Three years after the release of the original PlayStation 4, the PlayStation Pro marks the first time that a console has received a full hardware refresh in the middle of a generation, one that actually markably improves performance. Historically, and the original PlayStation comes to mind as the system that started it the familiar refresh cycle, a console would only receive a size reduction and perhaps an upgraded chip that is more power efficient and cheaper to produce. There has never been a mid-cycle release of the hardware that increased the GPU, CPU, etc. This kind of cycle is very familiar to those that love smartphones, but is it a step in the right direction?
All So Familiar
Visually, the PlayStation 4 Pro is the console that we have grown familiar with since the launch of the original PlayStation 4 in 2013. The most obvious change is the third layer that has been added, giving the hardware an even more stacked appearance than before. Surprisingly, despite this increase, the footprint of the hardware remains virtually the same. So unless your entertainment center was already a tight squeeze, you shouldn’t find yourself running into any problems getting the system in it’s new home. Don’t worry perfectionists, the wobble is gone!
The PlayStation 4 Pro introduces a few new additions over the original hardware. Gone are the hyper-sensitive capacitive buttons that a wandering strand of hair or rambunctious pet could trigger at the worst of times. Instead you will find physical ones. However, this isn’t much of an improvement. These new buttons, while can’t be triggered accidentally like the capacitive variation, they are a strain to find. They are extremely slender and tough to press in.
When you turn on the system, you will be greeted with the same operating system you would find on the original or PlayStation 4 Slim. About the only change worth noting is the addition of 4K resolution support. And this support isn’t limited to just the software and streaming, the menu itself renders natively at that resolution as well.
What’s Really Changed
The meat and potatoes of the PlayStation 4 Pro is the slight upgrade in the hardware. Sony has doubled the GPU. They’ve achieved this by mirroring the original GPU. When that GPU is not being utilized by the developer, it sits dormant. This means that unless the developer specifically targets the hardware, games don’t benefit from this extra power (twice what the original PlayStation 4 has). Sony setup the system this way to ensure maximum compatibility across the systems (original PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Slim and PlayStation 4 Pro). If a developer wishes, they may update games that are released already with a patch. This is what Sony likes to call “Forward Compatibility”.
The Pro has also received a 10% boost in CPU speed (a simple overclock of the original), 1 additional Gigabyte of RAM, an additional USB port on the back (convenient for PlayStation VR support), updated Wi-Fi bands (5Ghz is finally supported) and a stock 1 Terabyte hard drive.
It appears that along with the core hardware, the DualShock 4 may have received some notable improvements. From the get-go, we found that our controllers last a bit longer. We note about 2 additional hours or so, with the LED bar turned to dim. Speaking of LED bar, it is now visible from the touchpad. This is a surprisingly useful addition. Before, the only way you could see what your controller was glowing is if you saw the reflection on your television or turned the controller up. Now you can see the status of your LED with a quick and effortless peak.
While it may be a placebo effect, the controller feels sturdier. We certainly noticed less creaking and cracking in the hands. The rubber on the analogs appear to be better quality, so hopefully no more peeling. The triggers also seem to benefit. Both of our DualShock 4 controllers feel equally tight and responsive. Let’s hope the trigger doesn’t snap like before.
So What Does This All Mean?
Consumers, developers and maybe even Sony themselves, are still trying to figure out exactly how the PlayStation 4 Pro fits into the whole picture. This is the first time, in the middle of a generation, that a platform has received notable hardware upgrades that impact performance. Traditionally the upgrades were limited to cosmetics and some performance optimization in speed and heat transfer. Sony has broken that tradition by releasing a hardware refresh that improves the performance of the platform, graphically, by two fold.
So what does this do to generation cycles? It’s hard to tell. A typical console generation lasts five to six years before a new generation is introduced. The PlayStation 4 had only been out for 3 years by the time the PlayStation 4 Pro was released. That’s not common…at all. Needless to say, the reception of the PlayStation 4 Pro announcement was certainly mixed. Some people praised it, while others were less than impressed. Are console generations going to turn into something more inline with smartphone upgrades? Let’s hope that’s not how things go.
In interviews, Mark Cerny, the architect of the PlayStation 4, has stated that the PlayStation 4 Pro is not a generational leap and that his view on generational upgrades is when aspects significantly get changed through components like the RAM and CPU architecture. This isn’t the case with the PlayStation 4 Pro where the same GPU was boosted by doubling it, the same CPU architecture is being used and is simply overclocked by 30%, and only received a 1GB boost in standard DRAM to improve application management (core memory is still 8GB of GDDR5). So with those changes in mind, what are the benefits that you can expect exactly?
You don’t need a 4k television to benefit from the extra power the PlayStation 4 Pro offers. However, it’s completely dependent on the developer whether or not the new hardware will be fully taken advantage of. Even then, if they do take advantage of the hardware, there is no way in telling how they will choose to do so. Will they improve graphics on a 1080p resolution? Will it be a matter of just increasing the resolution up to 4K? Will we just identify a few extra plants in the field, or rays of light? Or maybe we will get just a frame rate boost – or a happy balance of the frame rate and performance? It’s something the developer has to choose.
Optimal VR Experience
The PlayStation 4 Pro is also the best way to experience PlayStation VR if you are going to jump into that experience. The performance with PlayStation 4 Pro is obvious, when the games are updated to support it. Smooth frame rates, improved graphics, better optics. You will have a more comfortable experience in PlayStation VR if you go with the Pro. The two were made for each other, literally. When they were in development they were identified as Projects Morpheus and Neo. If you are going to invest in PlayStation VR, then you really need to budget a PlayStation 4 Pro with it. You are going to want the extra horsepower to keep you immersed in the virtual world, and to possibly aid in reducing any undesired side effects from frame drops and visual performance that may impair your experience. Comfort is critical when it comes to VR, and the PlayStation 4 Pro helps ensure that better experience for you.
When you buy the PlayStation 4 Pro, you are investing in the best future of PlayStation 4. The system will become the lead development platform, so games will likely always have markable improvements over any other version on PlayStation. You are going to find richer experiences and better optimized performance in your games. For $100 more, you can have the best gaming experience PlayStation currently has to offer. When it comes to a 4K experience, your mileage will vary. The PlayStation 4 Pro does not come packed with a 4K Blu-ray player. Instead it comes with the standard Blu-ray player and can stream 4K content. This was a compromise Sony made to keep the price down while offering the best experience where it matters – in playing video games. Including the extra power the system has plus a UHD player would have certainly rocked that retail price of the Pro above the $400 mark, which is definitely a gray area for a lot of consumers in this market.
One can imagine that Sony did not want to repeat the infamous loss they made when the PlayStation 3 launched that caused them to loose over $200 to $300 for every system sold due to the high-end technology of the time plus the addition of the new Blu-ray format. We can expect a 4K UHD player upgrade in the future, of course. Whether that is yet another PlayStation 4 upgrade, or the release of the inevitable PlayStation 5, we have to patiently wait and see what Sony has in store for the format in the future. As of this publication, they have yet to even release a standalone 4k UHD player on the consumer market. Curious.
Is it Worth the Plunge?
Depends. If you are the kind of consumer that wants to stay up on the latest and greatest in PlayStation so you never get left behind, then the PlayStation 4 Pro is a shoe-in. If you are a consumer that wants the best in performance and you have a 4K television, then the PlayStation 4 Pro is also right up your alley. If you already have a PlayStation 4 and you don’t have any plans to purchase a PlayStation VR or a 4K television, then there is probably little here for you to make the upgrade. That said, if you are on the market and don’t own a PlayStation 4 at all — don’t hesitate. Grab a PlayStation 4 Pro.