What's Going On With The PlayStation 4 Pro?

Kazunori Yamauchi, the creator and mastermind behind Gran Turismo, is on-stage. To his right, his translator. The one from all those internet memes. The man with the pad.

They’re talking about PlayStation 4 Pro.

First Kazunori. In Japanese. Scribble scribble scribble.

Then his translator. In English.

It’s a tough watch. Translated presentations are always a struggle. Communication at half-speed. The real-life equivalent of those sloths from Zootopia.

Gran Turismo… Sport… will look… better…

On…

PlayStation 4… Pro…

With all due respect to Kazunori, one of the most respected developers in the world, he’s losing the crowd here.

The subject matter is dry; that doesn’t help matters. Kazunori has been tasked with making a very technical presentation.

The subject: HDR. ‘High Dynamic Range’.

High Dynamic Range. The latest televisual gimmick. HD was great. 3D, not so great. 4K? Gathering steam, but Sony is in the midst of an education piece here. HDR is the next big thing. The Sony representative that introduced Kazunori Yamauchi claimed that, when combined with increased resolutions, HDR represented the biggest leap for TV technology since the jump from black and white to colour.

A statement that feels like pure hyperbole.

And no graph in the world can convince me otherwise. Unfortunately, that’s what Kazunori is working with here: Graphs, bullet points. He’s listing numbers. Resolutions. Frames-per-second. He’s 10 minutes deep into his presentation and I’m already on my phone, scrolling through Twitter, battling a weak Wi-Fi reception. I just can’t get interested in this.

But then it happens.

Kazunori loses the slideshow for a second, dispenses with the graphs and bullet points.

“Here is Gran Turismo Sport in SDR,” he says (that’s Standar Dynamic Range for those of you playing at home).

“And here is Gran Turismo Sport in HDR.”

In the back, someone flicks some sort of switch.

Oh. Wow.

Okay.

Ah. I see.

Why didn’t you just show me that in the first place?


It’s a magic trick Sony uses constantly.

We’re at Sony’s ‘Future of Play’ event in London. Almost every demo makes full use of it: The ‘HDR reveal’.

This is what [insert game here] looks like without HDR. Wait till you see what it looks like with... HDR!

Drum roll…

HDR reveal.

It’s a simple yet powerful manoeuvre. Hard to deny the impact of an old fashioned before-and-after.

Before HDR, Days Gone looks like the gorgeous PlayStation 4 game it always was. After HDR, flames that were once a smush of yellows and reds now dance with additional detail and light. The increased resolution helps with that. That’s the point Sony seems to be making: HDR and a significant bump in resolution are a meaty one-two visual combination.

Horizon: Zero Dawn, I suspect, will benefit most from the PlayStation 4 Pro’s increased gumph. It’s also a far prettier game with the HDR switch ON - being that it’s constantly alive with sunsets and breezing foliage and giant sparkly robot dinosaurs.

It’s a gorgeous game regardless. During a demo specific for the PlayStation 4 Pro, Angie Smets (Executive Producer at Guerrilla Games) flipped the HDR switch. What was once a gorgeous sunset, resting above a moderately detailed forest landscape, was now an even prettier sunset hovering above a slightly more detailed forest landscape.

It’s a difficult shift to describe using words, but it’s significant. Imagine an Instagram filter that makes everything better. A filter that allows you to just sort of see more stuff. Definitely noticeable. Definitely something worth caring about if you’re the type to pore over television specs and contrast ratios.

But worthy of note: The shift requires a before and after. As I wandered through Sony’s suite of PlayStation 4 Pro enabled games, I often found myself wondering: Is the HDR on or off?


No-one really wants to talk about resolution. It’s understandable.

It’s understandable because today - in 2016 - resolution is a little bit boring. At least for the mainstream consumer. We already did the HD thing, now there's a need to sell audio visual wares differently.

And there’s definitely confusion. Confusion regarding the PlayStation 4 Pro and what it’s actually doing to existing console games. Are they upscaled? Are they rendered at native 4k? Developers at this event kept referring to ‘checkerboarding’ – what does that mean exactly? What’s going on there? It’s a difficult, complicated sell. If you’re Sony perhaps it’s just best to sidestep the whole discussion and say, “Hey, this is the best possible PlayStation experience and it’s designed for that fancy new TV you just bought.”

Sony is referring to the PlayStation 4 Pro as “The Super Charged PS4”.

“Super Charged”. A strange choice of words. A phrase you might associate with a Buzz Lightyear toy, not a home console targeted at households with enough disposable income to buy 4K televisions.

But who am I to argue? Sony has a solid track record of emblazoning their catchphrases onto the synapses of my brain. They've never really left. I can rattle them off with little effort. The PlayStation 3 "only did everything". The PlayStation 4 was “for the players”. The PlayStation 4 Pro will undoubtedly be “super charged” on the side of every bus from here to Tasmania.

Michael Denny, SVP of Sony Worldwide Studios Europe, uses the phrase more than once during our conversation.

He also says the PlayStation 4 Pro represents choice for the consumer, when I raise the point that two versions of the same console might confuse those used to traditional tech life-cycles.

He believes we live in a different world, a world where Apple launches two different versions of the same phone on the same day. Where we upgrade technology more rapidly. We’re ready, Michael believes, for something a little more adventurous when it comes to our video game consoles.

He might have a point. Traditionally mid-cycle upgrades have had trouble gaining traction, but there’s a chicken/egg situation at play. Technologies outside consoles are driving change. Phil Spencer said it best: He doesn’t want to sell you a new console, but when 4K uptake is increasing, and a looming Netflix is making 4K video streaming a very real ‘thing’, it’s hard to ignore the sea-change. If you want your console to be a competitive multi-media box you have to react quickly, and that’s precisely what Sony is doing with the PlayStation 4 Pro.

It’s a delicate experiment, and one that could fail. The PlayStation 4 is Sony’s fastest selling console to date, and there’s a risk of upsetting the cart with a “supercharged” version of an already successful unit.

Sony has bet big and it’s bet early. Microsoft is in the process of prepping the precise same experiment, but it launches a year later. Will that matter? Has Sony made the leap too early or will this leaner, agile approach subvert Microsoft’s console before it leaves the launch pad?

It’s impossible to tell. But Sony’s price point is tempting. $559.95 is very reasonable for a brand new console, particularly when it brings a whole new dimension to that 4K TV you just bought. In a lot of ways you’d be crazy to buy the original PlayStation 4 when the Pro exists.

Is it a significant enough leap for those who already have a PlayStation 4? That’s a very different question.

But maybe it’s an irrelevant one. Maybe in the year 2016 these options can exist in tandem?

Maybe that’s an idea we’ll all have to start getting used to.


Disclosure: Kotaku Australia travelled to the Future of Play event as a guest of Sony.


Comments

    I played lost coast in 2005.

    Well done Sony?

      I think you're really confused there dude. That 'HDR' is in pretty much every game launched these days. You know, the whole 'ooh, I go from a dark room to the outdoors and its soo bright'. This is a new tech which your PC couldn't do back then, and unless you have an hdr monitor, can't do now. Just like no one else can view it without an hdr tv.

        Which is the reason that the PS4 Pro and PS VR are so difficult to market: their key selling points are impossible to translate to traditional media channels. All Sony can do is show simulations of the HDR effect or shots of people enjoying VR. As a consumer it's frustrating.

    I have a PS4, the pro is tempting but it's hard to see myself getting good value if I sell my existing old PS4 now

      Same. It looks great, but at the end of the day, you're playing the same games. The whole better graphics thing gets old fast then you're back to playing the same game again.

    Good post. Though honestly, the claim that In a lot of ways you’d be crazy to buy the original PlayStation 4 when the Pro exists. is stretching it quite a bit. I feel like that statement only holds true for people who have a 4K and HDR ready TV. For everyone else...maybe not.

    The PS4 Slim is just fine, especially for people who have 1080p TVs. I don't have the numbers on this, but I don't think like there are a lot of 4K HDR ready TVs out there in households. Definitely not more than regular 1080p TVs. Infact, in a lot of ways, you'd be crazy to buy the PS4 Pro if you had a 1080p TV.

    I know there will be some benefits to non 4K, non HDR TV users but are the benefits really worth the $200 difference (its a $150 difference now, but sales will definitely make it a $200 difference).

      I guess my thinking is, you pay a little bit more and you're future proofing yourself. Personally, I don't know if I'm gonna upgrade, but if I didn't have a PS4 I would absolutely pay a little extra for the PS4 Pro. I'd recommend everyone make that choice.

        Precisely what I'm doing. I didn't have a PS4 yet, so why not pay the extra and future-proof?

        Future proofing yourself? A machine that can't natively run 4K but has to upscale to almost 4K and a machine that cannot play any 4K physical media. Not exactly the future is it?

        I don't yet own a PS4, but I'm certainly looking more towards the Pro to future proof, mainly because I don't get to upgrade things all too often, so paying a little extra now for greater longevity seems worth it.

        Yeah agreed. I upgraded (updated?) to the Xbox One S which in hindsight wasn't at all necessary and that's the way I feel about the PS4 Pro. Plus I only recently upgraded to a 2TB drive in my PS4 and have no interest in yet again having to download the massive amounts of digital games I've amassed.

        I'll leave the Pro for when I have a lazy $560 laying about hahaha.

      It's not just for the 4k though. I'm thinking of getting one to get better framerates in my games at 1080p.

      I played the entirety of Witcher 3 on the PS4 and whilst I loved it, I was constantly thinking about how the variable framerate was a shame.

        Sony have ruled out higher framerates. If a game is 30fps on the standard PS4, it'll be 30fps on the Pro. You will get more consistent framerates though.

        I've got a Pro on preorder, but I'll probably cancel it for now. If it had a 4K Blu Ray drive, I'd probably buy one for the future proofing.

        I'm also disappointed to find out it only supports 4K and 1080p. I don't have a 4K TV, but I do have a 1440p monitor. I was kind of hoping it would support that resolution natively so I'd still get a benefit out of the Pro.

          Where did you get the idea that Sony have ruled out higher framerates? Crystal Dynamics have already announced that you can run Rise or the Tomb Raider with an unlocked framerate on the Pro.

          Perhaps you mean multiplayer games? These will be locked to the same framerate as the PS4, so not to cause undue advantage for Pro players.

            You're right, my mistake. It was multiplayer specifically, which makes sense.

            For those still "stuck" on 1080p but don't have a PC, the Pro probably still makes sense.

      Existing PS4 ownership or not, if you have an HDTV then buying a PS4 Pro is IMHO just about a worthy investment: with that extra power you're getting smoother performance for games (think FHD and hard-locked 30 & 60fps); additional graphical flourishes not available when playing games on standard PS4; future-proofing for when you eventually purchase a 4K TV with HDR; capability to play 4K movies (albeit downloaded and not UHD BD)... It's a tough sell but ultimately one I personally will make.

      Last edited 04/11/16 12:23 am

      Have a 1080p TV and not looking to upgrade anytime soon. If I was in the market I'd go for a PS4 Pro (I have neither currently) as the extra power wouldn't go amiss with better frame rates and possibly greater detail.

      I think you would be surprised how many people have a 4k tv or will have in the next year. Pretty much all TV's are in stores these days, and HDR is becoming more and more common. My mate just bought a 4k hdr Sony Tv for 1000 bucks and the price is only gonna get better.

    But that's the thing we cannot be sure of. Is it really future proofing? When Microsoft comes out with the Scorpio, which looks like it will be much more powerful, can Sony afford to sit back and let the PS4 Pro fight the Scorpio next holiday without some mention of another contender.

    It is quite possible that there might be another upgrade coming sooner than we think. Definitely not next year, but possibly the year after.

    I might actually think about getting one, once I can afford a decent size 4K HDR TV (I don't think I can go down from a 60", so I'll have to save quite a bit), but if that is around mid next year, then I feel like waiting to see Sony's counter to the Scorpio might be a good call.

    Last edited 03/11/16 10:59 pm

      I think Sony is controlling the rhythm here, so I wouldn't be surprised if the PS5 comes out only a couple of years after the Scorpio, forcing MS to play catch-up (or leap-frog). MS is gambling on having at least a couple of years where Scorpio is the most powerful console to regain market position, but I would think that Sony would do exactly what MS did when it announced the Scorpio. That is, Sony may announce (or more likely leak rumours of) a console in development that will significantly better than the Scorpio.

      It's almost as if the roles are reversed between Microsoft and Sony from the X360/PS3 race.

      You may remember that when the PS3 came out, it was a significantly more powerful machine, but the 360 was the earlier 'next gen' and had been out for a good year and change, during which it had secured market dominance with a staggering library. It took a VERY long time - over half a decade of Microsoft primacy - for the PS3 to catch up in popularity, as the hardware was starting to get long-in-the-tooth and newer games looked better on the PS3.

      PS4 has the dominance over the xbone right now, and has done since launch. By default, anything running on both will be better on the PS4, leaving the only difference being exclusives - which are both lacklustre and pretty much neck-and-neck in quality/quantity/popularity anyway.

      When the technically-superior Scorpio comes out, PS4 Pro will have had plenty of time to cement a very solid market share dominance, and they'll probably be able to ride that for quite a while. Certainly long enough for them to release their 'PS5' to answer Scorpio, whereas Pro is essentially just PS4.5, if the stepped-up hardware cycle accelerates to match the mobile-inspired cycle that the industry keeps talking about.

        The PS3 may have been a technically more powerful beast than the 360 but it was severely hamstrung by that fiddly Cell architecture that developers took a long time to come to grips with. In fact, most cross-platform games that weren't specifically designed for it actually ran better on the older 360.

        This whole mid-gen upgrade thing is probably going to bite both companies on the arse when they do decide to release a next gen console. A lot of people usually willing to pay a premium at launch for a next gen console aren't going to be so willing when they know an upgrade is just around the corner, one that will most likely be cheaper too. I know consoles are almost always loss leaders in their infancy, but this is still not a very bright move IMO.

    Also, did Sony release any of their HDR before and after videos on the internet after the 'Future of Play' event?

      Unless you have an HDR graphics card, connection and monitor, I think it would be kind of pointless anyway. Showing how beautiful HDR games look on a non-HDR monitor sounds kind of pointless

    For those of us with a PS4 already, the price is really about $250-$300 as you sell or trade-in your old unit.

    I went to a HDR presentation 6 years ago as Lightside, before Dolby bought them and turned the tech into Dolby-HDR. That presentation alone made me itch for HDR gaming. It is finally here, and yeah, even on a super-charged PS4 the difference is astounding when you side-by-side it.

    I see your point where you are wondering after watching for a while if it is on or not, but turn it back off and your eyes immediately cry 'turn it back on, turn it back ON!'.

    The developers I have been speaking to are talking about upscaling much of the graphics, and overlaying true 4K graphics where it makes a difference, like HUD and text and some textures.
    It might not be 'true 4K gaming' but it looks a shitload better than 1080P gaming, and coupled with the HDR makes the under $300 conversion rate to a PS4 Pro an immediate pull of the trigger for me.
    If older games run smoother, then that is an added bonus. Shame about the lack of 4K Bluray support, but for gaming, yeah, I'm in.

    Last edited 03/11/16 11:35 pm

    Didnt Sony announce that HDR support is coming to the regular PS4 via update? So we really dont need the PRO for HDR or have they changed plans for increased sales?

      They did, though technically HDR cannot be displayed on a regular PS4 because it's not a 4K device and does not have HDMI 2.0. How Sony have gotten away unscathed by this announcement is beyond me. That HDR update is really basically just a switch in the options menu that does visually nothing.

    I think consoles will always remain the cheap option (if you call 600 cheap)
    if you want 4k60 HDR VR and all the bells and whistles then you are going to have to pay for the privilage... a 4000 dollar PC with a controller hooked up to whatever screen or VR

    they are aiming at something they will never achieve, I think they should aim consoles at ease of use rather than powerful and technical

    could have a really expensive console... thats another way

    Last edited 04/11/16 5:56 am

    HDR should of existed well before this if you ask me. The difference it makes, while subtle at times, really looks fantastic. Why it's limited to only 4K tvs i'm not entirely sure.

    I don't have a 4K TV but I'm updating to the Pro because I want a potentially better VR experience. Then I'm also ready for when I buy a better TV at some point in the future.

      Yeah I'm waiting to hear how it effects PSVR as well, if it makes a noticeable difference (which by the sounds of it it will...) then i'll probably jump ship. Probably passing my nephew the original ps4 in process for extra bonus uncle points.

      Mark; would love to hear about the difference if you get the opportunity!

    My 65 inch Samsung Series 9 4K SUHD TV is ready.....

      Good choice!

        Thanks. Even standard PS4 looks stunning......

        Streaming Marco Polo on Netflix - Ultra HD with HDR....wowsers!

    Purely getting this for a better PSVR experience at this point... with the announced patches for just about all the games it will hopefully provide a noticeable improvement to graphics in the headset... I imagine there is only so much that can be done with the resolution of the display but some sharper graphics in that thing would be very welcome, especially something like DriveClub VR where I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that would say the graphics are pretty underwhelming (having lots of fun with it otherwise!)...

    I love the industry savvy on display in calling the Sony rep buzzwords/marketing line. Supercharged, eh? Let's keep an eye out for that, then.

    My two bit, I've seen some EB trade-in deals going for turning in the PS4 plus ANY X games (I wonder how long that'll last... I've got some crapware to offload that's not worth two bucks on trade-in). I'll probably upgrade to that. Bonus of extra HD space. Still. Gonna need a new TV around then, too... That'll be an expensive month.

    With the Pro Patches do they have any effect if you don't have a TV with HDR

      yes... it isn't all about HDR... they pro is more powerful... but it depends on how the devs choose to use that power... 1080p non HDR users CAN see improvements... could be framerate... could be improved visuals... but it will vary from game to game

    I Sold my PS4 last month and bought at GTX 1070. I have my Pc connected to my TV with an Xbone wireless controller and a media keyboard and i have not looked back. now there is cross play there is no need for me to have a PS4 and a PC and many of my friends have ether xbox or PC. or PS4 and PC. I also dont have a UHD or 4K TV. i dont trust sony anymore and i was a big fan boy. PS Plus became a joke an not paying Sony money for there poor service.

      Hard to play The Last of Us, Gran Turismo and The Last Guardian on the 1070 though.

      Powerful PCs and Game consoles are two different things to me, one is not a replacement for the other.

    I'm getting a Pro, I've had my base PS4 unit almost three years now. Trading the base PS4 in, plus sticking my 1 TB SSD HD into the Pro. Hoping it can take advantage of the SATAIII compatibility that was announced. Crossing fingers that the Witcher 3 will take advantage of the more TFLOPS.

    Last edited 04/11/16 2:47 pm

      I hadn't hear it was SATA III - thank goodness. It's crazy that it made it to production with SATA II (same with the Xbox 1)

        yep it was confirmed in the latest Q&A on the Playstation Euro blog (blog.eu.playstation.com)

      I'm sorry to say The Witcher won't. It would require a patch to do that. It has two processors, and when it runs a normal game that hasn't the patch to support it, it just turns off the second processor.

      Witcher crew have already confirmed they won't be releasing any pro patches.

      Last edited 04/11/16 5:34 pm

      CDPR won't updated TW3 for the Pro. They have already announced that they are focused on Cyberpunk.

        Yeah, but I don't think CDProject is one to shy away from patches. I believe they will find the time in the near future.

    People seem to keep forgetting that Nintendo is way ahead of both of them with the New 3DS. Or maybe the fact that everyone has forgotten is the result of the experiment, that having a better machine became a moot point and although a handful of games have been exclusive to the New 3DS and a few games have been particularly bad on standard 3DSes everyone just treated it like they did the XL.

    Is this Playstation made for proffessional 1337 players?

    The problem here is that, with all tech, new features are being implemented into smart TVs that the average consumer can not keep up. We have not long gone from HD to full HD TVs and then full HD with 3D. Not to mention the different 3D tech there was with active 3D with the shutter glasses and passive 3D that the cinemas used and TVs (mainly LG). Now we are moving to 4K and now 4K HDR that is even more confusing as there is two different HDR standards and HDR can only work on certain picture modes on some models and the console's HDR modes only work with one HDR started and not the other. It's all very confusing. As for me, I own a 4K tv and to be honest I am looking at passing on the PS4 Pro as I don't see anything about it that would justify the upgrade. I already own a PS4 that already has HDR enabled with the latest software update. Though my 4K TVs is not HDR. If anything I may buy a Xbox one s as it has a 4K blu ray play and that alone is more attractive to me than a slightly faster gpu and HDR.

    Last edited 05/11/16 12:35 am

      The HDR update on the PS4 doesn't do anything because the PS4 is not a 4k console and doesn't have HDMI 2.0. It's basically just an option that doesn't visually do anything . That's why MS released a brand new console instead of releasing an 'update'.

    This is why you missed a weekend in Melbourne for PAX, Serrels? A salubrious corporate PR junket to Europe? Hardly compares, don't you think ... :P

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