With Christmas just around the corner, there will be plenty of you wondering whether you should buy a PS4 Pro if you don’t have a 4K TV. Will it have any affect on your existing games? Make them run better, or faster, or look any better even with a full 1080p HD as it inevitably tumbles in price?
The vast majority of PS4’s install base - currently sitting north of 40m gamers - continue to play at 1080p on a non 4K TV. That’s why it’s important to figure out whether it’s worth upgrading to the PS4 Pro if you’ve got no plans to buy a new television.
It's questions like these that we're here to answer. But we'll also explore whether the PS4 Pro really runs games at true, native 4K and in HDR.
Should you buy a PS4 Pro if you own a 1080p TV?
The quick answer? Probably not. While super-sampling in Rise of the Tomb Raider or slightly speedier framerates in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered are nice features, they’re hardly worth coughing up $400/£350 for a new console. The reality is only the eagle-eyed will likely notice any visual improvements at 1080p, and even then better anti-aliasing isn’t exactly worth hundreds of dollars.
The only differences you will notice running a PS4 Pro on a full 1080p HD TV or other display is that your games will download faster thanks to the console's improved network adapter. You will also notice games load faster thanks to the SATAIII upgrade in the hard drive department. And who doesn't want to wait less time to play their games? No-one. Visually though, if you’re happy with your current TV, you’re probably best sticking with the PS4 you already own.
How does the PS4 Pro make games look better at 1080p?
All that extra grunt under the Pro’s hood does net you visible graphical improvements over the base PS4, even if you’re not playing in 4K mode.
Lara’s chilly Siberian adventure, Rise of the Tomb Raider, uses super-sampling - a process where a higher res picture is downscaled to your display’s current resolution - in order to improve anti-aliasing at 1080p. On a normal PS4, the game’s environments are blighted by jaggies, but on the Pro, this is considerably cleared up, resulting in a much cleaner looking image. In theory, all games with Pro patches, which under Sony’s guidelines should be every title that comes out on PS4 from here on out, should be able to offer super-sampling to reduce aliasing at 1080p.
Of course, it’ll be up to individual developers to make the decision on whether they implement the technique or not. With the vast majority of TVs in the wild being 1080p displays, you’d hope studios put real effort into ensuring there are benefits to playing Pro games at Full HD over the original PS4.
Do framerates improve at 1080p with PS4 Pro?
We’ve already listed all of PS4 Pro enhanced games, which includes both current software and upcoming titles. Nearly all of the games with PS4 Pro patches improves framerate performance even for games running at 1080p. For example, Titanfall 2 boasts ‘increased framerate stability’, while Killing Floor 2 also benefits from better performance at Full HD.
Rise of the Tomb Raider is the current poster girl for how to get Pro support right. Aside from its 4K mode, which runs at 30fps, there’s also the option to play the game at 1080p with an unlocked framerate. Now, reports suggest this isn’t quite a locked 60fps experience, but the game is said to run consistently between 50-60fps; a huge leap over performance on the base PS4, which can often dip below 30. Again, it’s on developers to try and boost performance, and there’s a worry all their focus could go towards upscaling to higher resolutions, rather than improving framerates at 1080p.
Does PS4 Pro improve PlayStation VR?
Developers are still getting their heads around making VR games for the base PS4, let alone implementing Pro support. What we do know is Sony’s upgraded console is capable of using super-sampling in PSVR titles, just as it does with games like Rise Of The Tomb Raider. As anti-aliasing is already a bit of a problem with the headset - your eyes are pressed up mere millimeters from the image, there’s nowhere for jaggies to hide - Pro patches offering super-sampling would be welcome. Smoother looking games can only lead to more immersion.
Sony has already stated developers really must hit 90fps in VR games in order to combat motion sickness. Most PSVR titles are already doing a good job of hitting that figure, so with the Pro’s mighty GPU jump and faster processor, it should be that much easier for studios to deliver the necessary performance needed to stop you bringing back up your lunch every time you sit down (or should that be stand up?) for a game of Job Simulator.
Can I play games in HDR without a 4K TV?
In short, probably not. The vast majority of TVs that support High Dynamic Range are 4K sets. 1080p panels with HDR are rarer than snow leopards, partly because the tech is still so new. What’s more, even displays that do support HDR often can’t do TV’s latest ‘killer’ feature justice. It’s all to do with the complicated business of nits - no, not the head lice.
Basically, nits measure the colour and contrast spectrum TVs can outputs pictures at. The recommended standard is a dynamic range between 0-10,000 nits, but in reality, even the best displays struggle to hit 1000 nits. In other words, HDR is still in its infancy, and has a long way to go. We wouldn’t lose sleep about not being able to play Uncharted 4 with slightly brighter whites and a teensy bit blacker blacks quite yet.
Why should I buy a PS4 Pro then?
It’s important to emphasise the cost factor. For $399/£349 - the same price the original PS4 launched at in 2013 - you’re getting a box that’s capable of delivering 4K streaming media, plus a mix of 4K and upscaled games. Quite frankly, that’s insane. In comparison, upgrading a PC to the spec required to properly run titles at Ultra HD is monstrously expensive. You’re looking at the best part of a $400/£350 outlay for graphics card on the level of Nvidia’s GTX 1070, and that’s just the GPU! Factor in the beefy CPU, motherboard, and (minimum) 8GB of RAM also needed, and you’re putting up a $1000 investment. You may be happy with your vanilla PS4, but Sony deserves serious credit for producing the Pro at such an aggressive price point.
If you don’t already own a PS4 but are planning to buy one, the Pro is an absolute no-brainer. For less than $400/£350 you’re getting a console with twice the GPU power of the original model, a 30% faster CPU, not to mention a 1TB hard-drive. Even if you don’t have a 4K TV, the extra $100 over the base PS4 buys you a /lot/ more power. And as we’ll look at below, playing games on the Pro at 1080p still provides visual upgrades you can’t get on the default PS4…
BUT… if you do want to buy a 4K TV and have the budget for it - check out our guide to the best 4K TVs for gaming for some affordable options - then PS4 Pro suddenly becomes a much more tempting prospect. Sony’s checkerboard rendering can upscale games to resolutions far above 1080p, and with the right screen that jump in pixel density is going to make upcoming titles look much sharper, not to mention existing games like The Last of Us Remastered and Uncharted 4 that have been patched with Pro modes. Compared to paying $1000/£1000 or more for a 4K-capable PC, spending $399/£349 on a PS4 Pro suddenly seems like quite the deal.
Finally, if you don’t yet have a PS4 but want one, the Pro looks like a slam dunk purchase. For just $100/£50 more than the base PS4, you’re future-proofing your gaming experience with a console that’s considerably more powerful than the launch system.
The PS4 Pro clearly a well designed system with some seriously clever upscaling techniques going on under its triple decker sandwich chassis. With so many 1080p TVs out there, though, Sony really needs to hope it can convince people the upgrades while playing at Full HD are worth it. Right now, we’re not entirely convinced it is.