Before you roll your eyes at yet another PS4 Pro article – hear me out. I still stand by my statement that the PS4 Pro is underpowered trash – and it is for 4K visuals. My frustration was directed at the fact that Sony seems hell bent on chasing this 4K dream, when really, most of those games will not be native 4K. Instead, many games such as The Witness and Horizon: Zero Dawn will be upscaled to 4K.
In fact, games like Horizon: Zero Dawn won’t even run at 60 frames per second at 1080p because the engine simply wasn’t designed that way.
What this means is that right now, developers appear to be targeting that “4K” 30fps experience.
Now, keep in mind, this console is called PS4 Pro. That word, “Pro,” implies the best in everything – graphics, resolution, and performance. One would imagine that if this product was really intended to target the “pro” consumer, then it would actually prioritize framerate, not resolution, over anything else. However, it seems that the reality as of this writing appears to be a thoroughly compromised affair.
Personally, I and presumably many of you find this disappointing. And this led me to wonder: is 4K really the best use of PS4 Pro? In other words, instead of chasing an unrealistic 4K, would the PS4 Pro hardware be better utilized to obtain something more realistic, say, 1080p 60fps with better visuals?
In order to explore this question, let us reexamine the confirmed specs of the PS4 Pro:
- Main processor: Custom-chip single processor
- CPU: x86-64 AMD “Jaguar” with 8 cores
- GPU: 4.2 TFLOPS; AMD Radeon-based graphics engine
- Memory: GDDR5 8GB
- Storage: 1TB hard-disk drive
- Dimensions: 295mm X 55mm X 327mm
- Mass: 3.3Kg
- Optical drive: Blu-ray 6-speed, DVD 8-speed
- HDMI output
- Optical digital output
- 3 USB 3.1 ports
- 1 Aux port
- Ethernet port
- IEEE 802.11 A/B/G/N/Ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Power supply: AC 100V, 50/60Hz
- Max power consumption: 310W
Immediately, we can see a bottleneck in the 8-core Jaguar CPU. As I examined in an earlier piece, I believe the clocks of this CPU to be somewhere around 2.0-2.1 GHz, which quite honestly is woefully underpowered.
The second observation to make is the GPU. In my article where I examined whether or not PS4 Pro was good value, I theorized that the GPU used in this console is actually an AMD RX 480 underclocked to roughly 911 MHz in order to hit that 4.2 TFLOP number.
The good thing is we have plenty of metrics already for this GPU. In fact, Digital Foundry built a PC with specs similar to that of the PS4 Pro with this RX 480, underclocked to 910 MHz. They paired this GPU with an i7 6700k to eliminate any potential CPU bottlenecks so as to put GPU performance front and center. Keep in mind, the i7 6700k is a much, much more powerful CPU that resides in the PS4 Pro. This will be important later on.
Their findings show that their PC genuinely struggled to run modern games at high settings at native 4K, while at an upscale from 3200 x 1800, they received better performance.
Remember, the CPU they used is far more powerful than the one in PS4 Pro. If this more powerful PC struggles, how will an objectively weaker console perform?
And this, rather logically, brings us to the question at hand. Is 4K, even upscaled 4K, truly the best use of the PS4 Pro? Let’s refer back to Digital Foundry’s results, this time paying special attention to the “Neo Target 1080p” column.
These findings showcase truly impressive framerates for this PC. Now, even with the weaker Jaguar CPU in the PS4 Pro, it is not unreasonable to assume that at 1080p, many games would see a benefit. Yes, Rise of the Tomb Raider still provides a variable framerate, but why should this stop other developers from taking advantage of 1080p?
What I’m genuinely worried about is that these developers, publishers, and Sony themselves will be so hell bent on chasing this 4K buzzword that they’ll sacrifice graphics and indeed performance to achieve their desired resolution. Instead of truly next generation console gaming, gamers will be left with PS4-level graphics simply presented with greater pixel density. And remember folks, while graphics and resolution may be related, they are not the same thing.
It is here where developers can and should take inspiration from PCs. After all, this level of choice and customization has long existed on PC games, which many of these developers create.
For example, on my admittedly more powerful PC, I can choose to run games at 4K. My performance obviously drops. However, if I choose to run that same game at 1080p, my performance increases accordingly. This means I have more GPU cycles I can devote to cranking out insane visuals.
It is this level of choice developers should be providing consumers. Instead, games like Horizon: Zero Dawn are closing the door on that possibility, stating their engine was never designed for 60fps. I find this troubling for a few reasons.
For one, it entirely removes consumer choice from the equation. While 4K TVs are dropping in price, less than 10% of households in the US own 4K TVs. This means the majority of consumers who buy a PS4 Pro will own 1080p TVs. Why punish them for simply owning another type of display? Why not give consumers a choice with how they decide to enjoy their experience? If they want to enjoy games at their native 1080p at 60fps with much improved visuals, they should have that choice.
If companies like Sony and Microsoft truly want to take cues from PC gaming, they must provide their gamers with the same amount of choice that PC gamers have been enjoying for decades.
Secondly, if developers only focus on resolution without equally improving graphics and framerate, more stagnation will ensue. It’s great to improve your pixel output, but does that make the game perform any better? Does that make the actual graphics any better? Does it increase the polygon count of the characters, making them more lifelike? Does the grass sway in the breeze any more realistically? Does the lighting become any more mathematically accurate?
I fundamentally believe that for true progress to be had, graphics, resolution, and framerate must be pursed in tandem. This is the exact reason why the PC space experiences continual rapid growth and constantly outpaces consoles.
For all my frustration with the console, the PS4 Pro is genuinely a step forward we need, but not in the way Sony has positioned it. In order to see progress – true, genuine, tangible progress – Sony must conform to reality.
I truly believe the PS4 Pro is better served as a 1080p 60fps machine while simultaneously pushing graphics. This is a far more attainable reality than the 4K fantasy Sony is currently pushing. It’s still not too late to change that narrative.