At a press conference in New York today Sony announced its hardware plans for the immediate future, including our first look at the PlayStation 4 Pro, an upgraded version of the current PS4 hardware.
Sony also unveiled a leaner version of the current PS4 model with the same hardware specifications, although this came as no surprise after some retailers broke street date for the new model in August.
Sony did not, however, provide any new information about the PlayStation VR system that will be released on Oct. 13, other than how the PS4 Pro related to the performance of the upcoming VR hardware.
The upgraded PS4, previously referred to as the “PlayStation 4.5” or “PS Neo,” is actually called the PS4 Pro. It will be released on Nov. 10, with an asking price of $400.
Document leaks reported by Giant Bomb and Eurogamer in April cited very specific hardware specifications for the new, upgraded PS4, including an eight core CPU running at 2.1 Ghz, a GPU with double the Compute Units that ran at 911 MHz, and a memory speed of 218 GB/s, for a less than 25 percent upgrade compared to the standard PS4 hardware.
Mark Cerny, PlayStation’s lead systems architect, delivered only a summary view of the PS4 Pro’s hardware advantages over the standard PS4 at the news conference, citing a GPU with double the power of the standard hardware and a boosted clock rate for the CPU.
The chief advantages of the PS4 Pro, as presented by Cerny, are support for 4K display resolutions, support for High Dynamic Range lighting, and framerate improvements for PlayStation VR games.
By way of demonstrating the improvement in graphics quality provided by a jump to 4K resolution, Sony showed off footage from the upcoming games Watch Dogs 2, For Honor, and Horizon Zero Dawn, projected in 4K and running in real time off PS4 Pro hardware.
In two cases the footage began with standard game resolution as produced by standard PS4 hardware, and then shifted to 4K resolution. The difference in sharpness was clear in those comparisons, but when 4K games were displayed without these comparisons it was difficult to nail down precisely what 4K resolution brought to the table.
What was more impressive and immediately clear, however, were the effects of HDR, or high dynamic range lighting. As Cerny explained, the human eye is capable of perceiving a larger range of light than the standard PS4 hardware can provide. HDR lighting better replicates the sort of visual information that the human eye perceives in the real world.
An orange sunset in standard resolution becomes a much more colorful, vibrant sunset, with more clearly defined rays of light, when presented with HDR. A scene from the upcoming Days Gone, which included the main character throwing a series of molotov cocktails at a zombie horde, also amply displayed the upgrade in graphics quality provided by HDR. The subtle gradations of color within the flames was striking.
And unlike 4K resolution, displaying images in HDR does not require radical increases in processing power, according to Cerny. In fact, Andrew House, president and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, revealed toward the end of the press conference that all standard PS4 consoles will be able to support HDR, via a firmware update that will be delivered next week.
House stressed that the release of the PS4 Pro is not intended to “blur the line between console generations.” He said Sony wants to maintain a unified PS4 community. The same game discs will work in both the standard PS4 hardware and the PS4 Pro. Whether and how developers support the increased capabilities of the PS Pro is up to developers.
Activision CTO Andy Hendrickson took the stage to announce that Call of Duty: Black Ops III will support the PS4 Pro via a title update, while Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and the Modern Warfare re-release, which hit shelves on Nov. 4, will support PS4 Pro upon release.
Aaryn Flynn from Electronic Arts revealed that EA will support the PS4 Pro with FIFA 17, and next year’s Mass Effect Andromeda will also support Sony’s new console. A glimpse of footage from Andromeda also made clear the advantages of HDR graphics in holograms, thruster pack exhaust jets, glowing power cables, and energy beams.
Cerny cited that the PS4 Pro will also support higher framerates for PlayStation VR. This, then, would be the solitary advantage of the Pro model that does not require investment in a 4K television, and/or a television that supports HDR.
New PS4 standard hardware
Today’s press conference also included the official reveal of what had previously been referred to as the “PS4 Slim,” although it turns out that the new, streamlined PlayStation 4 will actually be the standard PS4 hardware going forward.
The new, more lightweight version of the PS4 will hit shelves on Sept. 15 and will cost $299.
This may have been the most anticlimactic console announcement ever, considering the slimmer PS4 was already reviewed in August, and had its guts ripped out in a YouTube video published on Sept. 1. The consoles were sold via Gumtree, a U.K. retail site.