It was an exciting day in the Kat Bailey household last week. In the wake of the release of the PlayStation 4 Pro, and with the Scorpio on the way, I decided to make the leap and invest in a proper 4K TV. My first proper 4K game? MLB The Show 17, which is out today on the PlayStation 4.
MLB The Show 17 is an ideal candidate in part because it's a first-party game, and as a showcase for whatever Sony is trying to push, whether it's 3D or motion controls. This year it's the PlayStation 4 Pro, which I picked up along with my fancy new TV (for about $1600 total... ow). In lieu of a review, which I'm holding until I get a bit more time with the online servers, here's what I've found so far (keeping in mind that the images below don't necessarily reflect what you can actually see in the game).
First, a bit of context: The TV I went with is a 55-inch Samsung KS8000, which came recommended by both Digital Foundry and DisplayLag, and fiddled with the settings until it roughly matched my room's lighting. They wound up more or less corresponding to those used by Digital Foundry, though I also did a bunch of research around the Internet. I also used the Xbox One's built-in tool to figure out my brightness and contrast levels.
When I booted up MLB The Show with 4K and HDR turned on, my first impression was that it seemed a smidge dark—a fairly common criticism for games in HDR, particularly with this particular set. To get a more natural look, I had to crank the backlight as high as possible, and even then some of the on-screen graphics seemed oddly dim. It wasn't distracting, but I definitely noticed it whenever a transition graphic flashed up. The menus also suffered a bit, though it was variable. I found myself wondering more than once if the deeper blacks had anything to do with it.
Anyway, once I got into the game proper, the more positive differences began to stand out. The improvements are the sort that don't stand out right away, but become increasingly apparent with time. The uniforms in particular seem to really benefit from the increased fidelity, particularly the prints and the logos. They look really crisp and detailed, and I swear it's possible to see the stitching on some of them. When I flipped back to 1080p, the uniforms seemed to get just a bit flatter—a small but also somewhat important difference.
I suspect the lighting has something to do with it. I found myself noticing the contrast between daylight and shadow a lot more with HDR turned on. That in turn has an affect on the uniforms, which feel that much more vivid in the light. I never thought whites could pop, but I think I noticed them the most when playing MLB The Show. The same went for the reds and the blues. Of them all, only the greys disappointed, as they were roughly the same dim shade as the info boxes. To compensate, I spent some time messing with the contrast and the black level, as well as the saturation, but ultimately backed off in favor of what I hoped was the most natural look possible.
At their best, the differences were positively dramatic. I was really wowed by MLB The Show's outdoor lighting at times, particularly when players were half in shadow and half out. At its worst, HDR made the menus and overlays feel a tiny bit dim at times. The differences also tend to be more noticeable in the major league stadiums, which are obviously better lit and more detailed, than the minor league parks that dominate the early part of Road to the Show.
Just to cover all my bases, I also flipped the in-game settings to performance mode, where I discovered that 4K and HDR brought with it another tradeoff: reduced framerate during the transitional cutscenes. I was struck by how much smoother everything looked when, say, a batter was striding up to the player, or a couple players were giving each other a high-five. When playing with HDR turned on, such scenes would become slightly choppy. Performance mode felt smoother on the field too, but it may have been my imagination—the difference was pretty slight.
I ultimately decided to keep all the fancy features on in an effort to justify my hefty purchase, but I would totally understand if someone decided to play in performance mode instead. While the differences between the two in terms of graphical fidelity are real, they're slight enough that the framerate upgrades make switching a real consideration.
I've been told that the differences between 4K and 1080p are fairly subtle, and that was pretty much borne out in MLB The Show. Still, I found myself appreciating a lot of the finer details of the color palette, which made the outdoors feel livelier and more realistic, particularly during the day games. Everything felt that much cleaner and more attractive.
Funny enough, though, even if you're not impressed by the potential of 4K, the PlayStation 4 Pro can still be worth the upgrade owing to the framerate boost that it affords. I've been told that this is the main reason to make the upgrade; and again, it's noticeable. As usual, I'd go with the standard rule of thumb: If you already own a PS4, don't worry too much about upgrading, at least when it comes to MLB The Show. If you don't already have a PS4, get a Pro and enjoy some of the nice extras that it affords.
MLB The Show, of course, looks very nice no matter which option you choose, which is thanks in large part to its excellent on-field animation—probably the best you're going to find in the sports game market. Its updates have been fairly subtle this generation; but in fairness, there hasn't been a ton to improve upon. MLB The Show came out of the gate strong and has since managed to keep the overall bar pretty high.
Taken together, I don't know that it was quite the graphical showcase I was expecting, but it was certainly illuminating. And I expect future years will only get better.