PlayStation 4 Pro Review: Serious technophilia

Chris Stead 10 November 2016

ps4-pro-review

A new console for those that want to sit on the top of the tech heap, no matter what the cost.

Sony was quite clear during its media presentation of the PlayStation 4 Pro – the current PS4 is powerful enough. It’s powerful enough to run all the current and upcoming games. It’s powerful enough to run virtual reality just fine. It’s powerful enough to even show off the fancy visual HDR trickery Sony has just patched into the existing firmware. And it will be powerful enough right up until the release of the PlayStation 5.

So why would you want a Pro? Because it looks better. It runs faster. And, if you have an existing 4K television or monitor, it also maximises that investment when little else out there does. You certainly don’t need it; you just may well want it.

Do PlayStation 4 Pro games look better?

Absolutely. Not every game sees massive enhancements, but when seen side-by-side, almost every title definitely looks more inviting. The 4K resolution, the HDR and the greater processing speed of the Pro collude to deliver a more immersive experience. There’s detail where previously there was blur. There’s a deeper explosion of colour where previously there was a bland merging of greys. Previously unseen smaller details now eek out from within the spaces between larger, more obvious objects.

Of course you can’t really see any of that unless you have the capacity to put the old and new side-by-side, and even then it won't always be obvious. The reality is that within five minutes of playing on a PS4 Pro, the richer and more connected world becomes your new baseline for what the experience should be. It’s what you demand moving on.

So it’s only on a subconscious level that the benefits of the PS4 Pro, from a fidelity and detail perspective at least, will stay with you. After all, being immersed in a game is to not see any of the puzzle pieces fitting together at all.

horizon

If reading the above feels to you like cynicism and makes you feel apathetic about the PS4 Pro, then you know it’s not for you.

So who should buy a PS4 Pro?

Those of you who can’t possibly stand the fact that you’re not playing your games on the best possible tech in existence. And I get it. I’m that guy. The kind of guy that goes and gets a 4K TV and then pointlessly watches early nineties Simpsons on it because, hey, it’s 4K!

Right now I am playing all my games on a PS4 Pro and I feel great about it. Even though I know, somewhere deep inside – locked away where no one can hear it scream – there’s a little Chris yelling “we could have spent that money on a new washing machine.” I would rather stink. That’s me. Is that you?

playstation vr e3 2016

If that’s not you, then don’t do it. Don’t upgrade to a PS4 Pro because, while undoubtedly a better machine, there’s no knockout punch that’s going to make you stand stoically in front of the harsh economic advice of your significant other and think, “yes, my cash investment was worthwhile and rewarding.”

Because, as Sony wisely pointed out, the PS4 Pro isn’t really for you. It’s for the tip-of-the-spear tech head – the guy or girl who queues up overnight in sub-zero temperatures so that they can be first to hold up something extra shiny. For Joe Gamer, who already owns a PS4 and enjoys playing it their HD TV, the improvements are incremental.

Is PS4 Pro the best entry-level PlayStation now?

There is one caveat to what I’ve said above. If you have yet to buy a PlayStation 4 and you’re in the market, then get the PS4 Pro. For a price difference of $110, there is enough extra juice under the hood, and enough promising games in the pipeline – including Horizon: Zero Dawn, which is purpose built for the PS4 Pro and looks stunning as a result – to see you get that value over the coming years.

Even if a 4K TV isn’t in your immediate future, the value is there. I just wouldn’t recommend scrapping your existing $450 unit to buy this $560 one.

What about the PlayStation 4 Pro’s design?

I prefer the original design of the PS4 significantly to the new three-tiered look. The console itself isn’t dramatically different in size, but its new face is less attractive. Now it looks more like a grill – I almost want to chuck a shrimp on it to see if it barbecues.

I’m also very disappointed that the Pro doesn’t have at least one extra USB port. As it stands, the PSVR needs a USB permanently, and you have two Move controllers and at least one DualShock that need to be charged. Plus, potentially, an external hard-drive and an audio headset. That’s a lot of USBs and a lot of hot-swapping.

ps4-family

It seems to me that the PS4 Pro, as a tip-of-the-spear piece of tech, should facilitate the needs of the crowd it is aiming for in this regard. As in, gamers who get a lot of hardware. More USB ports - and more at the back so we don’t have to have cords dangling down the front of our entertainment units and fragging the Feng Shui - would have been much better.

Do PlayStation VR Games look better on PS4 Pro?

Yes, but not significantly. DriveClub VR is easily the ugliest of the PSVR launch games I have played and it’s one of the few to be patched for Pro support. And guess what? It’s still butt-ugly.

I’m getting a bit more vibe from the environment and there is more colour in the lighting, but the resolution issues I flagged in my review still abound. It’s not suddenly an HTC Vive experience.

The new DualShock controller, however, plays into PSVR nicely. The light on top of the touchpad is the only significant change, but it does play into some of the games I was testing the unit with, such as The Playroom VR. Again, it’s not a killer new feature, but nice all the same.

psvr-job-simulator

Whether the system generally runs and loads stuff faster, well, probably. I didn’t notice anything to be particularly faster – and that’s generally across the board, not just with PSVR. Often it feels like other issues are bottlenecking the pace of the experience, like Australia’s internet speeds.

Verdict: PlayStation 4 Pro

The PS4 Pro does exactly what Sony said it would do. And to its credit, the company has never tried to suggest it is more than what it is. This is a console bred for those who crave having the latest and greatest technology. For those who already own a 4K TV, or waiting for the Pro to get one, because it’s something that will bring them great personal satisfaction.

If this is you, then I say go for it. It does look better. It does run faster. And there are some killer games coming in 2017 that will really make it shine. And if you are new to the world of console gaming and want to jump on the PlayStation bandwagon, then aim high. Go the Pro.

For everyone else, happy with their PS4 and enjoying their gaming, stick with the model you have. The leap, while desirable, is effectively like adding whipped cream to the top of an already delicious cake. It tastes better at first but that extra flavour is gone in an instant, leaving you regretting the cost of those extra kilojoules.


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