Sony PS4 Pro review roundup: A great console, but not without its caveats

After months of hype and online discussion, the PS4 Pro debuted this morning. A number of outlets have already published reviews of Sony’s new console, and the overall feedback is positive. Whether the PS4 Pro is a must-have upgrade over the standard PS4, however, will depend on which games you play and how quickly you intend to upgrade from a 1080p television to a 4K or 4K+HDR screen.

We’ve rounded up reviews from CNET, Eurogamer, IGN, and PCMag, and they all generally agree. The PS4 Pro is a meaningful and significant improvement over the PlayStation 4, with its expanded GPU, increased CPU and memory clock rates, and significantly improved power consumption compared with the launch model from 2013. (The PS4 Pro does use more power than the PS4 Slim released earlier this year, however).

What the PS4 Pro gets right

The good news is this: If you own a 4K TV, particularly one with HDR support, you can see big gains playing on a PS4 Pro compared with the original PS4. Digital Foundry has run multiple games through their paces and came away impressed. The video below shows Rise of the Tomb Raider running on both a PS4 Pro and the latest Nvidia Titan X.

There is, to be sure, still a small advantage to the PC side of things. But the PS4 Pro’s new checkerboard rendering really does look exceptional, at least in this title, and the frame rate is equally smooth on both platforms. That’s no mean feat, considering that the PS4 Pro is just $ 400, while an Nvidia Titan X will run you four figures for just the GPU. Under the right circumstances, the PS4 Pro offers a significant leap forward for older titles, with improved antialiasing, higher frame rates, HDR support, and higher resolutions. If you like to stream games from your PS4, the Pro offers the ability to stream and share 1080p content, whereas the PS4 topped out at 720p. It also ships with a Netflix 4K client, as well as a YouTube app that’s both 4K and HDR-capable. UHD Blu-ray playback (4K Blu-ray) is, of course, missing, but we’ve known that would be the case for quite some time.

Sony has promised that we’ll see 45 games patched for PS4 Pro support by the end of this year, and while that’s a fraction of the total games released for the PS4 to date, it’s more than enough to cover the best-selling and most-played titles. If you already own a 4K TV with HDR support, the general consensus is that the Pro is a no-brainer purchase if you’re buying your first PS4 this generation. Most reviewers also found the PS4 Pro an easy upgrade to justify if you already own a PS4 with a 4K or 4K + HDR screen as well. It’s worth noting, however, that different reviewers seemed to perceive different levels of improvement in the games themselves — CNET ranked Infamous: First Light as not offering much in the way of an HDR implementation, with a toggle for higher resolution and detail, while Digital Foundry notes that its own tests show First Light running much more smoothly. Even on HDR-enabled televisions, there’s some implication that your mileage will vary depending on which HDR TV you have.

If you haven’t already pulled the trigger on a 4K screen or don’t plan to in the immediate future, the upgrade question is more complicated. Right now, most of the available titles don’t offer big jumps in 1080p quality. Rise of the Tomb Raider and Titanfall 2 apparently look dramatically better thanks to supersampling support at 1080p. Other titles see modest-to-no improvement. In general, all of the games that were upgraded with PS4 Pro support look at least a little better. Be advised, however — unlike the Xbox One S, which does run some games at least somewhat faster compared with its predecessor, baseline performance on the PS4 appears identical to the PS4 Pro. Don’t buy a Pro thinking you’ll get better out-of-the-box performance on any game — unless the title is specifically patched, you won’t.

And what it doesn’t

Where the console comes in for criticism is in how it communicates game improvements (or, rather, completely fails to do so). Here’s IGN on that problem:

That’s the big issue here: even with the games that leverage the PS4 Pro well, the lack of consistency and clarity regarding what enhancements you are getting from game to game, and even from mode to mode, shakes my confidence. Some games let you change video settings on the fly, others don’t. Some offer high frame rate options while others stick to enhanced visuals or higher resolution. Where higher resolution games are concerned, it’s unclear what resolution they are actually rendering at and what type of upscaling they might be using. Mordor in high resolution mode supersamples on 1080p TVs for a smoother image; do other games do that and just not mention it? I don’t know, and neither will you, which is a real problem. You can read articles, check patch notes, and read option descriptions, but most of the time you just don’t know what you’re getting until you start playing – and sometimes not even then. Even Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which is one of the first games to launch with Pro support baked in from day one, doesn’t indicate the Pro benefits in-game or even on the back of the box.

As of today, Sony appears to have made no provision for games to communicate how they are improved by the PS4 Pro — you’ll have to launch each title and check its video options to find this information. That’s a significant discoverability issue, but it’s also something Sony can patch at a later date. The company is walking a careful line with this launch as is; it wants to encourage users to upgrade (and new customers to buy in), but it also doesn’t want to alienate existing customers.

Because the degree of improvement is title-specific and not easily predicted, it’s difficult to forecast how much added value a current PS4 owner with a 1080p HDTV will see from the PS4 Pro. To some extent, this was inevitable: We’re in the early stages of a new resolution rollout, and Sony is trying to straddle that gap. But that uncertainty also makes it hard to unilaterally recommend the PS4 Pro as an immediate upgrade.

The situation isn’t too dissimilar from the rollout of a brand-new console generation. New consoles typically aren’t a great value on launch day, and it’s a rare launch title that’s still considered one of the best games released on the platform 4-5 years later. Given the price cuts on previous-gen hardware that typically arrive with next-generation launches, one could argue that the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 hit their best values on the day the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One debuted. That last bit, at least, isn’t true — Sony hasn’t announced any kind of price cut on the vanilla PS4 — but the situation is not dissimilar.

Luckily, we’ll be able to evaluate a much broader range of titles in fairly short order. By the end of this year we’ll have a much more comprehensive picture of what advantages the PS4 Pro delivers at every resolution.

Now read: The best free games on the PS4

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