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Hands on with PS4 Pro: How do 1080p displays and PSVR benefit?

Last week, Sony unleashed the PS4 Pro — a mid-generation update that’s focused on serving the emerging 4K market. It’s quite a bit more powerful than the base PS4, and the one-two punch of HDR and a high-res output are sincerely impressive for a $400 box. We know that some releases actually deliver native 4K, other games will use the ingenious checkerboard rendering method to get close to 4K, and many titles won’t take advantage of the extra power at all. Those scenarios are easy enough to understand, but what about everything else? Is it even worth buying without a UHD TV?

We wanted to know how updated games look at 1080p, how PSVR benefits from a little extra juice, and how well the new hardware handles streaming and video capture. We spent about a week with our launch unit, kicked all the tires, and here’s what we saw.

If you’re still on a standard 1080p HDTV, the benefits of the PS4 Pro are subtle. You’re simply not going to see the same kind of visual pop that you get with 4K and HDR. Don’t expect your jaw to drop. With that said, we’ve spent the past week with the PS4 Pro running on a 1080p set, and the results have been almost completely positive. We’ve noticed better frame rates in a handful of patched games, and the super sampling can be a real benefit. On the base PS4, Ratchet & Clank looks very pretty, but the post-process anti-aliasing was something of a distraction from the start. With the game running on the PS4 Pro, those lines look nice and clean — even on older televisions.

It’s also worth mentioning that some games (like Paragon) specifically target 1080p displays on the PS4 Pro, and that extra power is used to add flourishes and finer details. It doesn’t massively impact the game one way or the other, but the update is welcome nonetheless. If you already have a base PS4 that you’re happy with, and you have no intention of buying a 4K UHD TV anytime soon, it’s hard to recommend the purchase for anyone but the most fussy among us. If you have a shiny new 4K television, and you’re looking for something to do with it, the PS4 Pro is more compelling.

The PSVR hardware is fixed. The screen in that headset is 1080p, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The existing hardware certainly has its limitations, but the base PS4 is keeping it from reaching its full potential. For example, some PSVR titles are internally rendering at a lower resolution, and then upscaling for the head-mounted display. And despite Sony’s strict policies about frame rates, many titles are running at just 60Hz, and then using an implementation of time warping to boost the output to 120Hz.

If VR developers decide to target the PS4 Pro, the PSVR will see some significant boosts. We can expect sharper visuals, a faster frame rate, and less visual artifacts. Very few PSVR titles take advantage of the additional horsepower right now, but our experiences so far have been good. Distant objects appear less garbled, and the readability seems to be improved.

Just as before, capturing the VR experience is challenging. In the video above, you’ll see the de-warped “social screen” from a handful of PSVR games running on the PS4 Pro with a frame rate cap in place. It’s not what you’re really seeing in the helmet, but it’s the best we can do. If you get the opportunity to demo it for yourself, we’d highly recommend it.

Across the board, the ability to capture and stream games has been enhanced on the Pro. Screenshots can be saved as 4K PNGs, local video clips last longer, and you can even stream your games at 1080p60. Compared with the lackluster quality of captures from the base PS4, the quality of PS4 Pro captures is a big step up.

After doing some testing, it seems that the PS4 Pro’s 1080p footage is being saved at 30fps (29.97 to be exact) with a bitrate in the ballpark of 10Mbps. The original PS4 could only handle 720p at 30fps (29.97) with a bitrate of roughly 5Mbps. Meanwhile, the Elgato Game Capture HD60 that we use for HDMI capture can pull off 1080p at 60fps (59.94) with a bitrate of about 30Mbps. The local recording on the Pro is far from flawless, but it’ll work well for gamers just looking to share decent footage of their favorite games.

With the base model, Remote Play was restricted to 720p at 60fps. With the latest hardware, PC and Mac users can now hit 1080p60. We’ve done some preliminary testing over our LAN, and the results have been surprisingly good. You’re still going to see some artifacting, but the latency wasn’t a problem in the least. If you want to keep your PS4 Pro in the living room, but still play at your desk every now and then, this is a good solution. Just keep in mind, the PSTV is still limited to 720p, and the Vita can only handle 540p.

As for live streams, the PS4 Pro still supports Twitch, YouTube, and DailyMotion. Unfortunately, the quality varies wildly. YouTube will accept up to 1080p60, but the compression is still rough. Twitch can handle 1080p, but 60fps streams are limited to just 720p. DailyMotion? The best you can get right now is 720p30. External streaming solutions like the Elgato box offer many more options, but they still sell for around 150 bucks on Amazon.

While many games actually get a performance boost with the PS4 Pro, some titles seem to be suffering in the frame rate department. For example, The Last of Us Remastered and Skyrim Remastered actually perform worse than the same games running on the base PS4 — even when you’re only on a 1080p display. Why? The games are still being rendered at a higher resolution, and then being downscaled to 1080p. The high quality anti-aliasing is nice, but that’s cold comfort for those of us looking for a frame rate that won’t budge.

The leaked PS4 Neo documents from earlier this year make it clear that PS4 Pro titles should, at the bare minimum, hit the same frame rate as the release on the base console. Sadly, it’s clear that Sony wasn’t as rigorous with that rule as we’d like — even with its own internal studios. Going forward, we’re praying that Sony will actually reject any build that runs worse on PS4 Pro during the certification process.

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