The PlayStation 4 Pro looks like a vertically elongated version of the Original PS4, while the controller has had a slight tweak.
In August, Microsoft kickstarted the second wave of this current console generation, releasing its acclaimed Xbox One S to a largely receptive audience. Now, Sony is returning fire with the PlayStation 4 Pro, an updated version of the standard PS4, which – like Microsoft’s machine – is designed to get the most out of the coming era of 4K televisions. Here’s how the new instalment stacks up.
Unlike the Xbox One S, this is no radical aesthetic departure. PS4 Pro looks like a vertically elongated version of the regular PS4, with slightly curved edges giving it a smoother outline. At 295 x 327 x 55mm, it is, of course, bigger and heavier than both the new PS4 Slim and the original model. It’s sort of brutalist in design – resembling what a multistorey car park might look like in Bladerunner. The power and eject buttons are now at separate ends of the front fascia, so you’re less likely to keep pressing the wrong one.
Coming with an HDMI cable, DualShock controller and power lead, The PS4 Pro has everything you need in the box, and the set-up process takes seconds. Unfortunately though, the 4K calibration procedure isn’t as exhaustive as with Xbox One S: Microsoft’s machine automatically tests the 4K and HDR capabilities of your TV and lets you know how it’s likely to perform – the PS4 Pro gives you a notification that your television may be capable of HDR and 4K, but the rest is up to you and your grasp of TV system menus. However, the process does allow you to easily transfer all your games and saves from your old PS4 – as long as you connect them both to the same wi-fi network and have a handy ethernet cable to connect them together with.
The PS4 Pro offers a considerably more powerful version of the basic PS4 architecture, and a higher spec than the Xbox One S. The central processing unit has had a 30% speed boost from 1.6GHz to 2.1GHz, while the graphics processing unit has leapt from 1.84 TFLOPs (trillion floating-point operations per second) in the original machine to 4.2 TFLOPs, a substantial lift in performance. This is all necessary to render game visuals – and run streaming video – at ultra HD 4K resolution, rather than the 1080p HD resolution supported by older models. This is basically what PS4 Pro is all about – improved graphics fidelity.
The Pro also offers an extra USB port at the rear (handy for the PlayStation VR headset) and brings back the Optical Digital port for connection to certain headsets and AV receivers. Finally, the addition of support for 802.11ac wi-fi (also offered in the slimline PS4), may well improve your broadband connection speed.
Unlike the Xbox One S and doubtless the Xbox Project Scorpio, the optical drive has no support for UHD Blu-ray discs. However, the system does support streaming UHD video from services like Netflix and Amazon. This has annoyed a lot of movie fans, and if you imagined building a large library of 4K Blu-rays alongside your console, it maybe something you’ll have to think about.
It’s up to developers to decide how they implement the capabilities of PS4 Pro, and it’s going to vary a lot from studio to studio. Sony has released a list of current and forthcoming titles that support 4K and HDR visuals and it’s quite impressive with big blockbusters like Fifa, Battlefield and Rise of the Tomb Raider onboard as well as all the major in-house Sony titles. Some games will require a download to support the capabilities of Pro, some will have them built in. It’s likely that all future PS4 releases will offer a choice of standard and Pro modes, the latter offering either smoother frame rates or higher resolutions, or a bit of both.
So far, we’ve seen some impressive results. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Titanfall 2 and Last of Us: Remastered all shine, with greater-than-1080p rendering adding finer detail and slicker animation, while the titles that support HDR are using the increased luminosity range to add real depth to well-lit environments. Titanfall 2 particularly benefits from ultra smooth frame rates that give those swirling parkour moments extra zip and dynamism.
It’s worth pointing out however, that very few PS4 Pro-compatible games are likely to offer full native 4K resolution, especially not at high frame rates – the hardware just isn’t powerful enough. Most will employ an advanced form of upscaling known as checkerboard rendering which extrapolates twice as many pixels from the standard output. This can get very close to native 4K performance, though – Rise of the Tomb Raider is perhaps the best example at the moment, but the upcoming zombie adventure Days Gone looks truly astonishing on Pro, its huge undead armies and blinding explosion effects making the most of the extra power.
The PS4 DualShock is largely unchanged. There’s a tweak to the light bar, which now makes its colour visible from the front face – handy for multiplayer titles where players need to know which character they’re controlling. The new controller also offers both Bluetooth communication with the console and wired communication via a USB cable. The latter potentially cuts down on latency between button presses and on-screen movement, which could make all the difference in, say, fighting games.
The PlayStation 4 Pro China retails at $199 (€183, £155) with a 1TB hard drive. A few retailers are offering bundle deals with one or more games. This compares to around £139 for a standard slimline PS4 with 500GB hard drive.
Horizon: Zero Dawn could well be a showcase title for the new console Photograph: Sony Computer Entertainment
The PlayStation 4 Pro is the most powerful video game console currently available and offers very impressive performance for the price. If you have a brand new 4K television that you’re just itching to test, and you don’t already have a PS4, the Pro is more-or-less an essential purchase. It adds noticeable visual oomph to many current PS4 games and promises to really come into its own next year with titles like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone.
Yes, it’s annoying that there’s no 4K Blu-ray disc support, but that probably kept production costs down, and you can now buy a standalone player for £250 if you want one.
If you own a 1080p HD television, PS4 Pro still offers a few advantages: supporting titles may offer improved frame rates and higher screen resolution, but the price is steep for these modest aesthetic improvements. Those who already have a PS4 but now also own a 4K television and are wondering about upgrading their console may want to wait for a while before committing to Pro – only a minority of current titles are really pushing the new hardware, so you’re making a relatively expensive gamble on a flood of truly exhaustive 4K/HDR experiences coming in next year’s big releases.
4K/HDR entertainment is still in its infancy, with lots of elements still being developed and huge variations in performance from televisions. Neither Xbox One S or PlayStation 4 Pro have all the answers – but both make compelling cases to have a stake in the future.
Note: we have not yet had chance to test PlayStation Pro with the PlayStation VR headset. Sony has said that virtual reality performance should be improved for PS4 Pro owners. We are currently testing the hardware and will add our findings to this article as soon as possible.
Pros: solid 4K and HDR performance; encouraging support from developers; small but important tweaks to controller; potential to improve PlayStation VR experience
Cons: Most games will not achieve full native 4K rendering; no 4K Blu-ray player; lacklustre design; variable support from current titles
This is the PS4 unboxing video