PlayStation 4 gets a mid-cycle boost with PS4 Pro: all the details inside

Sony announced not one but two new video game consoles this week at its PlayStation Meeting at the newly dubbed PlayStation Theatre in Times Square, New York. The first console unveiled, which was widely expected to launch here,  was the PS4 Slim. Of course, Sony doesn’t call it that officially, but it’s something gamers have become accustomed to during a console’s lifecycle. The updated PS4 is slimmer, lighter, and more energy efficient than the original model–it’s about 30 percent smaller and cuts power consumption by 28 percent to be more precise. Other minor differences: it boasts faster Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac), a third USB 3.1 port around the back, and the optical port’s been removed. Other than that, it’s got the same guts and glory that the OG PS4 always had. The heftier PS4 will phase out of market when PS4 Slim drops September 15. For $299, you get the console fitted with a 500GB HDD, a copy of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and an slightly updated version of the DualShock 4 wireless controller. The new DS4 features a secondary light bar above the touch pad, as well as USB communication. Preorder today.

Now let’s move onto the most exciting news of the event. “We realized that for the very highly discriminatory gamer, there’s always a desire for advancement and they want it in this generation…We are adjusting and accelerating our innovation cadence,” said Sony’s Andrew House to a crowd full of anticipation. In essence, what House is saying that Sony doesn’t want to make gamers wait any longer for a new, more powerful console. Instead of announcing the PlayStation 5, Sony’s taking a page out of Microsoft’s playbook and making a new console to “complement” the standard PS4 and sit right alongside it. Enter PlayStation 4 Pro. Jump after the break for more.

“We named it PS4 Pro to symbolize that it is part of this generation and targeted to the hardcore gamer or those who have invested in advanced display technology,” House continued. “It’s important to note that PS4 Pro is not another generation of console. It won’t make your current PS4 games obsolete, and it won’t split the PS4 player base. PS4 Pro is very much a part of the PS4 family.” In sum, you won’t be seeing any PS4 Pro exclusive games in the pipeline, and the PlayStation Network online community will not be splintered; PS4 and PS4 Pro will co-exist within the main “PS4 lifecycle,” backwards compatibility and all.

What differentiates the PS4 Pro is its power and display capabilities. Its 8-core x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” CPU features a boosted clock rate and the AMD Radeon GPU with “Polaris” architecture more than doubles the power with 4.20 TFLOPS. The hardware comes standard with a larger HDD too, at 1TB. This is a monster. And thanks to its upgraded hardware, the PS4 Pro will support 4K and High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging technologies. In brief, 4K is the next technological step up in image quality from 1080p HD; HDR enables a wider range of rich colors. So, for PS4 Pro, developers will have the freedom to produce games in stunning resolutions higher than 1080p and with HDR coloring and lighting. Sony also says that PlayStation VR games will also run better on PS4 Pro thanks to the better resolution and smoother frame rates. Check out the new console from its many angles below; it’s as if they just added a third slab on top of the standard PS4!

Now, in order to take advantage of 4K and HDR on PS4 Pro, you’ll have to own a 4K/HDR compatible TV set. But, even if you haven’t upgraded your standard HDTV set, Sony says games will still look better for you with the PS4 Pro. “Depending on how the developer chooses to use the increased processing power, games with PS4 Pro support are able to render higher or more consistent frame rates, increased environmental and character model detail, improved overall visual quality, and other related visual enhancement,” reads the console’s FAQ. In addition, if you decide to upgrade to a PS4 Pro, you can expect certain games to be patched to support the powerful system’s upgrades. Titles in the pipeline to be patched for higher resolutions, faster frame rates, etc. include Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, The Last of Us Remastered, Infamous  First Light, Shadow of Mordor, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Sony refers to this as “forward compatibility” and it’s a boon for gamers who’ve already accumulated a collection of PS4 games and want to jump into the realm of 4K bliss. Check out the 4K games highlight reel below.

Let’s take a beat to talk about 4K gaming on PS4 Pro. If you’re wondering if new games and patched old ones will truly run at 4K 3,840 x 2,160 resolution, the answer is a probable no. Remember back to when Sony ushered in HD gaming on the PS3 and touted 1080p graphics–yeah, that didn’t happen. Most games then (and even today) run at 720p because with at any higher a resolution, games will run into issues such as anti-aliasing and overall quality degradation. The 720p ceiling existed due to a lack raw CPU and GPU power. With its 8-core CPU with boosted clock rate and upgraded GPU with 4.20 TFLOPS, the PS4 Pro can finally shatter that ceiling and even break the 1080p barrier. Games are going to look stunning. Is the hardware capable of true 4K gaming, though? Engadget, for one, doesn’t seem to think so, and if you’re interested in diving deeper into this debate, I highly recommend you read their piece about it.

What Sony undeniably confirms will be 4K on the PS4 Pro is streaming video, specifically from Netflix and YouTube. Both companies are working on delivering new versions of their console apps to supply 4K content to console owners, and Netflix’s is expected to be ready in time for PS4 Pro’s launch. Interestingly, Sony did not include an Ultra HD Blu-ray player inside the PS4 Pro, so owners will have to rely on the aforementioned streaming services to get their 4K video playback fix.

If you have an OG PS4 or if you’re interested in picking up the PS4 Slim, there’s some good news for you here. Though gaming beyond 1080p HD is an exclusive to the PS4 Pro, soon you will be able to game in higher fidelity thanks to HDR support. That’s right–Sony’s enabling HDR on all PS4 models via a system software update due out next week. Of course, developers will have to patch their current games and produce their upcoming ones with HDR in order for your system to output it; and you’ll have to own an HDR-compatible TV. It’s a move by Sony that I applaud. [Update: As of 9/13, Software Update 4.00 is available for download.]

Bet you’re curious about PS4 Pro’s release date and price. In another surprising move, Sony puts all its cards on the table here, and the console launch is closer than you might predict. PS4 Pro releases in time for this holiday season, on November 10, 2016 at $399. This is a power play by Sony, as Microsoft’s “4K” machine–codenamed Project Scorpion–isn’t due out until Holiday 2017. Preorder PS4 Pro today.

Speaking of Microsoft, let’s perform a quick comparison between the two video game giants. At E3 2016, Microsoft announced two new consoles, and they are essentially the equivalents of what Sony unveiled this week. There’s the Xbox One S–a slimmed down version of the Xbox One–and the aforementioned powerhouse Project Scorpio. In some ways the slim versions of Xbox One and PS4 are similar, and in many they are not. They are both smaller and more energy efficient versions of their former selves, and they both support HDR gaming (Xbox out of the box, PS via a software update), with pricing starting at $299. And then Microsoft begins to take the edge: they both offer 500GB HDD, but the Xbox One S also has SKUs with 1TB and 2TB drives. In addition to supporting 4K content from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, the XB1S also packs an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, something the PS4 Slim and even PS4 Pro are sorely lacking.

As mentioned earlier, Sony is beating Microsoft to the punch with its in-PS4-lifecycle 4K capable machine, the PS4 Pro. But it certainly borrowed the idea from Microsoft who was the first to publicly disrupt the regular console generations lifecycle by announcing the 4K & HDR capable Project Scorpion at E3. Scorpion is being billed as “the next addition to the Xbox One family” and it will live alongside the Xbox One and Xbox One S. Sound familiar? All we know about Scorpio is that it will boast an 8-core CPU (just like the PS4 Pro) with over 320GB/s memory bandwidth and a GPU with 6 TFLPS (that’s higher than the PS4 Pro’s 4.20 TFLOPS). Perhaps Scorpio will have better luck reaching “true” 4K graphics next year. VR also plays a differentiating factor here. While all PS4 consoles will support PSVR, only MSFT’s Scorpio will play nice with VR (it hasn’t been confirmed, but it will likely be compatible with the Oculus Rift).

There we have it: PS4 Slim versus Xbox One S. PS4 Pro versus Project Scorpio. The game is on, and we’ll see who comes out on top. In the end, let’s hope it’s the gamers, who’ll have many choices to choose from come this holiday season and next. For now, though, Sony has the upper hand as both of its newcomers–including PS VR–will be on store shelves just in time for Santa.

The PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio are, at the very least, interesting blips on the radar. If adopted by the hardcore gamers they’re aimed at, we might want to start getting used to these mid-generational incremental upgrades. It’s certainly worked for Apple over the better part of the last decade; their iPhone “s” hardware iterations might have just paved the way for the video game industry as a whole.

[Images via Flickr]

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