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No one would have expected 2016 to be such an important year for gaming, but it could go down as one of the most historically significant years in the hobby’s history.
On one hand, we have the Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR disrupting traditional gaming as we know it. And on the other we have both Sony and Microsoft releasing unprecedented console upgrades in the middle of the generation. In the past, console makes waited a few years before moving on to a completely new platform (PlayStation to PlayStation 2, NES to SNES, etc), but the Xbox One S, Xbox Project Scorpio, and PS4 Pro are changing that in a big way.
These mid-console upgrades may fail and never happen again, and VR could end being a fad, but both of those seem rather unlikely.
That brings us to why we’re here today: to dig into the PS4 Pro and figure out whether this is a huge upgrade to the PS4, or if it’s just an intriguing experiment. It’s not as simple as just saying whether or not it’s a good console, as this is uncharted territory.
Don’t worry, because we’re going to get to the bottom of the whole thing together.
Compared to the Xbox
The PS4 to PS4 Pro is a significantly larger jump in processing power than the Xbox One to the Xbox S. To hold gamers off until it officially announces the specs of Project Scorpio, Microsoft released a console with a minimal improvement in specs, but added HDR support.
That means that, for the time being, the PS4 Pro is the most powerful console on the market. It also comes with a $399 price tag — $100 higher price tag than the Xbox One S. Of course, that’s not an apple to orange comparison, because we don’t know what the final price of Project Scorpio will be. We know it’s supposed to be more powerful than the Pro, but we don’t know by exactly how much.
Remember when I said all this is confusing? I wasn’t kidding.
Everyone loves numbers, right? If you want every last detail of specs, check out this page from Sony that breaks it all down. For our purposes, we’ll look at the numbers that’ll actually mean something to you.
The main processor remains more or less unchanged, with the PS4 and PS4 Pro both using an 8 core x86–64 AMD “Jaguar”.
Where the big step up happens is with the graphics card, with the Pro’s featuring 4.20 teraflops of raw power compared to the original’s 1.84. That’s a substantial increase. To give you a little perspective, the newly-released GeForce 1080 GPU pushes 9 teraflops with a price tag of $650. The GTX 1070 pushes 6.5 teraflops and costs $399 (the same as PS4 Pro).
The closest PC GPU is the GTX 1060 and its 4.4 TFLOPs. That sells for $250, which is right about where you’d expect with the PS4 Pro at $399.
Both consoles featured 8 GB of DDR5 RAM, but the Pro is only available with a 1 TB hard drive (the original and Slim are available in both 500 GB and 1 TB models). With digital games getting larger and larger, having a bigger drive is important.
Some other notable changes include an extra USB port and updated HDMI that supports 4K.
An important spec that’s missing from the PS4 Pro is support for Ultra HD Blu-ray movies. If this is meant to be the only box you have hooked up to your brand new (and probably expensive) 4K TV, not being able to take advantage of one of the few formats that are actually in UHD is quite unfortunate, as it forces you to miss out completely or take on another expense. The Xbox One S (and presumably Scorpio) do support the format, but the One S is less powerful than the Pro for games, so that’s a tradeoff.
Because we’re entering such new territory here, things get a little weird. We’ve never had new console release mid-generation before that actually change the hardware from a power perspective. As such, it’s up to game developers to add support for the more powerful hardware. Sony has a list of games with support for the PS4 Pro at launch:
- Battlefield 1
- Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
- Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
- Dishonored 2
- Driveclub VR
- EA Sports FIFA 17
- Hustle Kings
- Infamous First Light
- Infamous Second Son
- Mafia III
- Mantis Burn Racing
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
- NBA 2K17
- Neon Chrome
- PlayStation VR Worlds
- Ratchet & Clank
- Rez Infinite
- Rigs Mechanized Combat League
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Robinson: The Journey
- Super Stardust Ultra
- The Elder Scrolls Online: Gold Edition
- The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition
- The Last of Us Remastered
- The Last of Us: Left Behind
- The Playroom VR
- Titanfall 2
- Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
- Until Dawn: Rush of Blood
- Viking Squad
- Wheels of Aurelia
- World of Tanks
- XCOM 2
There’s also Watch Dogs 2, Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian, and new releases going forward that’ll have support for the PS4 Pro in some way.
All of those games have received updates in one form or another. It’s that one form or another where things get confusing, because not only is it up to developers to decide whether they want to add PS4 Pro support to their games, it’s up to them to decide which enhancements they want to add and what tradeoffs they want to make.
Confusion aside, there’s a solid list of games available with improvements at launch, including some of the best-selling, highest-reviewed games on the platform. For our testing, we went with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and The Last of Us Remastered, as Deus Ex was receiving mostly negative reports as far as PS4 Pro performance was concerned, and people seemed mixed on The Last of Us.
This is going to sound completely nonsensical, but in some cases, the PS4 Pro performs worse than an original PS4.
I started a new paragraph here so you have a second to let that sink in. The more expensive system actually runs a few games worse.
Thankfully, these issues are isolated, and it seems that it’s an issue with individual games, not the console itself. I’m speculating here, but if I had to guess I’d assume that developers were rushed to get their Pro upgrade patches out, and they suffered from optimization issues while attempting to push higher resolutions and frame rates.
While reviewing the Pro, we picked up a copy of Deus Ex Human Revolution, and it definitely suffered from some frame rate issues that weren’t a problem on the original console. However, during the process, Square put out a patch for the game that promised to fix the issues, and after a few more hours of playing, I didn’t run into a single issue with performance.
Obviously that’s just one example, but its good to know that with time, developers can create performance improvements that are noticeable.
We also spent substantial time with The Last of Us Remastered, and I found that it performed perfectly, and quite simply, it’s the best-looking game I’ve ever seen on a console. Naughty Dog elected to give players the choice of unlocking the frame rate with a flexible resolution or locking the frame rate at 30 fps with 4K resolution. Personally, I preferred the higher resolution with the locked 30 fps, but they both looked and ran great.
A nice perk with the Pro is an improvement to loading times, and I definitely did see a difference, even if it was just a couple seconds here and there. In a game like Deus Ex, which has some pretty unpleasant load times and some fairly difficult parts, those few seconds really made for a much better experience.
For the PS4 Pro launch to truly be something I could feel comfortable calling a success, I would expect every game that received upgrades to run better. It costs more, and promises to make games look better — any time it doesn’t, Sony has failed. Granted, most games see a jump, but it would be nice to see all games running better (or at least, the same).
As we go forward, it’s hard to see if we’ll see more or less of these problems. You’d think that developers would get better at optimization, but with the Scorpio coming along with a completely different level of power, it’s hard to predict where this will end up.
If you want to get crazy with numbers, check out the Digital Foundry review that digs in hard to the technical stuff.
All that extra horsepower of the PS4 had to go somewhere, and as such, the console is a bit bigger than the original and substantially larger than the Slim. Here’s a look at the actual dimensions of the three PS4 models:
- Original PS4: 275 × 53 × 305 mm
- PS4 Slim: 265 × 39 × 288 mm
- Pro: 295 × 55 × 327 mm
It’s bigger in all dimensions, but none of the differences are huge. Unless you were literally using every millimeter of space to fit an original PS4, you should be able to fit the Pro anywhere the original sat.
The Pro is also heavier: the original PS4 was approximately 2.8 kg, while the Slim came in at about 2.1 kg, and the beefy Pro weighs 3.3 kg. Unless you’re moving your console around a lot, or your TV stand is made of tissue paper, this shouldn’t be an issue either, but it’s still worth noting.
The Slim and Pro come with an updated DualShock 4 controller, but the differences are minor between it and the first iteration. Sony added a second light bar on the touchpad that you can actually see while playing. In some games, it will change color to reflect the game state. For example, in The Last of Us, when your health is low, the light is red. For people who were annoyed by the light on the original controller, adding another one is probably not what they were looking for.
For gamers who need optimal speed, the controller can now communicate with the console via USB. If you choose to play plugged in, you’ll see a slight reduction in input lag. Your average player won’t notice the difference here, but for competitive players in genres where every millisecond matters (such as fighting games), this could be a nice selling point.
While the changes are minimal, there’s really nothing to complain about. It doesn’t cost any more than the original, and at its core, it performs just as well. If you like the feel of the PS4 controller, you’ll like the new one. If you prefer the feel and play style of an Xbox controller, this will do nothing to change your mind.
Now, we land on the big question, and the one you’ve surely been waiting for: should you buy the PS4 Pro if you already have a PS4?
No. At the time of writing, it just doesn’t do enough to justify the cost. A year from now, that could change, but time will tell.
If you’re in the market for a PS4 (and you don’t have one already), you might as well get the Pro, as the cost isn’t much higher, and you’re future-proofing yourself in the event that developers really do push the hardware and leave original PS4 players with sub-par experiences.
However, if you’re in no rush, I’d really recommend waiting until we find out exactly what Scorpio is and how much it costs. This will let you get a better comparison between all of the choices.
Or you could just get a PC.
Little reason to upgrade at the moment, but if you’re in the market for a Playstation anyway, future-proof your purchase by getting the Pro.