VIDEO GAMING

PlayStation 4 Pro Review: 4K gaming is here – but is it worth upgrading now?

The new Sony console offers true 4K-resolution gaming for the best graphics, but it’s still a minor upgrade rather than a jump to the next generation

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 8:02pm

In August, Microsoft kick-started the second wave of this current console generation, releasing its Xbox One S to a largely receptive audience. Now, Sony is returning fire with the PlayStation 4 Pro, an updated version of the standard PS4, which – like Microsoft’s machine – is designed to get the most out of the coming era of 4K televisions.

Unlike the Xbox One S, this is no radical aesthetic departure. PS4 Pro looks like a vertically elongated version of the regular PS4, with slightly curved edges giving it a smoother outline. At 295mm x 327mm x 55mm it is bigger and heavier than the new PS4 Slim and the original model. It’s sort of brutalist in design – resembling what a multistorey car park might look like in Blade Runner. The power and eject buttons are now at separate ends of the front fascia, so you’re less likely to keep pressing the wrong one.

Sold with an HDMI cable, DualShock controller and power lead, The PS4 Pro has everything you need in the box, and the set-up takes seconds. Unfortunately though, the 4K calibration procedure isn’t as exhaustive as with Xbox One S: Microsoft’s machine automatically tests the 4K and HDR capabilities of your TV and lets you know how it’s likely to perform – the PS4 Pro gives you a notification that your television may be capable of HDR and 4K, but the rest is up to you and your grasp of TV system menus. However, the process does allow you to easily transfer all your games and saves from your old PS4 – as long as you connect them both to the same Wi-fi network and have an ethernet cable to connect them.

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The PS4 Pro is a considerably more powerful version, and higher spec than the Xbox One S. The central processing unit has had a 30 per cent speed boost from 1.6GHz to 2.1GHz, while the graphics processing unit has leapt from 1.84 teraflops (trillion floating-point operations per second) in the original machine to 4.2 teraflops, a substantial lift in performance. This is all necessary to render game visuals – and run streaming video – at ultra HD 4K resolution, rather than the 1080p HD resolution supported by older models.

The Pro also offers an extra USB port at the rear (handy for the PlayStation VR headset) and brings back the Optical Digital port for connection to certain headsets and AV receivers. Finally, the addition of support for 802.11ac Wi-fi (also offered in the slimline PS4), may well improve your broadband connection speed.

Unlike the Xbox One S and doubtless the Xbox Project Scorpio, the optical drive has no support for UHD Blu-ray discs. However, the system does support streaming UHD video from services such as Netflix and Amazon. This has annoyed a lot of film fans, and if you imagined building a large library of 4K Blu-rays alongside your console, it may be something you’ll have to think about.

It’s up to developers to decide how they implement the Pro’s capabilities, and it’s going to vary a lot from studio to studio. Sony has released a list of current and forthcoming titles that support 4K and HDR visuals and it’s quite impressive with big blockbusters like Fifa, Battlefield and Rise of the Tomb Raider on board as well as all the major in-house Sony titles. Some games will require a download to support the capabilities of Pro, some will have them built in. It’s likely that all future PS4 releases will offer a choice of standard and Pro modes that offer either smoother frame rates or higher resolutions, or a bit of both.

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It’s worth pointing out however, that very few PS4 Pro-compatible games are likely to offer full native 4K resolution, especially not at high frame rates – the hardware just isn’t powerful enough. Most will employ an advanced form of upscaling, known as checkerboard rendering which extrapolates twice as many pixels from the standard output. This can get very close to native 4K performance, though – Rise of the Tomb Raider is perhaps the best example at the moment, but the upcoming zombie adventure Days Gone looks truly astonishing on Pro, its huge undead armies and blinding explosion effects making the most of the extra power.

Overall, the PlayStation 4 Pro is the most powerful video game console currently available and offers very impressive performance for the price. If you have a new 4K television that you’re just itching to test, and you don’t already have a PS4, the Pro is more-or-less an essential purchase. It adds noticeable visual oomph to many current PS4 games and promises to really come into its own next year.