PlayStation 4 Pro Review: Generational sidestep

The release of the PlayStation 4 Pro marks a divisive new era of console gaming that has me conflicted.

Consoles are appealing because they’re easy to setup, require little to no maintenance and do one thing really well: play video games. PC players will argue that their platform is the superior video game playing device, and they’re not wrong. PCs have almost always been more powerful than consoles and can be modularly upgraded, unlike consoles. This means that if you’ve purchased the right tower and motherboard, in some cases it can be over a decade before your gaming rig becomes completely obsolete, as long as you’re willing to fork over the money to ensure your precious personal computer is equipped with relatively modern hardware.

But PCs are also complicated devices. Upgrading internal hardware still isn’t as easy as PC gaming fanboys would like you to believe — yes, for the most part, graphics and processors are plug-and-play now — installing the latest drivers remains an issue, and in some cases getting a game up and running can take multiple hours. Tasks that the PC gaming community finds simple can seem insurmountable to the average person.

ps4pro-6

Consoles, however, have evolved significantly over the last decade and slowly become more PC-like. They now force players to install games on their hard drives and frequently receive software updates for both games and their operating systems, preventing gamers from jumping directly into the experience, a one-time staple of console gaming. One fact has always remained constant when it comes to modern consoles, however, even with the release of the PS4 and Xbox One. If you buy a console, you know you have the latest, greatest tech from the company of your choice for at least the next few years, regardless of which video game hardware manufacturer you prefer.

With the release of the PlayStation 4 Pro, the concept of a traditional video game console has shifted.

It’s important to point out that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Video game systems need to evolve as the technology industry continues to push forward. With hardware moving at a faster rate than ever before, to a certain extent it makes sense for Sony to release an upgraded version of its now three-year-old PlayStation 4. Aesthetic revamps also aren’t anything new, though this is the first time a console manufacturer has released a more powerful, mid-generation upgraded system. The main question surrounding Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro is whether or not the new system is actually worth the upgrade.

So I’ve set up the PS4 Pro with the 55-inch Vizio M-Series 4K TV with HDR (which I’m also in the process of reviewing) and put the system to the test.

Is it worth it?

ps4pro-11

With the PlayStation 4 now hitting 50 million consoles sold, it’s safe to say that Sony’s console has been a monumental success, outpacing Microsoft’s Xbox One in terms of sales at a significant pace.

The PS4 Pro is essentially a PS4 with better internal hardware that’s designed to improve the performance and visuals of games beyond what the standard PlayStation 4 is capable of. Not every game released for the PS4 takes advantage of the PS4 Pro’s hardware, however, though all future PS4 games will feel some level of graphical upgrade, but in some cases it’s unclear what every enhancement actually does. Most titles feature improved frame rates, a higher output resolution with better textures — especially in the case of select PlayStation VR games — and HDR support.

Only a small number of current titles support the PlayStation 4 Pro, with The Last of Us: Remastered and Call of Duty Infinite Warfare being the two most notable examples. Starting next year, though, upcoming anticipated titles like Horizon Zero Dawn (which looks spectacular), Days Gone and Mass Effect Andromeda will feature various visual enhancements. Furthermore, Sony says that every PS4 game released from now on will feature Pro-powered perks. So while some may not feel the PlayStation 4 Pro is viable currently, the console could become more worthwhile in the near future, especially for those who care about visual fidelity.

ps4pro-8

Also exclusive to the PS4 Pro is improved bandwidth when using remote-play and share-play options, features that allow players to stream PS4 games over the internet or a home Wi-Fi connection, to desktop computers and Sony’s handheld the PlayStation Vita.

With the Pro, remote-play’s resolution has been bumped up from 720p to full 1080p HD resolution.

It’s a PS4 sandwich

ps4pro-9

The PS4 Pro looks a lot like a beefier PlayStation 4 Slim, though its footprint is slightly larger and the system is actually bulkier than the original 2013 PS4. If you compare the upgraded console to Sony’s PS4 Slim, the PS4 Pro looks positively enormous.

Thankfully the Pro brings back the optical audio out port that the Slim removed and adds additional USB storage on its rear. The console also supports the fastest Wi-Fi protocol currently available, 802.11ac, with the ability to utilize a 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz signal thanks to dual-band support.

Overall, the PS4 Pro isn’t an attractive console. It’s considerably bulkier and larger than its predecessor, especially when compared to Microsoft’s recently released Xbox One S, the Seattle-based tech giant’s own, somewhat incrementally upgraded video game console.

4K future, sort of

ps4pro-1

The biggest draw of Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro is its ability to output content in 4K resolution. At launch, the PS4 pro is capable of playing back content on Netflix and YouTube in 4K with HDR compatibility. Sony says that more apps will soon support 4K and HDR in the near future.

Sony’s upgraded, new console, however, doesn’t have 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback, a bizarre decision on the company’s part and a major omission considering the Xbox One S can play Ultra HD Blu-rays. It’s likely that in the future most 4K content will be streamed over the internet, but the ability to play physical 4K discs should have been a prominent feature included in the PlayStation 4 Pro.

The most significant issue the PlayStation 4 Pro suffers from is whether or not the console actually has the hardware power to render games in true 4K resolution like Sony claims. I don’t have the hardware knowledge to definitively know if the console is capable of real 4K, but experts far more intelligent than myself say that the PlayStation 4 Pro is not powerful enough to render high-end games in 4K. It’s likely that less graphically intensive independently developed games will natively run in 4K, but even this is up for dispute.

ps4pro-7

The inconsistency in Sony’s messaging behind the PS4 4 Pro’s 4K functionality is also difficult to follow, even for individuals well-versed in the video game industry. On the PS4 Pro’s website a disclaimer states that the console features “dynamic 4K,” with the footnote “Dynamic 4K gaming outputted by graphic rendering or upscaled 4K resolution.”

Considering PCs with significantly more powerful hardware than the PS4 Pro have problems rendering 4K graphics at even 30 frames per second, it’s difficult to believe that the Pro can truly output such a technically demanding video signal without some level of serious visual compromise, whether that’s a lower framerate or pushing less polygons.

The games

ps4pro-2

I’ve tried a handful of titles with the PS4 Pro and all experienced a visual upgrade to some extent. The Last of Us: Remastered for instance features improved image quality, but no noticeable frame rate increase, though HDR does allow for brighter highlights, adding a new level of depth to the game’s video.

Shadow of Mordor, my game of the year back in 2014, features a slightly improved frame rate and marginally improved visuals, though the games doesn’t support HDR. Some titles, like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, actually look more noticeably better when running on the PS4 Pro, though it’s important to point out that the graphical upgrade is not significant and is far from the generational leap some might expect. Make no mistake, the PS4 Pro does not push visuals that exemplify a massive leap in visual fidelity

Sony says that PS4 Pro owners still using 1080p HDTVs will also see a minor upgrade in performance when using the console, though the difference is even less noteworthy (I only tried this with a few games).

Should you buy it?

ps4pro-4

Whether or not the PS4 Pro is worthwhile right now is a difficult question to answer. The PS4 Pro is a niche product vying for a small audience that’s very interested in visual fidelity. That particular audience, however, likely already owns a high-end gaming PC if they truly care about how good their games look and 4K resolution. The release of the system also fundamentally alters how the console video game industry has operated for the last two decades, setting a somewhat dangerous new precedent.

That said, the PS4 Pro has a lot of potential, particularly when it comes to PlayStation VR, which I’ve only briefly tried with the console. The PS4 Pro could evolve into a worthwhile device and act as a viable stop-gap measure before the release of the inevitable PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Project Scorpio, which continues to loom ever closer. There is a significant possibility this could end up being the case, with Sony stating that 45 games will support the system by the end of 2016.

If you’re willing to shell out $499 for the latest, greatest video game console on the market, and have already invested in a 4K TV, then the PlayStation 4 Pro is probably worth a purchase, especially if you value visual fidelity in your console games. Everyone else, however, is better off waiting a few more months to see if more titles actually take worthwhile advantage of the slightly more powerful console.

Related: Oculus Rift with Touch Review: The Vive meets its match

Consoles get iterative

If you're willing to shell out $499 for the latest, greatest video game console on the market, and have already invested in a 4K TV, then the PlayStation 4 Pro is probably worth a purchase, especially if you value visual fidelity in your console games. Everyone else, however, is better off waiting a few more months to see if more titles actually take worthwhile advantage of the slightly more powerful console.

"Whether or not the PS4 Pro is worthwhile right now is a difficult question to answer"

Comments

  • Gewurttraminer

    So basically the conclusion one takes from this is that upgrading from the original PS4 to the Pro really isn’t worth it unless VR and visual fidelity is important enough to you. Beyond that few would notice the difference to justify the expense and even then it would depend on how serious a gamer you are.

    I like the PS4 and use mine regularly but never saw the imperative for the upgrade at this time. The content is just too limited and investing in VR is whole new expense for a more casual gamer like myself.

  • monsterduc1000

    If you don’t own a ps4 already, have a 4k/hdr tv then the pro is the way to go. Otherwise it’s a very minor upgrade from the original ps4. It would most likely be a better investment to get a bigger/faster hdd to help with loading times and draw distances.

    • Totally. I think you nailed it right there.

    • Smanny

      I beg to differ. The pro is rated at 4.2 teraflops, whereas the PS/4 (slim) versions are rated at 1.84 teraflops. So VR is much better, plus it supports multiple VR headsets with the pro version.

    • monsterduc1000

      Beg all you want to justify your purchase, but all the real world testing I’ve seen gives the pro maybe a 10% advantage over the regular ps4, definitely not worth another $500 in my opinion if you already own one.

      I have no interest in VR right now either so that’s a moot point to me.

      If the pro pushed 1080p games to incredible frame rates, came with a 4k br player and rendered actual true 4k graphics at 60fps then I’d feel it might be worth it.

    • Eluder

      Thank you! Finally someone else that isn’t blinded by just the numbers. My upgrade from the (launch) Xbox One to the One S was a better buy, I have more value from an improved gaming experience AND being able to play 4k BD movies. PS4 Pro sadly hasn’t been used much since upgrading from my (launch) PS4. The performance on optimized titles is not as big as Sony’s marketing is making it out to be.

    • monsterduc1000

      I was almost blinded by the teraflops, vr and all that other jazz, but I do crazy research generally before I buy anything fairly expensive, and when I saw the YouTube videos between the regular and pro, it totally turned me off. Minimal fps increase, HDR screenshots of games like tomb raider, final fantasy, last of us, etc all looked barely any better than the originals, of which playing the game with such minimal advances would probably be lost unless you were just standing around looking at stuff I felt.

  • Karl Dagenais

    Why is this on mobilesyrup? And why are you reviewing a TV? Why are we not getting coverage of the CRTC hearings about zero-rating?

    • We covered the CRTC hearings significantly when they were still going on.

      This review is on MobileSyrup because our site has been about more than just Mobile for a long time now. Telecom and mobile news is still the core of what we cover here, but occasionally we also branch into covering other topics as well, particularly in the gaming space.

    • Garrett Cooper

      I care about this far more than I care about anything CRTC related.

    • Humbre

      If you like Diff pricing so much, go read-up on it on the CRTC’s website.

  • Eluder

    As an owner of both the One S and PS4 Pro, I’m disappointed in the pro. The improvements truly aren’t there, playing the same game (BF1) on both my One S and my Ps4 Pro on my 4k TV and the difference between the two is quite minimal and BF1 is supposed to be an optimized titles for the Pro. If I only owned one console, I’d pick the One S as it has the 4k BD player and I make use of that, I still say it was a big misstep for Sony to not include a 4k BD player.

    • I Interesting points here. I totally agree that the Pro isn’t very good looking compared to the Xbox One S.

    • Smanny

      The XBox One S is only 1.4 teraflops. The PS/4 pro is rated at 4.2 teraflops, plus it has support for multiple PS VR headsets. The Xbox One has no VR support. If I want a game console to be a 4k BD player, then maybe get the One S. But many people that buy a gaming console want to be able to play games first and foremost, before anything else.

    • Eluder

      But if all people cared about was graphics, then they would strictly play on their PCs. I also have a GTX 1080 in my PC, so my PC kills both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One S, but each machine is purpose built for something different. PS4 Pro = strictly gaming, Xbox One S = full on entertainment. Again, if I only had to pick one, I’d pick the One S as overall it’s a more complete experience. And PS VR is crap compared to the Vive or even Oculus, and definitely not something that is on my radar, maybe gen 2 of PS VR will be a worth purchase.

    • Smanny

      Let’s get DVD’s and blue ray type media out of the way first. Shall we. Sales for that type of media is dying. The actual sales continue to drop year over year, because more and more people prefer to purchase the online versions of movies, or purchase things like Netflix, Hulu plus, Crave TV, YouTube and many others that bring tons of media content without the need to worry about where your DVD’s or Blu-ray discs are, or if there is any scratches. Not to mention you can use the online media on any device including smartphones and tablets. So anyone with half a brain could do a web search and see what I have said is 100% true.

      Now when it comes to the actual game media itself. I haven’t seen any game that uses anything over 15 GB. The vast majority of games fall under 2 GB of storage. The other thing to remember is more and more games can be downloaded directly to the game consoles. So to sum up the storage needs of DVD, Blu-ray is more than enough for any game. Plus with more and more content being downloaded to your game consoles directly, then having the latest 4k bd player means jack long run. Ultimately give me a faster console, with more storage. Or the ability to easily change the hard drive. Anyone can change the PS/4 drives, but that is not so for the XBox One or One S. You have buy pre approved drives from Microsoft which are almost double the price or regular drives. I can buy a 4 terabyte drive for the PS/4 for a fraction of the price of a drive for the XBox One (S). Actually I don’t think you can currently get a 4 terabyte drive for the XBox One.

      I love how your $1000 Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics card with 8gb of on board ram. Oh, yeah don’t forget to throw in the price of your $600-$1000 desktop PC as well. So now let’s compare your $1600-$2000 desktop PC that is running at 8.9 teraflops to a game console running at 4.2 teraflops for only $500. Consoles definitely have a purpose, at least we can agree on that. Oh, and BTW Graphics speeds do matter on Consoles, or the refresh rates and gaming would suck.

      Clearly you never tried the PS VR yet. It’s pretty good. Granted the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive have higher resolutions at 2160×1200 vs the PS VR is 1920×1080. But the refresh rate is 90-120 Hz. So it’s pretty solid. Plus it was designed to work with multiple VR headsets.

      If you want to talk about resolutions for VR, then the Daydream VR headset with a QHD display, or the Gear VR beat all those that were previously mentioned in terms of quality of graphics. I do give credit where credit is due. If you want to have spacial awareness in your VR. Then the Vive is the best, next to the Oculus Rift, and PS VR.

    • MassDeduction

      You started to lose me when you started insulting people who state with you (“… Anyone with half a brain…”) and completely lost me when you said something demonstrably false. There are lots of console games pushing 40-50GB and beyond, forcing some people with slow internet connections to get physical discs even if they’d prefer going digital. The PS4 Pro not supporting UHD is a downer, but it not supporting BD-XL it’s a huge error IMO.

    • Eluder

      Yup, stopped reading when he posted incorrect info as well. No point in continuing to read his post when it was blatantly wrong from the beginning.

    • monsterduc1000

      “The actual sales continue to drop year over year, because more and more people prefer to purchase the online versions of movies, or purchase things like Netflix, Hulu plus, Crave TV, YouTube and many others that bring tons of media content without the need to worry about where your DVD’s or Blu-ray discs are”

      I’ll keep supporting physical media for the main reason of of being able to sell it or trade it when I have no more use for it. Hard to do that with a digital download after you are finished with the game. I may not get much selling it sometimes, but at least I can get something back that way.

      Also, on the topic of blu-ray, I have yet to see any digital download or streaming service provide me with the lossless audio (Dolby TrueHD/Atmos, Dts Master Audio) you get off of a br. People are so wrapped up in resolution they forget about the other half of the immersive experience being audio. I have buddies who are strictly headset gamers/tv speaker movie watchers and when they pop over and sit at the centre of my 7.1 setup, they wonder where are the frickin’ sound is coming from.

  • Lee Mulligan

    I have both the PS4 Pro with a 4K TV and a standard PS4 with an HD TV, happy to have both 🙂

  • Jon Duke

    I’ll just wait for the inevitable PS4 Pro Slim

  • AMO

    The visual impact really is based on the developers and how they use the hardware. I tested out Infamous second son as soon as I got the pro. The increase to resolution and HDR on was just …so nice to look at…it felt like the game was popping out of my screen coming alive. I am now playing Final Fantasy XV a game that has had some time to take more advantage of the pro and plus has an additional pro patch coming out soon….there is a drastic night and day difference if you’re on a 4k set. I am spoiled by HDR now and if it’s not there I can tell…the sharper resolutions just adds more detail to the effect of how amazing everything looks. The Pro is strongly meant for a very well gaming 4k TV set like the Samsung KS8000+ Series. I will recommend the Pro only if you have a very good 4K TV that is also built with gaming in mind. Not all 4k Sets are equal, you need to do a lot of research. These newer 2016 and soon 2017 Samsung and Sony models have gaming in mind, and going forward it will become a standard to have TV sets that fit these consoles needs.

  • Tyrannosaur3464

    Quite stationary in fact.

    • I like bright stationary, preferably when it’s in the shape of a heart.

  • Brent Woods

    “installing the latest drivers remains an issue, and in some cases getting a game up and running can take multiple hours”

    Uh…you can bypass all updates on a pc (unless you want multiplayer, and patches) and drivers can be obtained in less then 5 clicks. If you own AMD card: Go to AMD website. Click drivers. Click auto detect. Download. Install. Express installation. Done. If you own Nvidia; go to nvidia drivers website. Click the download button on auto detect. Express installation. Done. It should take less then 20 mintues (depending on download speed) .

  • Pingback: Game developers are skeptical of the PS4 Pro and Microsoft’s Project Scorpio | Mo.bi - Leading Brand In Mobile Business()

  • Pingback: PS4 to finally get external hard drive support, Pro gets ‘boost mode’ in new update | Daily Update()