Heading into E3, the PlayStation 4 Pro faces challenges both real and imagined.
There’s a perception among some non-owners that the PS4 Pro doesn’t offer benefits for many games, that there’s not much reason to buy it if you haven’t made the jump to 4K. On the flip side, many PS4 Pro owners — at least anecdotally, via scouring social media, forums and Reddit — feel like the system should offer even more than it does.
Both of these assumptions are honestly expressed, but neither is completely true. And that in and of itself is part of the uphill climb Sony has with the Rolls-Royce of its PlayStation product line in the coming year.
Are people buying it?
Sony has never expressed an expectation that the PS4 Pro would become its best-selling PS4 model, but how is it doing so far?
“Six months in … almost one in five PS4s sold is a Pro,” Sony Interactive Entertainment America president and Sony Worldwide Studios chairman Shawn Layden told Polygon in an interview last month.
That’s not a huge number taking into account the fact that it includes the November release of the hardware itself, but it’s not bad. And Sony believes it’s less than it could have sold. “As with VR, that number has been restricted by our ability to supply the market,” Layden said. “So as with VR, we are just coming into free supply now and that figure will increase.”
wildly optimistic industry predictions last September forecasted 15 million 4K televisions sold in North America in 2016 (and actual sales data is extremely hard to come by). This suggests most of the PS4 Pro’s prospective purchasing base is still firmly rooted in 1080p displays.
Digital Foundry could find no evidence whatsoever at launch that Prey actually offered an improved experience on Sony’s Pro platform. This has only recently been addressed via the game’s 1.04 patch, but even that “improvement” has granted more sophisticated visuals at the cost of wildly unpredictable performance drops throughout the game.
There’s some confusion regarding other titles as well, such as Firaxis Games’XCOM 2. While the European PlayStation Blog included the game on its list of launch-day titles with improvements on the new hardware, material benefits other than a slightly more stable framerate have proven elusive.
Thus far there have also been surprisingly few true 4K releases for the PS4 Pro, despite its considerably more powerful graphical hardware, and some players have complained that 4K games running at 60 frames per second are even more uncommon for this. There are various explanations for this, though one of the most likely is the system’s memory; the PS4 Pro offers an additional 512 MB of RAM, but this increase over the base system’s 5 GB of available system memory for games just may not be enough for many more visually sophisticated titles to reach a native 4K resolution.
Games on PS4 Pro are still looking better in general than the standard PS4, but Sony may see increasing pushback on efforts to brand the console as a 4K device.
The rest of the 4K ecosystem
The PS4 Pro’s omission of a UHD Blu-ray drive has limited owners’ options for UHD video, and thus far, the streaming end of the equation hasn’t managed to pick up the slack.
Netflix was one of the first 4K video options on the console, followed by Hulu and YouTube, but none has yet to add HDR support to the system. To reiterate, HDR isn’t supported on any PS4 Pro video app at this time —and HDR is arguably more of an apparent visual upgrade for high-definition video than the increased resolution of 4K is.
This is a major shortcoming of the PS4 Pro as a 4K device currently, though it’s also one of the most likely to be addressed at this year’s E3. But whatever Sony does choose to do at this year’s show, additional clarity and more consistent messaging about why gamers should choose the hardware should take center stage for the PS4 Pro.