is the PS4 Pro, so for that extra $100, GPU performance is more than doubled. It’s hard to complain about that.

However, whether that performance boost is going to be worth it even still is going to depend on the person. If you’re rocking an original PS4 and are content with its performance, there’s no reason to upgrade – at least not right now. But there will come a time when PS4 Pro-optimized games are going to come out that might make an upgrade hard to resist.

sony-ps4-slim
Those looking to dive into the PS4 universe can opt for the $299 PS4 Slim

I’ve seen a lot of complaint about the PS4 Pro coming “too soon”, but let’s face it: chances are you play your PS4 a lot, and chances are you will have felt that you’ve already gotten your money’s worth. I’ve only had my PS4 since last December, and I already feel like I’ve paid for it with my enjoyment. For that reason I am not too upset about buying the PS4 Pro; I’ll just sell off the one I have to help fund it.

Here’s another way I look at it: while it might suck for the PS4 to have been “replaced” so soon (it hasn’t actually been replaced), the PS4 Pro is going to be the best PS4 available until the launch of the next major release, a la: PS5. So if you do happen to upgrade right at launch, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to play the best-looking PS4 games until the end of the console’s development life.

It’s Still Infused With AMD Goodness

AMD won the console round with the Wii U, Xbox One, and PS4, and it continues that tradition by keeping its chips in the new PS4 Slim and PS4 Pro. It’s not entirely clear if the updated PS4 Slim features a brand-new APU, but considering the fact that power consumption improves by 28%, I’d wager that it does. In addition to the power improvements, the PS4 Slim is 30% slimmer than the original, and 16% lighter.

AMD 7th-gen A-series APU

Meanwhile, AMD’s hardware for the PS4 Pro has more than doubled the performance of the original, which will no doubt make a huge improvement in future PlayStation VR titles. While Sony is making sure that no owner of the regular PS4 is without VR capabilities, we’re sure to see vast improvements made to VR titles for those who do own the Pro.

PS4 Pro: The Bad; Final Thoughts

The Bad

Screw 4K! (Where Gaming Is Concerned)

Seriously. As unreasonable as it might be, I loathe the fact that companies, like Sony, are treating 4K as if it’s the be-all-end-all of resolutions. I also hate the fact that marketing leads the masses to believe that they can expect 4K gaming, when there are a billion caveats working against that.

First, there’s the concern of performance. In pixels, 4K has 4x more than 1080p, so it stands to reason that 4x the performance would be required to deliver the same visual fidelity and frame rate. However, the PS4 Pro is just 2.3x faster. That simple logic implies that 4K gameplay is simply not going to be ideal.

4K Resolution Comparison

Exceptions will be made with games that are simpler in nature, like Worms W.M.D, Trials Fusion, Resogun, or the myriad indie titles that fill the PlayStation store.

As I noted earlier, some developers are planning to implement 4K support, and that’s fine as an option. Not everyone cares about 60 FPS; some might care more about the crispness. But consider this: 4K is still 16:9, like 1080p is, so the higher resolution is not going to add more detail unless the developer wants it to. A straight-forward resolution boost simply doesn’t increase the amount of detail you can see, and when 4K resolution means 4x the pixels, it seems more likely that developers will have to decrease the image quality to retain the same frame rate.

An added option I would have loved to see is support for ultrawide monitors. You can look here if you are interested in seeing the differences between 16:9 and 21:9. Ultrawide means that 31.5% more of the game can be seen, so because of A) That giving an advantage in multiplayer and B) Ultrawide TVs being super-rare, it’s not actually a surprise to me that this wasn’t supported. But oh boy I would have loved to have seen it.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - 16:9 vs 21:9 Rendering
Ultrawide can provide a greater improvement than 4K

A second important thing to note is the actual lack of improvement 4K makes. If you’re sitting right in front of your TV or computer monitor, you will notice the increased crispness. After all, you’re literally quadrupling the pixel count. But if you’re using the PS4 Pro in a normal scenario, where you are sitting away from a screen, the differences between 1080p and 4K are going to be much harder to spot. So what’s the gain? There is little gain, except dramatically reduced performance.

It’s for that reason why I hope most developers focus on 1080/60. Instead of optimizing for 4K, it’d be better for developers to not only improve smoother gameplay, but also increase the visuals. You’re going to notice improved visuals more than increased crispness when sitting away from the screen, believe me.

We Might Not See 60 FPS In Many Multiplayer Games

David Scammell, from VideoGamer.com, posted a tweet yesterday which claimed that Sony is looking to deter 60 FPS performance for multiplayer games. I have a personal beef with this, but I admit that I could be easily combated.

Multiplayer games will run at the same framerate across PS4 Pro and standard PS4. Sony does not want to give advantage to Pro users.

— David Scammell (@VG_Dave) September 7, 2016

I personally don’t understand how having a faster frame rate in an online game could give someone an advantage, but again, I am not going to act like that’s correct, because I have no clue. My small brain believes that a higher frame rate would require even greater skill, not less. The gameplay will be much more fluid and thus require even tighter control, at 60 FPS. I’d think that 30 FPS would be more accommodating to lesser-skilled players because there are fewer frames to deal with and thus it could make it easier to line up a target.

But whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t matter. Following the PS4 Pro announcement, Sony posted an in-depth FAQ which makes it sound like 60 FPS in multiplayer would be possible, but it’d ultimately be up to the developer to decide how to handle things. However, if it does in fact become commonplace to have 60 FPS banned in multiplayer titles, what benefit of the PS4 Pro is there for those who primarily play multiplayer games? If not performance, then only increased fidelity. Or perhaps 4K support, but as covered before, that’s not something I’d purchase a console for (gaming-wise, at least).

If we don’t see 60 FPS in multiplayer games, I’d be disappointed. I’d accept a game running at 60 FPS for the single-player campaign and then 30 FPS for a multi-player one, but I’d have a huge grudge about it. I can’t see a design like that ever happening, anyway, as it’s just too weird to have differing frame rates in the same game.

No 4K Blu-ray Support

This one is downright baffling. After I bought an Xbox 360, one of the biggest reasons I decided to also get a PS3 was because of the Blu-ray support. At that time, the PS3 felt like a truly cutting-edge console, one that could support the new-fangled HD content. Even Microsoft was impacted by that; it ended up releasing a competitive add-on drive for its console.

For Sony to omit a feature that the Xbox One has when it’s the one that’s pushed Blu-ray so hard is, again, baffling.

4K content will be restricted to Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming providers that pop up over the life of the console. Sony has said that it has no plans to offer 4K video content on the PlayStation Store.

Potential Issues With User-made Content

Games like Trials Fusion allow players to create content for one platform but have it be playable on all of them. If you’re playing the PC version, you’re not likely going to have to worry about poor performance from tracks created on the Xbox One or PS4, but what about tracks created on the PC that are playable on the Xbox One or PS4?

This is a bit of an odd scenario, but I’ve played a huge number of tracks in this particular game that have been sourced from the PC, and fairly often, I encounter certain segments of a track that stall or stutter. It’s just not ideal, especially when I primarily play this game in multiplayer.

trials-fusion-ps4

So what will happen if someone creates a robust track (or map, or whatever else in another title) and someone with an original PS4 plays it?

Obviously, this is not an issue right now, and it might not ever be an issue. Developers could simply make it so certain graphical effects are not loaded on the original console. Whatever happens, though, I hope it doesn’t result in an imposed limit for PS4 Pro creators just for the sake of the original PS4. At the same time, it’d be inexcusable if PS4 Pro created content was not playable on the original console.

An Ugly Console Gets Even Uglier

At the end of the day, aesthetics only matter so much. It’s performance and capability that really matter. But would it have killed Sony to not make the PS4 Pro look even uglier than the original? Obviously, opinions on this will vary, but personally, I’ve never liked the slanted design of the original unit, and think it would have looked vastly better without it. But with the PS4 Pro, Sony turned a two-tiered design into a three-tiered one. To me, it just looks ridiculous.

sony-ps4-pro-front-view
Blech. Is this a cheap razor or a video game console?

How long until we see Adidas skins/paint schemes? I wager “not long”.

If there’s one upside, it’s that the unit hasn’t grown that much in size, despite the huge performance gains. The original PS4 measured 275mm x 53mm x 305mm, whereas the new PS4 Pro measures 295mm x 55mm x 327mm.

Final Thoughts

Before the PS4 Pro was unveiled, I already knew that I’d probably buy one. As mentioned earlier, it’s going to be the fastest PS4 leading us to the launch of the next major reveal (if there is one), so I don’t mind upgrading. Still, that doesn’t mean that I’m happy about everything the console offers.

I plan to upgrade because I want the better performance, and being a big Destiny fan, I feel confident in the fact that Destiny 2 will look best on the PS4 Pro (or Xbox Scorpio). The lack of 4K Blu-ray support bothers me, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Sealing the deal for me is the fact that some developers will update their older games to either look better or play better on the PS4 Pro. I am a major fan of 60 FPS gameplay, so I’ll take advantage of that whenever it’s offered to me.

sony-ps4-pro-standing-view

To top it all off, the PS4 Pro isn’t going to be priced that much higher than the PS4 Slim. $100 is not “nothing”, of course, but we’re talking a more than doubling of performance – 33% more cost for 233% more performance. That sounds like a good trade-off to me.

Whether the PS4 Pro is for you depends entirely on your wants and needs. Fortunately, there’s absolutely no reason to upgrade to Sony’s highest-end console right away, so you can simply keep seated and watch to see how things progress. It could very well be that in time, the original PS4 will either cease to be sold, or go down even further in price, and the same could very well happen with the PS4 Pro once Xbox Scoprio’s release looms (though I’d argue that $399 is still a good price for the PS4 Pro).

Whatever you decide to do, it’s hard to deny that this mere console has given us a lot to talk about.

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