Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro was the first of its kind for gaming consoles when it launched in November 2016, able to process gameplay at 4K UHD resolution with high dynamic range (HDR), thanks to a better graphics card and other hardware improvements.
Unlike past hardware leaps for game consoles, however, the Pro is still a PlayStation 4 at its core. It cannot play any games or game modes that can’t be found on a standard launch console. Instead, the Pro offers players, who care how about graphics and resolution, the privilege of knowing that their games run as well as they can.
The console does not do everything you’d need to make it the centerpiece of a high-end media system.
The PlayStation 4 Pro is largely successful in this regard. When played on a 4K TV, the PS4 Pro makes games look sharper and more detailed. On a standard, full HD set, games also run smoother. It is the best PS4 you can buy right now.
We’re gonna need a bigger box!
Physically speaking, the PS4 Pro isn’t that much different than its new counterpart, the PS4 “Slim.” It features the same sharp, slanted design, but with three “slates,” instead of two. The Pro is not as big as you might guess by looking at it; at 295 x 327 x 55mm, it’s two centimeters wider and two centimeters deeper than the original PS4. At 7.3 lbs, it is also a pound heavier than the original PS4 and almost three pounds more than the Slim. Then again, it’s a console that just sits under your TV most of the time, so who cares?
It also has some additional ports: The optical drive and two USB 3.1 ports on the front are standard PS4, but the Pro features an extra USB 3.1 port on the back, which is useful if you have a PSVR headset. To accommodate the 4K signal, the HDMI port on the Pro is HDMI 2.0. The Pro also features an optical port, which was included on the original PS4, but removed from the “Slim.”
Interestingly, the PS4 Pro’s optical drive is the same one used in the PS4, which means it does not support 4K Blu-ray, unlike the more powerful Xbox Series X. The console will be able to stream 4KHDR content from apps such as Netflix and Hulu, but lack of support means the console does not do everything you’d need to make it the centerpiece of a high-end media system.
When played on a 4K UHD TV, the PS4 Pro makes games look sharper and more detailed.
The real changes are on the inside. The PS4 Pro features a 4.20 Teraflop (TFLOP) AMD Radeon graphics card, which is a serious improvement. Like the standard PS4, it features an 8-core AMD x86-64 Jaguar processor, but the clock speed was amped up to 2.1GHz. It features 8GB of DDR5 RAM, again, like the original PS4, but also has an extra gigabyte of DDR3 RAM to handle temporary save states for open games and apps. The Pro comes with a 1TB hard drive, which like the PS4, can be replaced with any 2.5-inch SATA hard drive.
The bottom line is the Pro’s technical upgrade is more than cosmetic. Even without software support from individual developers, games and apps run more smoothly, and load times may shorten. Some games that push the games hardware to its limits (or have been poorly optimized) will stutter less or see fewer framerate drops. At the same time, this is not the kind of jump that will enable a new generation of games like the PS5 will later this year with vastly more powerful specs over the PS4. Even if Sony did allow PS4 Pro exclusives, those games wouldn’t be much bigger or content-rich than what we’re playing now with the next generation on the cusp of release. The improved graphics card could lead to sharper, more detailed games over time, but that’s it.
Shiny, happy people
The primary benefit of the PS4 Pro is the ability to play games at 4K UHD resolution. Games look better in 4K UHD than standard 1080p Full HD games. The 4K benefit increases the detail of every wall, every face, every weapon, every vehicle – everything looks sharper. Even older games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, one of the few 4K-compatible games that was available before the Pro launch, look much better. That detail mostly comes through if you see objects up close — you can stare at a close-up of a person’s face and see every pore — but you will still see less-detailed textures if you’re vigilant.
As long as you have a 4K UHD TV, running a game in 4K is very easy: The console will automatically scale your resolution to 4K when you plug it in, the same way it scales your resolution on the standard PS4.
Each game also requires a patch enabling 4K support. Before the console’s launch, there were minimal 4K-enabled games, fewer than 10. That number has grown considerably in the years since the Pro’s launch, but the changes aren’t consistent across the board.
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
When it comes to 4K support, every game is different. Though many proposed 4K patches seem to simply enable a high-resolution mode, some games give you new settings options. The Witness, for example, lets you choose between running it at 4K with the framerate locked at 30 frames-per-second (fps), or 1440p, upscaled to 4K, with the framerate locked at 60 fps.
The Xbox One S also can upscale games to 4K. However, it doesn’t currently have native 4K games, and most of its games continue to render at or below 1080p resolution, just as with the original Xbox One. Skyrim: Special Edition does render at 4K on the PS4 Pro, and other games like Titanfall 2 and The Last Of Us receive a resolution boost.
In many cases, the resolution boost increases image quality to some degree on both 4K and 1080p sets. If you’re on a 4K set, the increased render resolution means less chance softness or up-scaling artifacts. And if you have a 1080p television, the game can “super-sample,” which means it renders at a higher resolution and then down-scales to 1080p. That results in a sharper, cleaner image.
Of course, this is all a bit confusing. While many games will “just look better” when you plug the PS4 Pro in, you may find yourself tinkering with settings to make games work “right.” This isn’t a problem — more choice is generally a good thing — but, as with adding patches and other PC-style system features to consoles, the feature offloads more decisions onto you, and forces you to do more research about the technical aspects of games. After launch, Sony also added a “boost mode” to the Pro, which pushes games without dedicated support for the Pro to run at higher framerates. Unfortunately, the feature is far from perfect: The results of “boosting” varies from game to game, and Sony has acknowledged that it can cause unforeseen glitches to occur, adding more trial-and-error to your console. That’s a boon on PC, where those distinctions allow you to customize your hardware, but on a console, it feels more like a burden.
Shinier, sadder people
Both the PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro support high-dynamic range, so it technically isn’t only a benefit of the PS4 Pro. But since HDR is only available in a subset of 4K televisions, and the PS4 Pro was originally shown with 4K and HDR working together to boost the console’s image equality, it is an important, and very questionable, aspect of what the console can do.
With HDR support, Sony has thrust players into the complicated world of competing, unregulated software standards. HDR is a separate feature from 4K that’s mostly unpublicized and can be difficult to identify when buying a television. There are also different forms of HDR: The PS4 Pro requires HDR 10, which is different from “HDR Premium.” There is also a competing standard, Dolby Vision, which is similar but will not work with a PS4 Pro.
Even if you purchase a compatible TV, there’s a good chance you may experience frustrating technical issues that could impede or prevent your ability to play games with HDR. Though it varies from model-to-model and brand-to-brand, it seems that models may have compatibility issues. Some of these seem to be firmware-related. In November 2016, LG released a firmware patch for some of its TVs that specifically addressed problems with the PS4 Pro.
For this review, we tested the PS4 Pro with a Samsung 8-series set, which meets the console’s specifications. The TV was able to register 4K and HDR in other devices; with the PS4 Pro, however, the set detected the HDR connection, but could not properly sustain it. The problem was partially fixed when Samsung technicians replaced the motherboard of the TV, but HDR was still not compatible with every setting.
All of these roadblocks make HDR all but unusable, which is a shame.
While it would be easy to simply chalk this up to a defective TV, it’s worth pointing out that the problem would not have presented at all if not for the technical eccentricities of the PS4 Pro. While TV-makers have worked to make their HDR sets PS4 Pro-compatible, it seems fair to say that every person will have their own issues navigate when pairing the console with a TV.
What’s more, the PS4 Pro must be plugged directly into your television to support HDR. It cannot present HDR content through a switcher, receiver, or any kind of pass-through. This constraint, which I understand to be rare, if not unprecedented, will be a serious barrier to entry for anyone who uses any kind of surround sound or other high-quality home theater equipment. Given how specialized the technology is, it isn’t crazy to think that many people who will be capable of using HDR will want to use it in conjunction with a speaker system.
Even under ideal circumstances, enabling HDR can be more complicated than setting up 4K. Though the PS4 Pro makes it as easy as possible, enabling the feature on your TV may require a deep dive into settings and a fair amount of trial and error. TV manufacturers seem to conflate 4K UHD (Ultra HD) and HDR. This will vary from set to set, but it is complicated, and there is no intuitive road map to get it working.
All of these roadblocks make HDR all but unusable, which is a shame. Based on what we saw at the PS4 Pro unveiling event, where we saw the PS4 Pro using 4K and HDR together, and our review unit where we played in 4K only, HDR certainly is the more impressive of the two upgrades. The more dynamic lighting allows you to see across longer distances, and discern subtle details in bright and dark places that would be obscured standard HD.
Going “Pro” in VR
The PlayStation 4 Pro can also improve how well PSVR games work, regardless of what TV you have. According to Sony’s Mark Cerny, the PS4 Pro does not automatically incur any technical improvements without dedicated support built into individual games. Based on our testing, we generally found this to be the case. Though games may seek to use the PS4 Pro to enhance PSVR in different ways, the added graphical power seems to allow the headset to show more detailed renderings at a higher resolution.
The PlayStation 4 Pro includes a one-year limited liability warranty from the manufacturer.
The PS4 Pro is undoubtedly the best version of the PlayStation 4, but it is not so much better that you should feel compelled to upgrade when a better new console is on the way shortly.
Is there a better alternative?
That depends on your situation. The standard PS4 is capable of playing all the same games, so you won’t miss out on any titles with its cheaper price point. The Pro, in that case, is only for those looking to get the most out of their 4K TV. Otherwise, the only alternatives right now are the Xbox One X or a gaming PC, but you will miss out on amazing exclusives like Persona 5 Royal and Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
How long will it last?
Not very long at all. The PS5 is still scheduled to release this holiday, barring any problems with production or launch, so the clock is running out on the PS4 Pro and this generation in general. There will likely be some cross-generation games at the start of the next generation, but that will only go on for so long.
Should you buy it?
Yes, though it’s worth remembering the PlayStation 5 is right around the corner. If you are shopping on a budget, check out the best Black Friday PlayStation 4 deals we found.
This article was last updated by Digital Trends contributor Cody Perez on May 11, 2020.
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