For a company supposedly sitting on its near 70 million unit install base, Sony sure isn't slowing down. Just a month after ushering in a virtual revolution with PlayStation VR, the platform holder released the first ever iterative console model with the PlayStation 4 Pro; the bags under the eyes of the Japanese giant's employees say a lot about all of the thumb twiddling that it's been doing these past four years.
The truth, of course, is that PlayStation has never been content resting on its laurels – and we wouldn't have carved a career out of covering the brand if it had. PS4 Pro shows the organisation at its risk-taking best: it's re-shaped an already wildly successful product and augmented it with the power required to deliver 4K gaming – or there and thereabouts.
Of course, if you're looking for a review of the more affordable PS4 Slim, then you can refer to our PS4 Slim review through the link. Otherwise, read on.
PS4 Pro Review: Why Does the PS4 Pro Exist?
There's no question that Sony's struggled trying to communicate the reason for the PS4 Pro's existence, but having spent a year with the system and chatted to various developers who've worked on it, we have a much clearer understanding of the platform's place in the market. The supercharged system has been specifically designed with boosting the original box in mind – it's not meant to supersede the existing unit in any way.
If the PS4 is a delicious cake, then the PS4 Pro merely slathers a layer of icing over it and pops a cherry on top
Think about it like this: if the PS4 is a delicious, wholesome cake, then the PS4 Pro merely slathers a layer of icing over it and pops a cherry on top. The new console delivers the exact same experience that you know and love, but it's elevating it to the next level by offering enhanced resolutions, more consistent performance, and – in the case of some games – new visual bells and whistles, like stronger shadowing and increased draw distance.
But it's important to note that the improvements – while occasionally large – are never game changing, meaning that the 70 million or so PS4 consoles already sold have not suddenly become obsolete. The PS4 Pro is designed to take high quality titles built for the existing model and then boost them that little bit more. So what kind of enhancements can you expect to find?
PS4 Pro Review: Can the PS4 Pro Run Games in Native 4K?
The headline feature for the PS4 Pro is its ability to render games at a much higher resolution than 1080p, which is enabled by its sizeable GPU boost and CPU upclock. There's been a lot of discussion about whether the system can render games at native 4K, and the answer is that it absolutely can; several titles like Bound and The Last of Us Remastered are already doing this.
But for the big-budget blockbusters like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Rise of the Tomb Raider, the manufacturer's come up with an alternative solution: checkerboard rendering. This is a nifty trick which is used to upscale content to native 4K without introducing the ugly artefacting and soft image quality that you tend to associate with such a technique. And it's quite remarkable, with some titles appearing native at a comfortable viewing distance – even when they're not.
This is a testament to the quality of the visual trick, but also a sign that we're rapidly reaching the point of diminishing returns when it comes to image quality. The fact is that Ultra High-Definition panels already boast such a ridiculously high pixel density that the dip in resolution is much more difficult to discern; you'd literally need to press your face up against the screen to see flaws in Horizon: Zero Dawn's razor sharp image quality.
While this may all sound like a big excuse, the truth is that the PS4 Pro is able to spit out some outstandingly clean images. Games like The Last of Us Remastered look reborn in 4K, with details that went missing in the standard PS4 release – and particularly its PlayStation 3 predecessor – jumping out of the screen. And demos of titles like Days Gone provide a hint into the future of what Sony's first-party teams will be capable of in 2017 and beyond.
PS4 Pro Review: What Is High-Dynamic Range?
But when you pair the resolution boost with a television capable of HDR or High-Dynamic Range, that's when the PS4 Pro really starts to come to life. This is something that Sony's really struggled to show off, and unfortunately we're only able to describe the impact that it has as well. It's essentially a fledgling technology which both increases the brightness and contrast of a set, but also enhances its colour range in order to make images appear more life-like and natural.
When toggling HDR, the difference is startling, with the standard visuals appearing bland next to their enhanced alter-egos
But how is this employed in games? Well, if you take a title like Gran Turismo Sport, for example, it's able to elevate Polyphony Digital's already outstanding lighting model to a whole new level. Meanwhile, fantasy worlds such as the one in Horizon: Zero Dawn suddenly leap off the screen, appearing more dramatic than ever before. When toggling HDR on and off, the difference is startling, with the already-attractive visuals appearing bland compared to their enhanced alter-egos.
It's worth mentioning, though, that HDR is not a feature exclusive to the PS4 Pro – in fact, it was patched into all existing PS4s not too long ago. Paired with 4K resolution, however, the jump in visual fidelity is stark, and while the quality of HDR televisions does vary wildly at this moment in time, it looks like it's going to stick around, with Sony's range of panels dominated by both UHD and HDR. The PS4 Pro is well prepared for the shift in television technology that's about to occur, then.
PS4 Pro Review: Is PS4 Pro Worth Buying for a 1080p HD TV?
Of course, with all the chatter of new televisions, you may be wondering whether the PS4 Pro is worth purchasing if you don't plan to upgrade your existing 1080p HD screen. And the answer is slightly more complicated, but there are obvious improvements to be seen. Most of these at the moment pertain to image quality, but some games such as inFAMOUS: Second Son and Rise of the Tomb Raider have been updated with high definition televisions in mind.
The most obvious improvement across all currently updated games is supersampling. This occurs when an image is rendered at a higher resolution and then shrunk back down; it's a bit like copying a photograph from your digital camera to your computer, and zooming out to improve the clarity of the picture. Because the PS4 Pro is displaying games at a much higher resolution than 1080p, you end up with significantly sharper image quality on a high definition screen.
This means that things like jaggies and shimmering are practically eradicated, and if you're the kind of person that can't stand sub-1080p games on your PS4, then you're going to be thrilled with the clarity that supersampling brings forth. Of course, there are games as mentioned above that allow you to sacrifice the resolution bump for other features in high definition; Rise of the Tomb Raider, for example, allows you to opt between enhanced effects or a better framerate, which is nice.
But this does flag one of the flaws with Sony's new format: it's inconsistent at the moment. Because the improvements are ultimately down to a developer decision, there's no standard been found yet, and so some games leverage the hardware better than others. The addition of Boost Mode means that all titles now perform a little bit sturdier on the PS4 Pro, but in order to really take advantage of the hardware, titles need to patched specifically to leverage its horsepower.
PS4 Pro: Does PS4 Pro Improve PlayStation VR's Visuals?
Still, it seems that Sony has managed to convince most developers to jump on board, and that includes those making PlayStation VR games. While the hardware of Sony's virtual reality headset is fixed, there are some very noteworthy improvements made possible by the new platform. Generally, these work in the same way as on 1080p screens: supersampling means that games can be rendered at a higher resolution, and then scaled back down to the native resolution of the futuristic facemask itself.
What Are the PS4 Pro's Specs?
- CPU: x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" 8 cores
- GPU: 4.20 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon™ based graphics engine
- Memory: GDDR5 8GB
- Storage size: 1TB
And this is obvious in a game like Robinson: The Journey, which portrays a lush alien planet inhabited by dinosaurs and occupied by a shipwrecked boy. The density of the foliage really shines on the PS4 Pro hardware, and other titles like Battlezone appear much clearer on the new console. Obviously nothing can be done to change the shortcomings of the PlayStation VR headset itself, but the virtual reality experience is undoubtedly at its best on the PS4 Pro.
PS4 Pro Review: How Does PS4 Pro's Hardware Fare?
The console itself has proven divisive, of course, but we really like its triple-layered sandwich design. It's a minimalistic model, of that there's no doubt – but its size is large without being overbearing, while its weight has a heft to it that makes it feel premium in the right kind of way. There's an LED strip below the disc drive on the front, while a single silver PlayStation logo on the casing makes it standout compared to the black gloss of the PS4 Slim.
The PS4 Pro's size is large without being overbearing, while its weight has a heft to it that makes it feel premium
It's got some smart improvements, too. There's now a USB port on the back, which means that PlayStation VR owners will no longer need to position cables around the front and rear of the unit. Meanwhile, the fan noise – in our experience – is excellent, kicking up less of a fuss than our PS4 Slim when installing games from a Blu-ray disc. However, we have read commentary that contrasts this, suggesting that your mileage may vary yet again.
It's not perfect, though: the lack of a 4K Blu-ray drive will come as a sore disappointment for enthusiasts searching for an "all-in-one" solution, though it does boast 4K streaming from Netflix and Amazon Prime. The 'Power' and 'Eject' buttons on the front of the chassis are also poor, while the oversight which requires PlayStation VR owners to circumvent the Processing Unit if they want to take advantage of HDR is an embarrassing mistake – albeit one that's been rectified by the release of a revised PlayStation VR model.
PS4 Pro Review: What Are The Differences Between PS4 Pro and PS4 Slim or Xbox One X?
As mentioned earlier in the review, the PS4 Pro is a supercharged PS4, therefore it has many of the same features and functions as the standard PlayStation 4 – it just takes everything to the next level. For a more specific break down of the similarities and differences, check out our PS4 Pro vs PS4 comparison article.
As for the PS4 Pro vs Xbox One X, there are obviously larger differences, owing to the latter being a more powerful piece of technology. We’ve looked at all of the attributes of the two devices deeply in our PS4 Pro vs Xbox One X comparison article, but essentially it depends how drawn you are to the PlayStation ecosystem and how much you’re willing to pay for slightly better performance as to which one you should pick.
PS4 Pro Review: Should You Buy the PS4 Pro?
In summary, the PS4 Pro convincingly serves up some stunning improvements for a very competitive price. And that's without even mentioning the larger hard-drive size and support for 1080p Remote Play and Share Play. The reality is that this new console can do everything that the PS4 can do – but it can do it significantly better.
Thus, if you're in the market for your first PS4, then we'd recommend future-proofing yourself and plumping up the extra for the PS4 Pro right out of the gate. If you're a 4K television owner or an avid PlayStation VR user, then the upgrade is also a no-brainer. The question of whether you should buy the brand new box only becomes more complicated when pointed at people who already own a PS4 and have no intention of purchasing a new screen.
If you happen to fit into that bracket – which we're sure many of you do – then you must ponder one thing: how much does having the best PlayStation experience you possibly can matter to you? Supersampling means that PS4 Pro delivers the very best image quality possible on a 1080p set, and graphical options like those found in inFAMOUS: Second Son and Rise of the Tomb Raider are sure to become more common as the console matures.
If those things are important to you, then the PS4 Pro is a fantastic upgrade. And while the design of the device ensures that no PS4 owner will ever be left behind, enthusiasts looking for the very best PlayStation hardware may eventually find themselves succumbing to what Sony is describing as the future of play.
Updated: 15th November, 2017
Are you planning to pick up a PS4 Pro at launch? Have you already pre-ordered the platform, or are you waiting for a specific question to be answered? Do you have any queries about the device? Supercharge the comments section below.