It's a brave new world and the PlayStation 4 Pro is here to define it. The game industry has had hardware updates before, but now we're diving fully into the iterative hardware style that's become standard on mobile. Instead of a generational step, Sony has decided to beef up the existing internals of the PlayStation 4.
With the additional power, the PlayStation 4 Pro takes aim at standard 4K resolution (3840x2160). 4K is seemingly the next step in digital video technology, but the mainstream isn't quite there yet. The average consumer doesn't have a 4K television yet and even if they did, they would generally be bereft available content.
For Sony, the PlayStation 4 Pro solves a few problems. One, the system is meant to bring existing games to 4K resolution and developers can use the additional hardware power to improve visual presentation, which helps with the lack of 4K content. Two, folks who are interested in the Pro will likely pick up a 4K television set, thus further growing the market. Three, once you sell more PS4 Pro systems, 4K becomes more enticing to content creators, bringing you right back to point one.
That's why the PlayStation 4 Pro makes sense for Sony, but does it make sense for you?
What The PS4 Pro Is
The PlayStation 4 Pro is a high-end model of the existing PlayStation 4. If the PS4 is the economy car everyone buys, the Pro is the Sport model. Same basic idea with an upgraded kit. The CPU clock speed has increased, the graphics processor is essentially doubled, and there's more RAM under the hood. For all the additional hardware, the Pro is only a little larger than the original PlayStation 4, coming in at a pound heavier than the PS4 and over two pounds heavier than the Slim. I was sort of surprised how light the system felt in my hands.
The system shares the same matte design aesthetic as the PlayStation 4 Slim model, albeit with an extra slab on top that makes it look like a hard plastic sandwich. Like the Slim, the Pro ditches the touch-sensitive Power and Eject buttons of the original PS4 for physical ones. Those buttons are molded into the front of the system in a more elegant manner, above the LED light strip that serves to let users know the system status and below the motorized Blu-Ray disc drive. The Pro shares the same ports as the existing PlayStation 4 models - HDMI Out, Optical Out, Ethernet, and the Auxiliary port - with the addition of another rear-facing USB 3.0 port to round out the two front USB ports.
The power supply is still internal, though the plug is much larger than the one on the Slim or Classic PlayStation 4. The system launches with 1 TB of hard drive storage, running at 5400 RPM. If you want to replace the drive, you still can, as long as you stick with 2.5-inch, laptop-style hard drives. As a bonus for veteran tweakers, the PlayStation 4 Pro finally supports SATA III.
The system supports 4K resolution output (though it sort of fakes it via checkerboard rendering, upscaling, and other techniques - for more on that, head over to Digital Foundry's more technical review) and more importantly, high dynamic range (HDR) color. HDR allows games and other content to display a richer and more robust color palette. This can lead to a more vibrant or more realistic image, depending on how the colors are used by developers. HDR can also improve contrast, allowing viewers to see details that were once missing.
The DualShock 4 has been slightly tweaked. There's now a thin strip on top of the Touch Pad that lets the lightbar colors shine through. This means you can see your controller color without tilting the controller in your direction or seeing the glow on other objects. Otherwise, it's the same DualShock 4 and the new version still works on older systems.
When you hook the PlayStation 4 Pro up to your TV, you'll be greeted with the same PlayStation 4 operating system you already know and love (or hate?). There's a few more options hidden in system settings dealing with video output, but otherwise the transition from OG/Slim to Pro is seamless. You either sign into your PlayStation account and redownload your content, or you can do a data transfer of data from one system to the next over your home network. Transferring 617 GB of data from my original PlayStation to the Pro took around 3 hours.
What the PS4 Pro Has Going For It
4K and HDR
I can't deny the additional clarity that 4K and HDR add to my general gaming experience. I wouldn't necessarily call it mind-blowing, but the more time you spend gaming on the Pro, the more the original PS4 starts to look old and quaint. I missed the sharpness provided by both features when switching back to my original PS4. The visual transition in screenshots and video may seem slight, but the longer you play on Pro, the harder it is to go back. Rise of the Tomb Raider in particular is stunning.
It's worth noting that the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Slim now support HDR as well, if you have a television that can support it.
Everything in the system OS just works. Put in a game and it acts just like it would on any other PlayStation 4, no particular changes or bugs to be found. For the games with Pro patches, the patches download as a simple update. The PS4 Pro automatically detects the display it's hooked up to on the fly. Switching the HDMI cable between my new 4K set and my older 1080p saw the system's output change dynamically. There's a strong sense of continuity in the PS4 Pro.
More Visual Presentation Options
While the system can upscale on the fly, there's also room for developers to use the additional power to target other visual enhancements. Rise of the Tomb Raider, The Last of Us Remastered, and Infamous: Second Son/First Light all have visual options allow you to choose between enhanced visuals or higher framerates (generally, unlocked). These are the kinds of options that PC players have had for a long time, but the Pro brings them to us in a simple, console-like way.
1080p TVs Work Too
The PlayStation 4 Pro upscales most content to its version of 4K. When that signal is passed to a 1080p television, the result is still slightly clearer than a native 1080p image. The technique is called supersampling. Here's the idea explained by Guerilla Games technical director Michiel van der Leeuw:
"For players who still possess standard 1080p HDTVs, we're able to offer far better image quality. We've got a number of techniques at our disposal," he writes. "The most logical one is supersampling. This is a very high-quality anti-aliasing technique, which basically means we internally render at a higher resolution (close to 4K) before shrinking it down to the final 1080p resolution. As our internal calculations are done at a resolution much higher than 1080p, more detail survives before we shrink it down to 1080p, resulting in smoother edges - virtually no jaggies - and a more stable image."
Developers have to implement it in their games, but it seems like a number of them are, making the Pro a winner even if you lack a 4K TV, but still care about improved image quality.
The Extra Rear USB Port
If you're the owner of a PlayStation VR headset, the extra USB port on the rear of the PlayStation 4 Pro will be a boon. The PSVR takes up a USB slot; on the other models, it sticks out of one of the front-facing USB ports. That's ugly and destroys the clean line of the system's front. Now, you can use the rear port to keep those unsightly cables out of your way.