The Playstation 4 Pro is here, promissing more horsepower, better visuals, and a few new features. But, is this new console worth the upgrade or should you stick with the original?
First, if you’re not sure what the Playstation 4 Pro is, check out this link for a detailed explanation. That’s going to make a good primer for the review, and having a good understanding of what the Pro is will make this review make a lot more sense.
Booting my Playstation 4 Pro up for the first time, honestly, I was a little nervous. I’d just dumped $400, not easy to come by, bones into this thing to play the same games I can already play on the Playstation 4 I already have. For what? A graphical upgrade, that’s it. 4K is all of the rave right now and I’ve been riding the hype train all the way home, with this new console in hand. Was the increase in resolution and frame rate really going to make a difference? Or is 4K gaming just a marketing gimmick designed to sell consoles and TVs? Let’s take a look.
When my eyes landed on the home screen, I could already tell a difference. Visually, the home screen has been redrawn for viewing in 4K, and it shows. Everything was razor sharp and clear, but otherwise just like I remember it. I popped in Titanfall 2, a Pro compatible title that runs at somewhere near 2K and is upscaled to 4K using Sony’s new “checkerboard rendering” technique to achieve a 4K image. It’s not true 4K, but Sony promises that it’s very, very close. Well…I’ll be the judge of that. The pre-rendered intro video looked nice, but I wasn’t impressed. I couldn’t see anything that the original PS4 couldn’t do. Already, I could feel buyers remorse setting in, deep inside my chest. Then, I was dropped into the game, and I was stunned. The clarity, colors, and level of detail was simply jarring. I could see the dimples in surfaces of cinder blocks, count the blades of grass trailing off into the distance, and easily distinguish features in the distance I would have otherwise never noticed. My mind actually struggled to process the amount of detail I was given, even making it hard to concentrate at first. I found myself looking all over the screen, stopping to take in grass, moss, and small leaves overturned beneath waterfalls. Soon, I started to adapt to the immense amount of information my eyes were receiving. Then, it was bliss.
The Pro is a tiny bit larger than the original Playstation 4; just a few millimeters longer, wider and taller than the original Playstation 4. Luckily, the aesthetic of the machine is clean, unobtrusive, and elegantly fills in roughly the same area as the vanilla unit it replaced. It looks quite nice, with a modern advanced look that easily suits most home theater displays. If you’re considering upgrading from the original PS4, the Pro will mostly likely fit in the same space, even if the original was a tight fit.
The console includes the console itself, an HDMI 2.0 cable (required for 4k gaming at 60 fps), a USB charge cable, a power cable, the updated controller and a cheap headset. It’s worth noting that although this is a 4K gaming console, there is no UHD Bluray drive. It’s a standard Bluray drive, so 4K blurays are not an option. It does, however, stream 4K movies and video like Netflix, Youtube, etc.
Using the system, the experience is basically the same. Aside from a few extra options in the system settings (resolution and HDR options) the home screen, store and navigation are all identially, even when it comes to speed. Navigation hasn’t improved with the new hardware, probably because it still relies on a 5400rmp hard drive and, mostly, the same ram as before.
When gaming, things are completely different. Now, if your’e on a non-Pro game, there will be no difference at all. The CPU and GPU are both slowed down to match the original PS4 for compatibility sake. However, when a Pro supported game is inserted, both GPUs are enabled and the CPU opens up it’s higher clock speeds. Most games, even when running at a higher 4K resolution, perform better on the PS4 Pro hardware. Games like Titanfall 2, Call of Duty Infinite Warfare, and Battlefield 1, all produce better visuals at a higher frame rate at much higher resolutions. Oddly, some games like the latest Deus Ex and Watchdogs 2 actually run just a tad bit worse…mostly due to the new hardware not being fully understood by the developers. I expect this to change over time, and the issues are only appear in a couple of titles. Thankfully, the issue is minor and only results in a couple of frames lost, but it is unfortunate that it’s an issue at all.
Games do, simply put, look fantastic when running under the Pro Hardware on a 4K TV. Titanfall 2 and Battlefield 1 particularly benefit from the massive jump in resolution. Enemies in the distance can more readily be spotted, targeting is easier as I can make out body parts from 50 yards away, and practically all aliasing and crawling are gone from the games. The crisp edges eliminate shimmering around the edges of leaves, and that ugly crawling that is normally noticed around thin flat textures like fences and power lines. Textures show much more detail at any given time. Detail in motion is also improved, part from the improved frame rate, part due to the fact that moving objects now cross four times as many pixes, being redrawn at each, as they move across the screen. The difference, to many, will be shocking. The differences mostly end there, however. Most games do not include better effects, shadows, or higher resolution textures. There are some exceptions, such as Skyrim and Battlefield showing increased draw distances, and Paragon displaying more foliage, improved lighting, and the Last of Us Remastered with a higher resolution shadow map. But, at this point most games simply jack up the resolution and frame rate.
When gaming on a 1080p set, users will not see as big of an improvement. Mostly, games will look sharper, with less aliasing on screen and potentially higher frame rates, but this will vary from game to game. If you hate jagged edges, it’s a solid step up. If you don’t notice these things in you’re games, you’re not likely to notice it here either.
A few games, such as Rise of the Tomb raider, give you a variety of settings to choose from, such as higher resolution and better frame rates, native 4K support at 30 fps, or 1080p gaming at a fairly solid 60 fps. It’s a nice option to have, and I hope more games use it.
Noise wise, the Pro is mostly on par with the original PS4. Although I find it to be slightly louder when running disks (usually only during game installs). Heat output is seemingly better than the original too, with less ambient heat being released overall. It runs cool and quiet, a surprise given the massive increase in power (more than double).
The controller has changed, only a bit. It’s mostly some minor texturing and color differences that are unlikely to be noticed after the first use. Although, the lightbar of the controller now subtly bleeds though on the touch pad so you can read color indicators easily during gameplay. Thankfully, it’s a very soft glow and isn’t distracting, unlike the light bar across the front of the controller, just like the original.
Overall, the system is quite nice. It provides a nice visual upgrade for those who appreciate such things, without segmenting the play base that’s already in effect. Do you need a Playstation 4 Pro if you already have a PS4? No, not a bit. However, if you’re a huge fan of having the sharpest image possible, you have a 4K TV, and have the money laying around, it’s a worthy upgrade that will allow you to put that new TV to good use. With 4K TVs becoming the norm on store shelves, it will be hard to avoid upgrading if you purchase a new TV in the future anyway. Those content with their 1080p TVs, it’s a harder sale, but still worth future proofing if you plan to upgrade in the near future and appreciate milking every last bit of graphical potential from your games with the TV you have. It’s a solid system, and it’s priced incredibly well, providing the best value for the money on the market. If you’re considering upgrading, I’d recommend it.
Highly Recommended, but not necessary