Even After Seeing It In Action, I'm Still Not Sold On PS4 Pro

by Jeff Cork on Sep 07, 2016 at 02:50 PM

Sony revealed its turbocharged PlayStation 4 to the world today in New York. The PlayStation 4 Pro is squarely aimed at people who demand the best from their consoles – and preferably have a nice 4K display just begging to be shown off. As someone who doesn’t own such a display, I was a little skeptical of the whole thing. Thankfully, there were several game demos on hand that showed off what the Pro could bring to the table, with its increased resolution and HDR capabilities.

The games that were shown at the event were a mix of older releases that are being patched to support the new hardware – something Sony is calling “forward compatibility” – as well as some upcoming titles.

Horizon Zero Dawn was there, and it looked great. Of course, it looked pretty great back at E3, when we saw a demo running on the standard PS4 hardware. Guerrilla Games had a build of the game that allowed them to switch the HDR lighting on and off, which showed off just how much of a difference the sophisticated lighting effects can add to the overall image. Details popped and colors were much more vibrant with it on. As Sony mentioned during the event, this technique isn’t hardware intensive, and a patch will allow all existing PlayStation 4s to take advantage of the increased color and lighting spectrum it offers. It looked great, but the difference wasn't to the point where I felt like I wanted to go home and throw eggs and boo at my existing television.

I hadn’t thought about Sucker Punch’s Infamous: First Light since they gave away the standalone adventure as part of a PS Plus promotion a few months ago. It ended up being a fantastic display of how great these games can look. The demo was rigged to swap between 4K resolution with HDR activated and a traditional 1080p image with the shake of the controller, and it was a remarkable change. The lighting, in particular, was stunning. Fetch Walker’s neon powers were seemingly tailor made for this kind of demo, and they were dazzling. 

At one point, the person running the demo froze the action in photo mode to show off the difference. A ball of energy was blindingly bright, but you could still make out the details in her nearby fingers and clothing. Under the older hardware, it was a blown-out mess in comparison. Texture details were noticeable as well, but to be fair I was also standing a few feet away from a massive screen.

Impulse Gear’s Farpoint was the sole PlayStation VR game I saw, and it was running on a PS4 Pro, as well. The developer says the additional horsepower let them increase the overall graphical fidelity, though they’re obviously bound by the resolution inherent in the headset itself. It ran smoothly and looked nice, and I was able to take on insectoid aliens without any trouble. During the quieter moments of the demo, I looked at my gun and read the text along its sides – something that wasn’t possible at the E3 demo, according to the Impulse Gear representative.

The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 were present, too, and you could see the before/after PS4 Pro with a clever screen-wiping technique. Colors looked more realistic, such as on the beach that Nathan was standing on. The sand was, well, more sandy colored, and the sky was a richer shade of blue. I never thought the game looked bad while I was playing it before, but seeing a side-by-side comparison like that it’s tough to argue with the results.

Ultimately – and I’m only speaking personally here – the PlayStation 4 Pro is positioned in a weird spot. I don’t have a 4K TV, and I probably won’t be buying one in the foreseeable future. There isn’t enough content available for them for me to justify the cost, though admittedly those prices are dropping to more reasonable levels with nearly every passing month. Did the games showcased at Sony’s event look better than they appear on traditional sets? Sure, but the allure of seeing fingertips in a game’s photo mode or flames so bright they made me wince isn’t enough to sell me on the tech alone.