Yesterday during the PlayStation Meeting (full recap here) Sony lifted the veil on the PlayStation 4 Pro, an upgraded version of their flagship system that sports the ability to play games in 4K and in HDR (High Dynamic Range)… and that’s about it. The internet’s knee jerk reaction was tremendous ‘meh’ as Sony unveiled their plans for the future of the PlayStation 4 and it’s easy to see why – the PlayStation 4 Pro barely offers any improvement over the standard model and what it does do that’s new is either already already available in other devices, not a guarantee that it will be supported going forward or just plain useless.
Before we begin let me just preface this whole thing by pointing out that by pointless I don’t necessarily mean bad. There have been awful systems released over the years, some of which had no games to play, some of which were funded by the mafia and some of which broke a few minutes after being taken out of the box – and while I’m not keen on the PS4 Pro I don’t think it will necessarily be a ‘bad’ system just one that not many people will see a need to upgrade to.
The first thing I would like to ask is, why would current PlayStation 4 owners choose to upgrade to the Pro model? The advantages of playing games in 4K and HDR (more on the latter in a bit) seem rather minimal and prohibitive when compared to the PS4 model that (only) outputs in 1080p. Because keep in mind that the only way you are going to get any sort of use out of a console that outputs at this resolution is if you have a display that can handle it. According to Statista.com the market share of 4K TV shipments stands at about 20% and is foretasted to go up about 8% by the end of 2017. This represents a significant portion of the market for sure, and a growing segment as well but it’s dwarfed by the amount of HD TV’s being shipped worldwide.
From a pure cost point of view, Sony’s 4K HDR TV’s begin at around $1000 and can go up to $8000 for a 65” display. Which while comparable to the price on certain HD TV models is still a strong barrier to entry seeing as how you need a 4K HDR TV set in order to use the PlayStation 4 Pro’s new features. In fact Sony has promised to upgrade all PlayStation 4’s currently sold to support HDR, so really the only reason you would want a PS4 Pro is if you want to take advantage of your 4K display – but that also means you likely already have a PlayStation 4.
The PlayStation 4 is the most powerful game console currently available on the market and it stands to reason that gamers with 4K televisions would want to pair their TV’s with the console best suited to take advantage of them. So what incentive do these folks have for trading in their current PS4 and getting a Pro? Well very little in fact as the PlayStation 4 Pro will only ‘up-res’ games to 4K resolutions and not run them natively and if you want to watch 4K movies? Well outside of the new Netflix app coming to the system you’ll also need a 4K Blu-Ray player as the PlayStation 4 Pro will not support the playback of these types of disks. Meaning that if you would want a full 4K ready entertainment system you would still need two devices.
Sticking with what I believe to be the PlayStation 4 Pro’s target audience – gamers looking for the best possible use of their 4K sets and therefore the most powerful console on the market presents another reason why the PS4 Pro is a poor choice – Microsoft’s Project Scorpio. That console, which is targeting a holiday 2017 release, promises all the things that the PlayStation 4 Pro does and then more. The Scorpio is also confirmed to be more ‘powerful’ than the PS4 Pro which, while not a metric to determine the quality of the games is a good indicator of which system will have the sharper looking games.
The last thing I want to mention are the games themselves. During the PlayStation Meeting several prominent third party publishers like Activision, Square Enix and EA showed off their games running at 4K resolutions on the PlayStation 4 Pro and the result was decidedly impressive. But one thing stuck out to me – Sony themselves said that not all games will be patched to include this feature, not even all their first party games! So imagine this if you will, you buy a PlayStation 4 Pro, play through it’s selection of ‘launch titles’ but the system fails to catch on and third parties and even Sony themselves stop including 4K support in their games… you would be left with a standard PlayStation 4 that you just happened to pay $100 more for!
Since it’s announcement a mere 24 hours ago the PlayStation 4 Pro has been a divisive topic among gamers and even PlayStation fans in general. On one hand their is a general sense of excitement about being able to play already great looking games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Final Fantasy XV at 4K resolutions but on the other hand, the future of this platform is clouded by ‘opt-in’ support, an expensive barrier to entry, competition from the standard PS4 which already does most of what the Pro offers and of course Microsoft’s upcoming Scorpio which promises more of what the Pro brings to the table. Only time can tell if the PlayStation 4 Pro turns out to be a success, but from what we’ve seen so far – this might just be the most pointless console of all time.