|GPU||18 Radeon GCN compute units @ 800 Mhz||36 improved GCN compute units @ 911 Mhz|
|CPU||8 Jaguar cores @ 1.6Ghz||8 Jaguar cores @ 2.1Ghz|
|RAM||8GB GDDR5 @ 176GB/s||8GB GDDR5 @ 218GB/s (plus 1GB DDR3)|
|Max power consumption (gameplay)||148W (79W for PS4 Slim)||154W (4K gaming)|
|USB ports||2 USB 3.0 ports||3 USB 3.0 ports|
|Hard drive||500GB (1TB special editions available)||1TB|
|Size (widest points)||275 x 53 x 305mm (10.8 x 2.1 x 12″)||295 x 55 x 327mm (11.6 x 2.2 x 12.9″)|
|MSRP||$300 w/ bundled game ($250 in holiday deals)||$400 w/out bundled game|
A new video game console is usually a chance to envision an entirely new future for popular gaming. After years of developers and players exploring the old console inside and out, a new console cleanly breaks with the past. Typically, it introduces new features, new exclusive franchises, and a clear, new high-water mark in what’s possible as far as graphics and processing power (in a non-PC living room console, at least).
The PlayStation 4 Pro is different. As you might already know from our coverage, the Pro represents more of a split in the current era of the PS4 rather than a clean break from what came before. Sony has taken pains to point out that every console game it creates or licenses for the foreseeable future will run on both the PS4 and the PS4 Pro, making them essentially one “platform” from a software perspective. The promise, according to Sony, is that those games will look and perform better on the Pro hardware—sporting higher resolution, better frame rates, or more detailed in-game character models for instance.
Thus, reviewing the PS4 Pro is more like reviewing a new PC graphics card than reviewing a new console (though, yes, the Pro does also slightly upgrade the RAM and CPU from the standard PS4). Unlike a modular PC, however, upgrading the graphics on the PS4 requires throwing out the entire console that you may have bought just three years ago (or less) and starting from scratch with a new $400 box. It also means dealing with a scattered and inconsistent software update system from Sony and its partners that means performance can vary widely by game.
As a piece of physical hardware, the triple-decker PS4 Pro looks like someone added an additional story to the regular PS4 and smoothed out the dual-tone ceiling while they were at it. While the new unit is only a couple of millimeters taller than the old PS4, the new casing does add a couple of centimeters to both the width and depth of the old system, which could make a difference in a tightly packed entertainment unit. The ports on the back of the unit can be a little harder to access, too, buried as they are well underneath a deeper diagonal overhang.
The new physical power and eject buttons are a nice addition to the Pro’s case, and those buttons are now separated by the entire length of the console’s front, which makes them easier to tell apart than the very similar-looking touch panels on the original PS4. An extra USB port on the back (in addition to the standard two in the front) is especially useful for plugging in the PS4 camera. The fan on the Pro unit seems just as quiet as the one on the original PS4, and it’s capable of displacing a lot of heat through some well-positioned rear vents.
The PS4 Pro also comes with the newly redesigned DualShock 4 controller, which premiered with the PS4 Slim. That’s mainly useful because it lets you see the LED color on the rear of the controller through a small slit on the front touchpad.
First things first: if you don’t have a display capable of 4K resolutions and/or high-dynamic range colors (or a PSVR headset—see below), you should probably put off even considering a PS4 Pro purchase until you get one. While users with standard HDTVs (1080p or lower) can get some benefit from the PS4 Pro’s additional horsepower, the difference is so marginal that it’s not worth the investment.
On a standard HDTV, the PS4 Pro’s extra horsepower sometimes means improving from a lower resolution (often around 900 vertical lines of resolution) to “true” 1080p high-def. For other games, the extra horsepower is used for supersampling, which renders a game at an internal resolution higher than that on the display, then uses that extra pixel data to smooth out lines and edges through improved anti-aliasing.
In both cases, the difference is slight enough that it’s hard to make out under normal viewing conditions on a 1080p screen. Yes, if you get right up to the TV and look for the stairstep patterns on diagonal edges, you’ll see some difference between the two consoles. If you’re just playing the game from a few feet away, though, you’re unlikely to notice much of anything has changed.
There are also games that offer improved frame rates on the PS4 Pro, usually through some sort of setting in the options menu. In a game like Infamous: First Light, the additional smoothness was noticeable but not revelatory. When I went back to the original frame rate, it didn’t seem unnecessarily juddery in comparison. Like the supersampling, it’s a small benefit that probably isn’t worth the purchase of a completely new system.
OK, so let’s say you do have a 4K display. Chances are it also comes with the ability to display colors in the high-dynamic range (HDR), an increased gamut that’s literally impossible on older sets. Displaying these kinds of colors is one of Sony’s biggest marketing points for the PS4 Pro, which makes it kind of odd that it’s not really a selling point for the system at all.
That doesn’t mean that HDR color isn’t impressive. The improved color range makes everything look hyper-real in a way that’s hard to convey if you haven’t seen it in person (screenshots and videos shown on a non-HDR display won’t impart the difference). Blacks are much darker, bright colors end up seeming much brighter in HDR, and the improved contrast makes it easier to pick out detail even without any additional pixels of resolution.
The HDR effect is most apparent in scenes with fire and explosions or with the bright neon colors that are prevalent in games like Infamous: First Light. But you can see the effect more subtly in other scenes. It shows up in the way the light bounces off of Nathan Drake’s face in Uncharted 4 or in the richness of a leather couch under a lamp in the Last of Us. The effect ends up making everything seem a bit shiny, as if the non-HDR images were being displayed through slightly tinted glass.
The difference is noticeable enough that it’s a bit tough to go back to the non-HDR versions of these games after experiencing them in HDR. For those who spend a lot of time in front of a screen, it’s easy to feel like you weren’t seeing the world quite correctly before. It’s not quite the jump from black-and-white to color, but it ends up being something close.
Here’s the thing, though: this great improvement doesn’t need the PS4 Pro. Back in September, Sony quietly announced that the existing PS4 would also support the expanded HDR color output natively. In our testing, games like Uncharted 4 already look a decent shot better with HDR even on a standard PlayStation 4.
Sony deserves high praise for making HDR a core part of its complete console line. But for those deciding between a PS4 and the more expensive Pro, HDR is not a reason to upgrade. If you have the suitable display, the existing PS4 will already look a lot better thanks to that same HDR support.