Sony confirmed rumours of a Playstation 4 upgrade on June 10, 2016, codenamed “Neo”. On September 7, 2016, Sony publicly revealed the true identity of the “Neo”: Playstation 4 Pro. One of the biggest selling points to the PS4 Pro is the support for 4K gameplay. 4K displays have grown in popularity over the past few years, and their cost has been drastically reduced to make them affordable upgrades to existing 1080p displays.
Trading Performance for Visuals
Early PS4 Pro impressions have revealed that image quality has definitely improved, but some games are suffering performance drops. DigitalFoundry reported that games such as The Last of Us Remastered are a treat to play in the high-resolution 4K mode which is locked at 30FPS, but for gamers that demand performance, reducing the settings to achieve 60FPS results in more frame drops than the base PS4 experience.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is another game being hit with performance issues. While the opening Prague cinematic runs notably smoother on PS4 Pro, the first mission dips to 20FPS in some scenes while the base PS4 sits comfortably at 30FPS.
Luckily, many gamers are experiencing the benefits of upgrading to a PS4 Pro with other games. Battlefield 1 has both enhanced performance and additional visual effects, and FIFA 17 has sharper details without dipping below 60FPS.
Consoles have a reputation for being simplified gaming experiences because there are no settings to play with, patches are automatically applied, and most importantly, there are fewer hardware choices to make. With the introduction of the PS4 Pro, gamers now have to choose between the base PS4 experience and an upgraded model that promises better performance and visuals.
It’s important to note that games don’t render at a “true” native 4K resolution on the PS4 Pro (EDIT: Since this article was published, it’s been discovered that some games such as Skyrim do run at a native 4k resolution, but the majority are still upscaled from resolutions like 1440p). Instead, developers will render at a higher resolution, such as 1440p, and then upscale to 4K—essentially stretching it. A 4K compatible gaming PC costs around $1000, so it’s unreasonable to expect a $399 console to reach the same level of performance.
Some developers offer gamers a choice in their settings. Rise of the Tomb Raider supports three different modes: 4K Resolution, Enriched Visuals, and High Frame-rate. 4K Resolution mode outputs the game to 4K (again, it doesn’t truly render at 4K). Enriched Visuals enhances the graphical quality, but remains at 1080p. High frame-rate mode takes advantage of the PS4 Pro’s power to produce smoother gameplay.
A Glimpse of Things to Come
Developers have forced gamers to make a choice between different sets of hardware in the past. For example in 1998, Nintendo released an Expansion Pak for the Nintendo 64 which unlocked high-quality graphics settings or additional modes in some of its games. More recently, Nintendo released several 3DS models over the past few years: 2DS, 3DS, 3DS XL, New 3DS, and New 3DS XL. Gamers can choose between having a value model, standard size that fits in their pockets, larger versions with a bigger screen, or upgraded models with better hardware.
Gamers are a diverse group that demand different things. Some prefer portability, some are casual, and some want the best experience possible. With the recent release of the PS4 Pro and impending release of Xbox Scorpio, console gaming is shifting to a more customizable platform that will allow gamers to pick between base packages and enhanced experiences. In the future, we may even see value-oriented hardware like the 2DS.
Like PC gaming, console gamers will soon have more choices to make, and they’ll need to update their knowledge with terms like “native 4K” and “anti-aliasing”—the simplicity that console gaming has a reputation for may soon disappear.