'Skyrim: Special Edition' outputs native 4K on PS4 Pro at the cost of performance

The upgraded PlayStation 4 version of Bethesda’s open-world RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim offers native support for 4K resolutions when played on a PS4 Pro console, but Digital Foundry warns the game’s performance takes an unexpected hit as a trade-off.

According to Digital Foundry, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition offers PS4 Pro owners a choice between 1080p and 4K resolutions, though players who paid a premium for the resolution bump may be disappointed when they see the game in action.

As Digital Foundry demonstrates in the video above, the 4K PlayStation 4 Pro version of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition appears at first glance to be “basically identical” to the PC version running at native 4K with Ultra settings. The PlayStation 4 Pro’s 4K mode removes the temporal anti-aliasing seen at 1080p, resulting in greater visual clarity and a crisper presentation overall.

Other visual improvements players can expect to see when running The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition on a PlayStation 4 Pro unit include improved foliage draw distance and increased environmental detail. The PS4 Pro’s streaming technology that enables enhanced foliage does not extend to elements like rocks, street signs, and other geometric objects, however, giving the 4K Ultra PC version a distinct advantage.

“Streaming here is identical to the base PlayStation 4 game. There’s no upgrade,” Digital Foundry’s David Bierton said. “Similarly, shadow quality is identical to the base game running on PlayStation 4, and the effects work is also the same. So PC owners still benefit from general streaming improvements, higher-quality volumetric lighting, and higher-resolution shadows.”

Further testing reveals that “performance isn’t quite as solid with the game running on the PlayStation 4 Pro,” according to Digital Foundry. When running at 4K, the game is locked to a framerate of 30-frames-per-second and occasional dips in performance can be seen throughout. Alpha effects seem to be especially taxing on PlayStation 4 Pro hardware, as Digital Foundry observes that the game frequently runs at a lower framerate on the PS4 Pro than on standard PlayStation 4 units.

Players hoping for a smoother framerate at 1080p will also be disappointed, as the PlayStation 4 Pro opts to downsample 4K textures for its 1080p mode. This tactic results in similar performance across both resolutions, and Digital Foundry reports frequent hitching and framerate drops at both 4K and 1080p on the PlayStation 4 Pro.

“It’s not a dealbreaker,” Bierton concludes, “but if I’m paying £350 for a machine designed to give you a premium experience, I expect performance to be a little bit better.”

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