The PS4 Pro is a tricky thing to explain, and an even more difficult console for Sony to try and sell.
That third extra ridge up there is all about faster frame rates, 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR). Technically, these things are easy enough to explain –faster frame rates mean smoother animations, 4K means more on-screen detail and HDR, more colours. When you can see it all in action, it’s a clear leap in visual quality. When back on a regular ol’ 1080p screen though, the lack of these features isn’t nearly as noticeable. In fact, enhancements fade away like a distant memory, especially when you’re immersed in the game you’re playing.
Truth be told, for all the talk of washed-out colours and less detail on tree leaves in the PS4 Pro’s showcase title, Horizon Zero Dawn, you’re not going to be playing on your current setup feeling like you’re missing out.
With the Pro’s enhancements, the world of Horizon was colourful, lush and detailed. Clean, defined details littered the world, from strands of hair to jagged cliff faces, right down to the way in which the sun lit up the clouds. The thousands (or millions? Or billions?) of extra colours in the Pro’s available palette made everything from the sky to the dirt on the ground rich and vibrant. When these features were ‘turned off’, thanks to a PS4 Pro simulation of a regular 1080p screen, things looked grey, lifeless and dull. But only for a while.
It should be noted as this point that the 1080p simulation provided inside Horizon Zero Dawn looked to represent the game as it would appear on a PS4 Slim. There’s a visual tier between Slim in 1080p and Pro in 4K, and that’s the Pro in 1080p. As detailed by Guerrilla Games, the Pro will upscale and then downscale graphics, offering something more visually pleasing than the Slim is capable of. We didn’t get a chance to test this scenario in Sony’s office, and due to the pre-release nature of Horizon itself, we won’t be able to for a long while.
Talking of 4K again, near-launch title Infamous: First Light continued to impress. The frequent activation of neon-based powers helped to show off the Pro’s enhanced particle affects. Each strand of neon was gloriously individual and well defined, and facial expressions were crisp and clear like never before.
Well, like never before on a console.
The easiest way to think of the PS4 compared to the PS4 Pro is like sliders on a PC game. The Pro is up to max, and the PS4 a bit down the line. The game’s fine in either setting, but the people who have more cash will end up with a nicer-looking product.
Along those lines, while titles like First Light, The Last of Us Remastered, Ratchet & Clank, Helldivers and even Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End looked sharp – and offered up amazing images in several titles’ photo modes – they’re showcase titles at best; ones you’ll start up on your PS4 merely to show to friends. That is, unless you’ve not played these titles before.
We took newer, or even unreleased, third-party titles like Watch Dogs 2, Rise of the Tomb Raider, NBA 2K17, Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare through their paces, and while they all looked fabulous, the enhancements of the Pro weren’t as apparent. Again, it’s hard to tell what you’re missing out on unless you have a magical dev switch to go back and forth. You know, something to define the haves and the have nots.
Sony staffers on hand at the Pro handover – yep, one’s heading back to Stevivor’s offices, so expect expanded thoughts soon — compared the PS4 to PS4 Pro leap to that of SD to HD. I’m not sure that’s accurate. Instead, it feels like DVD to Blu-ray – you can tell it’s improved, but you’re not going to lose any sleep over it all.
The PS4 Pro was also marketed by Sony as an ecosystem, comprised of the PS4 Slim, PlayStation VR and – of course – a Sony 4K, HDR-compatible television. It’s here where it all gets tricky. With most Australians likely to be rocking a 3D television rather than a 4K one, that ecosystem represents a very expensive investment.
That said, if you’ve the cash and the desire, it’s a damn good setup. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go television shopping.