Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro is a perfect way to show off your 4K TV

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Sony is leaving it up to developers to figure out ways to tap into the PS4 Pro’s power. For the most part, devs will include some combination of rendering games at a higher resolution than 1080p, packing in more visual effects and delivering a smoother overall experience. As I’ve reported before, most PS4 Pro titles won’t render natively at 4K, though that’s not something you should get too hung up on. Running at something like 1440p (2K) with more graphical bells and whistles should still lead to much better-looking games than on the original PS4. Wisely too, Sony isn’t allowing developers to charge for PS4 Pro support.

Infamous Second Son lets you choose between playing in a higher resolution than 1080p or getting better overall performance. And I quickly noticed that I’d much rather have the game running at higher frame rates. Smoother gameplay suited Infamous‘s fast, action-heavy setup more than a resolution bump. Unfortunately, though, the game also seemed to slow down quite a bit whenever I tried to play in the higher-resolution mode.

You’ll have a similar set of choices in Rise of the Tomb Raider. You can either have it run at higher frame rates in 1080p; get more visual effects at 1080p and 30 fps; or run the game in 4K at 30 frames per second. Again I leaned toward the non-4K options. What most impressed me was that the game looked like I was running it off of a PC, no matter which mode I chose. Tomb Raider’s HDR support in some ways made it seem even more impressive than on PCs. The environments simply “popped” a bit more; things like the sun bouncing off snow and flames throughout the game seemed realistically bright, and character models were lit more dramatically.

When it comes to PlayStation VR, the PS4 Pro has even more potential to be useful. VR is the sort of thing where any hardware upgrade could improve your experience considerably. I was able to test out the console only in Sony’s PlayStation VR Worlds, but I noticed that the environments and characters were all sharper, and frame rates seemed generally smoother. It didn’t seem to improve head and hand tracking much, but the upgrades make PSVR seem like a more viable competitor to PC-powered VR moving forward.

One peculiar issue: You can’t run PlayStation 4 Pro games in HDR while the PSVR is connected. Sony’s VR system relies on a passthrough box that apparently can’t handle an HDR signal. That could be a huge inconvenience to many gamers, since it means you’ll probably have to constantly connect and disconnect the PS VR box whenever you’re using it.

While Sony is also positioning the PlayStation 4 Pro as something players with 1080p sets can enjoy, it doesn’t seem worth an upgrade for those consumers yet. You’ll notice the better graphics in games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, but you won’t see any of the HDR benefits. And I just have a hard time recommending a $400 upgrade for minor performance improvements. If you’re a 1080p TV owner who plans to upgrade to 4K eventually, it’s still worth waiting on the PS4 Pro, since it’ll probably be cheaper by the time you get a new TV.

4K media

So how do you get 4K video content when there’s no 4K Blu-ray player on the PlayStation 4 Pro? For now, mainly through Netflix and YouTube. Sony said it’s pinning its hopes on 4K streaming taking off in the future, though, strangely enough, it hasn’t yet announced plans to bring the technology to the PlayStation Store. The company recently launched a 4K streaming store for its latest Bravia TVs, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that reach the PS4 Pro eventually. Both Amazon and Vudu also have healthy libraries of 4K content, but they haven’t yet upgraded their apps for the PS4 Pro.

The competition

There’s no doubt about it: The PS4 Pro’s greatest competitor right now is … the PlayStation 4. You might be able to find a decent discount on the original model, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Slim discounted for Black Friday. At normal pricing, though, the PS4 Pro is only $100 more than the PS4 Slim. It makes sense to pay a bit more now to future-proof your investment, rather than just settle for an underpowered console you might end up replacing sooner. Complicating things even further, Sony has also enabled HDR on all PlayStation 4 models, which makes it less of a must-have feature for the Pro.

Honestly, the PS4 Pro doesn’t really have direct competition until Microsoft’s next-gen “Project Scorpio” console debuts next year. That system will have an even more powerful 6-teraflop GPU, which could potentially allow developers to reach 4K more easily. Still, it’s hard to get too excited for Scorpio until we know more about it.

You might also consider a decent gaming PC instead of the PS4 Pro, but you’ll probably have to spend closer to $700 to get something that can handle today’s games. And of course, you’ll be out of luck if you’re interested in Sony’s exclusives. But if you can afford it and you care about graphics quality, a PC will deliver the best gaming experience.

Wrap-up

So who is the PlayStation 4 Pro actually meant for? After testing it out for the past week, I’d say it’s for people who haven’t yet bought a PS4 and want to show off their fancy new 4K/HDR sets. And of course, there are the hardcore gamers who will snap up any piece of hardware that promises to be faster. Most consumers are better off waiting until more games get patched for the new system, and until Sony figures out its 4K media strategy.

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