Why You (Might) Want the New PlayStation 4 Pro
Okay, so Sony has announced a new PlayStation. Do you want it? That depends: What are you going to use it for?
Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a difficult question for a certain segment of the population. A new game machine? Why, of course I want that! But the PlayStation 4 Pro, which Sony announced at an event in New York City yesterday, is a sort of new game machine we don’t often see. It’s largely identical to the existing PlayStation 4, with the exception of its graphics processing unit, which is about twice as powerful. This will let PS4 Pro display upgraded visuals, both in terms of having more detailed in-game models and upping the resolution to 4K if your TV supports it.
First things first: You will not have to upgrade to the $399 PlayStation 4 Pro when it launches on November 10 just to play the latest games. Game discs and downloads going into the future will be compatible with all of the models of PS4. And lest we forget, PlayStation 4 graphics already look pretty damn good without an upgrade. (And, come on, graphics aren’t everything!)
So if you’d rather not buy a new machine, you won’t miss out on any content. It’s just that said content will look at least somewhat nicer (maybe a lot nicer) on a Pro. Sony says it will continue to support both models.
Sony also touted the fact that PS4 Pro, to be released November 10 for $399, would work with High Dynamic Range TV sets. But then it said that the existing PS4 would also support HDR after a firmware upgrade. So you won’t need PS4 Pro to enjoy HDR gaming.
WIRED editor Tim Moynihan was live at the Sony event to see the Pro running on some very expensive Sony televisions, and had this to say: “On Sony’s super-high-end Z Series HDR 4K TVs, the PlayStation Pro’s best-case scenario looked phenomenal. On Uncharted 4, augmented with an HDR patch that unlocked a wider color gamut and brighter highlights, a cloudy blue sky looked just like the real thing, while underwater sun rays glimmered off sand with shocking realism. In a similarly patched version of Infamous First Light, bolts of neon look so bright that you’ll need to don a pair of Ray-Bans.”
And all you’ve gotta do to replicate that experience at home is spend $7,000 on a Sony 4K set.
Now, it’s true that games will look better on PS4 Pro even if you don’t have a 4K or an HDR TV, because the souped-up GPU will allow games to support graphics that are more detailed even if they aren’t being output in a higher resolution. So even if you’re planning to stick with your current television, PS4 Pro is an upgrade—it’s just a bit less of one, in that case.
But here’s the X factor that could change the whole proposition.
Sony said during the event that the Pro could give more than just a cosmetic upgrade to PlayStation VR software—it could actually “offer higher framerates, making your VR experiences even more immersive.”
That’s a potentially big deal. With television graphic displays, we’re just talking about visual output that looks a little bit nicer on PS4 Pro. But if virtual reality games are going to get a framerate bump? Now we’re talking.
If you’ve tried a range of VR software, you know that’s not just a cosmetic upgrade—that can be a fundamentally different game experience. A VR game with a low framerate (or worse, a jumpy framerate) can be nauseating, where the same game with a perfectly smooth, extremely high framerate can be like stepping into another world.
The idea of having different VR experiences across both platforms might make PS4 Pro an even more enticing upgrade for you, if you’re planning on playing a lot of VR once the headset releases on October 13. I would say this: If you’re looking to buy a PS4 and a VR headset, you may want to wait until both of them are on the market to see for yourself if the Pro really does make the VR titles more comfortable to play.
The release of the Pro, and next year’s release of Microsoft’s similar Project Scorpio, seem to be turning up the heat on the console wars. The Xbox team seems to have chosen a particularly convenient time to start extolling the virtues of its Xbox One S and the upcoming high-powered Scorpio, for example:
— Aaron Greenberg (@aarongreenberg) September 7, 2016
With both Sony and Microsoft unveiling half-step upgrades for their consoles that don’t require users to upgrade to enjoy all the latest games, we’re seeing a change in which the console business operates. A few years ago it would have been unthinkable that Sony would juice up the GPU of its hardware, then make the pitch to game developers that they should create their games to run on two different hardware configurations. But that’s the new reality, in which consoles are more like smartphones.
Here’s the deal. If you haven’t bought a PS4 yet, it might not be a bad idea to just spend the extra $100 and future-proof yourself. Even if you don’t think you want the extra oomph of the Pro now, that situation might change if you get a VR headset or a new TV down the line. But if you already own a PS4, you might want to wait and see just how much of an upgrade the Pro is before you trade in your old console for the new model. You may find it’s not enough to get you to switch. But you also may find that your feelings on the benefits of the Pro are different when you’re looking at TV versus VR.