The video game console as we’ve known it for decades is starting to look a little old-fashioned. In the past, you’d buy a game console and keep it for five to seven years until the next generation of hardware emerged, at which point you’d graduate to a new console. But now we live in a world where phones and graphics cards get updates much faster than that. That’s why Sony and Microsoft are breaking with tradition and releasing hardware updates like the PlayStation 4 Pro much earlier than in the past.
Ever since Sony announced the PlayStation 4 Pro, gamers have had a big question hanging over their head: Should they buy the more powerful PS4 Pro, or go with the more affordable PlayStation 4 Slim? Complicating matters further are the roughly 45 million original PS4s in play. Should someone who already has a PS4 upgrade to a PS4 Pro?
Initially, the sound advice seemed to be that you didn’t need a PS4 Pro unless you had a 4K television to take advantage of its graphical power. But now that a number of Pro-compatible games have come out, and some older games have gotten updates to take advantage of the new hardware, that advice doesn’t seem so clear cut.
Let’s take a look at the differences between how the games actually play on the standard PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Slim (which have the same specs), and the more powerful PlayStation 4 Pro.
The Last Guardian problem
Take The Last Guardian, a brand new game about a boy who meets and befriends a towering beast. The two companions have to make their way through an environment that’s not fully suited to either of them. To proceed, you have to solve environmental puzzles while also trying to coax your mercurial pet to cooperate with you.
It’s a game of stunning beauty, but in games, beauty tends to come at a cost. The cost here is processing power. To display the game’s gorgeous environments, while also animating an enormous animal with all its fur and feathers, a game console needs a lot of power.
The original PlayStation 4 can run the game, but not as well as the PS4 Pro. Digital Foundry ran an in-depth comparison of the game running on both hardware configurations and found some sizable differences. They ran the game on an original PS4, and on a PS4 Pro running at 1080p as well as 4K. According to their conclusions, “The only option available to PlayStation gamers in getting a regularly smooth 30 [frames per second] is to use PlayStation 4 Pro, running at 1080p.”
In comparison, the PS4 Pro ran the game in 4K at a frame rate that would often dip to the mid-20s. Running it on an original PS4 resulted in frame rates that frequently dipped to the low-20s.
Digital Foundry isn’t alone in this assessment, either. Other non-Pro PS4 owners have complained of the game’s frame rate dropping into single digits and only climbing back up after restarting their console.
Digital Foundry did a similar comparison between PlayStation 4 models running Battlefield 1 in multiplayer mode. The results? The PlayStation 4 Pro consistently ran at a 47% faster frame rate than its less powerful siblings. According to their findings, “In the heat of the action, PS4 Pro offers more visual feedback and crisper response.” How many frames per second your system pumps out might sound overly technical to casual players, but it can give you a leg up when it comes to the twitch-reaction speeds required for online competition.
PlayStation 4 Pro is the future
As game developers continue making games for both PlayStation 4 Pro and standard PS4, they’re not going to become less ambitious. They won’t want to remain shackled to the weaker specs of the original PS4 and PS4 Slim. They’ll have to keep making games compatible with the slower PS4 models, but those versions of the games will continue to suffer. The “real experience” will be always be on the Pro.
In an interview with Mobile & Apps, Resident Evil 7 producer Masachika Kawata said, “As long as the players wallet allows it, I think having the player play on the PS4 Pro really is the ideal environment someone wants to experience the game in.”
So let’s go back to the original question. Which model of PS4 should you buy? The answer seems to be becoming more and more clear: Whether you have a 4K television or not, you should probably buy the PS4 Pro.