Earlier this week, Sony officially unveiled their new PlayStation 4 Pro console, effectively refreshing the console cycle in a way that hasn’t been done in that space before. The new console, which reportedly will support 4K resolutions in both gaming and media as well as HDR, will retail for $399, which when you look at the upfront cost it doesn’t seem so bad. However, there are some facts to consider before dropping $400 on the console this holiday.
No UHD Blu-Ray Player
This is pretty huge. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, for all its talk of supporting 4K media, won’t have a way to use the largest distribution method of 4K media – the Blu-Ray. This is technology that Sony themselves pioneered, so it’s a pretty glaring omission. Sony has told The Guardian in an interview that the reason for this is due to the console company seeing the trend going towards streaming. However, 4K media is incredibly hard on those with data caps and smaller bandwidths, not to mention the compression involved with a 4K data stream. For those who are looking for the best picture quality in their 4K movies, Blu-Ray would be the preferred medium. It’s interesting since Microsoft’s Xbox One S does include a UHD Blu-Ray player, and is cheaper than the PlayStation 4 Pro. Sure the Pro is more powerful, but with that extra hundred dollars you’re saving you could grab a controller or a game.
Not Every Game will be actual 4K
For a system that touts 4K gameplay, it’s important to note that many of those games won’t actually be 4K. Sure, they will be outputted to your TV in 4K, if you have a 4K TV. But, like many of the games on the current PlayStation 4 that upscale to 1080p output, most of the games shown so far will be upscaling to the 4K display. On stage when talking about the PlayStation 4 Pro, Mark Cerny mentioned advancements in “temporal and spacial algorithms” which, when you look at it, is just a fancy way of saying upscaling. Some games have been confirmed to have a native 4K resolution, such as The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited as well as The Last of Us Remastered. In order to take advantage of even the upscaled 4K modes, you will need to invest in a 4K TV, which isn’t cheap. And even then, the argument can be made that the PlayStation 4 Pro isn’t taking full advantage of your investment.
There may not be a performance boost either
One of the enticing reasons for the existence of the PlayStation 4 Pro is the more powerful hardware. Seems reasonable then that more powerful hardware can run games better than the older hardware. This is how its been on PC for years. If you want the absolute best quality, you typically have the best hardware available. PCs are scale-able, though, meaning that you can tailor your experience and performance based on the hardware. So it would stand to reason that a game that might have run at 900p, 30 frames per second on the PlayStation 4 could tangibly see a performance increase on the PlayStation 4 Pro, right? Well, not so much.
While some games will see more detail in their 1080p games thanks to super sampling, something that’s be done on PC for years, not many companies have been keen to say there will be a framerate boost along with the increased fidelity. Some games will allow you to tailor the experience, such as Rise of the Tomb Raider; however, games like the aforementioned The Elder Scrolls Online have yet to mention whether fans running at 1080p will see a discernible performance boost for their investment. Upcoming titles such as Horizon: Zero Dawn have had their devs go on record, telling Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry that there will not be a 1080p60 mode, meaning unless you have a 4K display there is no reason to grab the new game on the new hardware, as the experience will be the same on both platforms.
This isn’t to say there won’t be a performance boost to current titles, but Sony seems almost unwilling to broach the subject, instead touting upscaled 4K experiences. This would be a key area to keep an eye on moving forward.
It’s not just the cost of the console
To truly take advantage of what the new console is offering, it’s not just the console you’ll need. Additionally, you’ll need to invest in a TV that does both 4K and HDR, or High Dynamic Range, and does so without the input lag seen often in 4K, HDR displays. This isn’t a minor investment, as the cheapest ones run starting around a thousand dollars. That considerably brings the cost barrier higher than some are willing to pay starting out. Couple this with Sony’s unwillingness to really talk about whether you’ll see a performance boost on your current 1080p display and it should give many prospective consumers pause when buying the PS4 Pro.
PCs are still by and large the cheaper investment
One of the realities of modern gaming is that the minute a console hits store shelves, it’s already outpaced by equivalent PC hardware. There’s simply no denying this. In fact, Andrew House, the head of Sony Interactive Entertainment, admits in his interview with The Guardian that it was the PC that inspired the development of the PlayStation 4 Pro going so far to say that the PC provides gamers “who want the very best graphical experience will start to migrate to PC, because that’s obviously where it’s to be had.”
Sony’s own boss admits, on record, that the best graphical experience isn’t to be had on his own platform. However, omitted from this statement is that the best graphics are also typically tied to the best performance as well. Naysayers will typically point to the astronomical costs of some PC builds, completely omitting that buying your hardware and building the PC yourself considerably brings the cost down. While the upfront cost may favor the PlayStation 4 Pro today, as VGTribune points out that to build a comparable PC would cost a bit more today, the added savings of no longer paying to play online, as well as the on-average cheaper games will recoup that cost relatively soon. It’s also incredibly important to note that the PlayStation 4 Pro uses entirely customized hardware, so getting an exact match on PC is nigh impossible, and the cheapest PC build is actually more powerful than the Pro. Additionally, you can always upgrade parts as needed while not being forced to completely buy a whole new box when you want even better performance down the road.
With everything considered, it’s likely a smart move to hold off and really find out what you’re investing in, especially with the Xbox Scorpio, which we already know will be more powerful, looming on the horizon. Additionally, the added investment of a 4K TV and lack of hard performance data for those on 1080p displays from Sony, it just makes the PlayStation 4 Pro seem like a tough investment to make right away.
[Image via Sony Interactive Entertainment]