If you asked me what console I most looked forward to in the history of gaming it would have to be the Nintendo 64. Back in the day, I spent an incredible amount of money obtaining a Japanese import unit months before the U.S. version was released. Naturally, all the text was in Japanese, but that didn’t matter. I had no patience to get my hands on Super Mario 64. Sure, every time I jumped into a painting I was unable to read the level description, so I had no context as to what I was doing. I would soon learn with the Nintendo 64 that having one amazing must have “killer app” is essential for a videogame console's launch.
Well, it only took twenty years but there’s finally another console being released with a game so good it makes the system a must own. The weird thing is the game is already a year old and the console is mostly just a 4K upgrade.
Priced at $399 in North America the PS4 Pro is the most powerful console of the current generation - and 80 bucks less than what I spent on that N64 back in 1996. This is the first time we’ve seen a company execute on a mid-generation hardware upgrade, and it's a game changer. This holiday season looks to be the year that 4K HDTVs will be purchased by many shoppers, so what better way to show off such a purchase than amazing 4K resolution and HDR clarity in gaming?
Like the Xbox One S, the PS4 Pro is a great place to stream 4K video with Netflix. Though, unlike the Xbox One S, there is no 4K Blu-ray support. The big get for gamers will be that all PS4 titles played on the Pro are, at the very least, upscaled to 4K by Sony’s machine. Yes, your 4K television will mostly likely do some sort of upscale anyway, but that can usually be rather unreliable and with underwhelming results.
The PS4 Pro delivers on its promise of 4K gaming. There are multiple great examples of this, the most prominent of which is Rise of the Tomb Raider. Even older titles like Fallout 4 are much better looking than we've ever seen them on a console before.
Before diving into playing the games on the Pro let’s go over a few other less fun but vital aspects of purchasing the Pro.
Booting Up the Future
Setting up the Pro is the same as the PS4 with the identical Sony logo popping up. If you own a 4K TV already, then you’ll want to head to Option/Sound and Screen/Video Output Information to make sure you see this:
Why is this so important? Well, I have a Samsung 55” 4K. When I looked at this screen for the first time HDR was not enabled. To my surprise, my television only allows HDR on HDMI/DVI port 1. My other three HDMI’s can do 4K, but for some reason, HDR won’t show up. So when you’re not seeing “HDR is 2K/4K supported” things aren't set up optimally. I would check to make sure you are using an HDMI 2.2 cable and if your TV uses HDR on specific HDMI ports.
I knew the moment I picked up my Pro at my local Gamestop that this was gonna be a bit more tricky to house in my entertainment case back home. While the Xbox One S is 40% smaller than the original Xbox One, the PS4 Pro is actually bigger and heavier than the original PS4. Its unwieldiness is even demonstrated with its AC cable; it’s not a small two-prong insert, but a thick three-prong one. What this means is the cable can’t be bent at the base at all. So, you need to have a lot of space in the back for the plug. For me, this meant I had to shift the Pro to the other side, where I had more space in the rear, but also since the console is bigger it means the Pro’s front is much closer to sticking out than my TiVo, amp, and yes, Xbox One S ever would.
Beyond that, the only other physical differences worth noting are mostly minor. There is a third USB 3.0 port in the back, which is a great non-clutter way to keep your PSVR plugged in. The light bar that goes from orange to blue to white is now horizontal across the front of the console as opposed to on top of it. There are still eject and power buttons. The controller feels a little sturdier. There’s also a tiny sliver of light that players can now see from the touch pad indicating the color the controller is transmitting. The downside? I’ve already had to charge the controller... twice. In other words, the battery is just as unreliable as the original DualShock 4.
Now That's a Pretty Picture
The big reason for anyone to buy a Pro is for the visuals and the performance. That said, a $400 price range can be questionable if you already own both a PS4 with a 4K TV. I can attest that all the games I sampled looked and performed noticeably better than on the standard PS4 beyond just prettier graphics. Fallout 4 loads faster and looks super crisp with gorgeous color saturation. Both Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us have HDR settings, which when toggled deliver much better lighting FX.
The best of the bunch is Rise of the Tomb Raider. In fact, I think Sony missed an opportunity here to have had the game bundled with every Pro like Nintendo did with Super Mario 64 with the N64. In the options menu there are three choices for Enhanced Fidelity: 4K, High Framerate, and Enriched Visuals. Both 4K and Enriched are locked at 30 fps while High Framerate can go up to 60 fps. Honestly, they are all stunning though I really dug the silky smoothness of seeing Lara battle in the Siberian snow at 60 fps. All the little details you’d expect from 4K resolution are here like how the strands of Lara’s hair tussles or the authentic stone look of the ruins in a tomb.
The real surprise is how it feels like you’re playing the game in the image that developer Crystal Dynamics intended all along. Last year, I reviewed the game on the Xbox One and I’ve been replaying it all weekend as if it's a new experience.
I can say with certainty that I am happy I made the decision to purchase the PS4 Pro. Yet I know that I'm also a huge Rise of the Tomb Raider fan, so the chance to enjoy the best version of the series' latest is a no brainer. That said, if you're not a fan of Lara Croft, then trading in your old PS4 still means coming up with a sizeable chunk of change to match that $399 price.
As for the future of the Pro and other titles, I really hope just an HDR mode for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is not the solution. I hope more developers will offer 4K as well as high framerate as standard. The Witness is supposedly going to offer both, which gives me a reason to finally go back and finish Jonathan Blow’s latest masterpiece.