While there's a new top PlayStation, the PS4 Pro is still a high quality gaming machine. Assuming you can get it, that is.
This mid-cycle upgrade to the PS4, and a direct competitor to the Xbox One X, offers 4K gaming and streaming, provided you have a 4K TV or display you can output to.
It doesn't have as much power to use as the Xbox One X, but it does have the benefit of Sony's enticing library of exclusive games, and many of them look even better than normal thanks to Sony's "PS4 Pro Enhanced" scheme.
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The PS4 Pro is still a mighty console, even though it now stands in the shadow of the PS5. While it's just as hard to find as the new PlayStation in some cases, the PS4 Pro arguably offers a better value proposition since its library is almost identical to the PS5 while still offering 4K resolution. If you're after a new console but not bothered about going next-gen just yet, there's still a reason to buy a PS4 Pro.
PS4 Pro: Price and availability
Size: 295×55×327 mm
Weight: 3.3 kg
CPU: x86-64 AMD “Jaguar”, 8 cores
GPU: 4.20 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon™ based graphics engine
Max. resolution: 4K
The PS4 Pro launched in November 2016, meaning it's a ways past its fourth birthday. Its MSRP is $399, which is $100 more than the $299 PS4 Slim, about $100 cheaper than the standard PS5 and the same as the PS5 Digital Edition. Unfortunately you'll likely struggle to find a PS4 Pro still for sale now retailers have cleared their stocks to make way for the PS5, but you might still find some, even a few with bundled games, if you search for them.
PS4 Pro: Design
With the PS4 Pro, Sony has doubled up on the stacked design of the original model. For all intents and purposes, it looks like someone cut a PS4 Slim in half and placed one of the halves on top of another PS4 — like a techie double-stuffed Oreo cookie. That triple-decker design adds a bit of bulk to the PS4 Pro at 7 pounds and 15.6 x 11.6 x 2.6 inches, which is much larger than the original PS4 (6.1 pounds, 10.8 x 12 x 2.1 inches).
Compared to the Xbox One X, which stands at 11.8 x 9.4 x 2.4 inches and 8 pounds, the PS4 Pro is lighter, but a little larger in all dimensions. Neither console is particularly dramatic looking, but the triple stack of the PS4 Pro looks a little more interesting than the rectangles of the Xbox.
The PS4 Pro has a pair of USB 3.0 ports along the front with another along the rear. The back of the console also holds an HDMI-out port, an optical out, an Ethernet, an Auxiliary and a power port. As far as Wi-Fi, the Pro has been upgraded to 802.11 ac, which is a big step up from the PS4's 802.11n and will definitely come in handy for quicker digital downloads.
My favorite part of the design is the textured matte black plastic finish. It's a lot more sophisticated than the mishmash of glossy and matte materials the original system used. Similar to its predecessor, the Pro can be positioned vertically or horizontally to save space in your entertainment center.
Accented with a single chrome PS emblem in the center, this console is more interested in blending into your living room than drawing attention to itself. That's what the games and apps are for.
PS4 Pro: Controller
The PS4 Pro ships with Sony's DualShock 4 controller. Outside of a small LED strip built into the touchpad, there aren't that many glaring differences between the one that comes with the standard PS4 or PS4 Slim. The new controller gets rid of the shiny surface surrounding the D-Pad and face buttons. The D-Pad buttons are also now a matte gray instead of a shiny black. The device retains the raised texture along the back and sides, which deliver a firm, comfortable grip for those extra-long gaming sessions.
PS4 Pro: Specs
Sony didn't reinvent the wheel to enable high dynamic range or 4K, they just tweaked it a little. The Pro has the same AMD processor as the original PS4. The main difference is the PS4 Pro's CPU has been overclocked to 2.1-GHz, compared with the Slim and PS4's 1.6-GHz.
The Pro also features ramped-up memory bandwidth for more efficient performance. As far as the GPU, it still has eight cores, but incorporates many features from AMD's new Polaris architecture, raising the TFLOPs from 1.84 to 4.2, which doubles the Pro's power, compared with either the Slim or the PS4's power.
All of that work still isn't enough to defeat the Xbox One X though. Although the two consoles use near-identical components, the Xbox's 2.3GHz CPU and 6 TFLOP GPU crushes the PS4 Pro. Plus the Xbox's ability to play UHD Blu-ray discs means that power can be put to better use.
PS4 Pro: 4K and HDR
If you don't have a television with high dynamic range (HDR), I highly recommend you make the investment — regardless of the resolution. HDR boosts the brightness, delivering more range between lights and darks. Combined with the 4K resolution of the 65-inch Samsung KS9000 SUHD 4K TV I tested the console on, I found it hard to tear my eyes away whether I was gaming or just watching Netflix.
That meant when I watched Cottonmouth fire a rocket into the Genghis Connie's restaurant during "Luke Cage," the resulting red, orange, yellow and white plume of fire danced in the night sky as if revelling in its own beautiful destruction. The mother-of-pearl on the gangster's gun gleamed knowingly, and I could see every scratch and nick on the well-worn piece. Watching flowers bloom in the "Moving Art" documentaries was a fount of lavish pinks, golds, oranges, reds and purples so vivid, I felt as if I could pluck them from the screen.
So what's it like to actually game in 4K HDR? Right now, it's a mixed bag. Rise of the Tomb Raider looked great — Lara's brunette mane flows like gossamer as she runs and guns her way to victory. In-game textures were sharp and realistic, especially the waterfalls — which produced fine mists that created subtle rainbows in the lush green hidden valley.
However, newer titles such as Watch Dogs 2 could use a bit more love. Standing still, the textures look great — the wear and tear of age in a nearby brick wall was impressive, even the places where someone did a slapdash repair. I could even see every knitted detail of my hipsterish fox sweater. But when I started running, I noticed a sort of outline appearing around my legs as the system rendered the ground beneath me. And during driving missions, I noticed definite drops in frame rates.
I think these problems will be more or less be smoothed out when titles built with native support for 4K and HDR come to market. But for now, it's something to keep in mind.
While it's definitely cool that the Pro can game and stream Netflix and Hulu in 4K, I'm still puzzled why Sony made the decision not to support UHD Blu-ray — a feature that the Xbox One X has. When the PS3 debuted back in 2006, the ability to play Blu-ray discs was a defining feature that actually helped kill the rival HD-DVD format. Maybe Sony's looking toward streaming as the future of media, or it wanted to cut consumer costs down. Either way, it's a noticeable absence.
PS4 Pro: Multiplayer and online
With your PS4 Pro connected to the internet, you can open up the console's full potential. You can buy more games digitally through the PlayStation Store, saving them on your spacious 1TB hard drive, or with a PS Plus subscription, play online multiplayer, get two free games a month, cloud storage for your save files and other benefits.
There's also PS Now, the PlayStation game streaming service which, in return for a $10 monthly subscription, allows you to play a variety of games from the PS2, PS3 and PS4 libraries. Since it's a streaming service, you can also play these games on your PC too, and save your games online so you can swap between devices.
The subscriptions are expensive, 12 months of either costing $60, but it's unfortunately the average rate for these services, with Xbox offering more but for double the price each month, while Nintendo's Switch Online is far cheaper but offers fewer goodies.
PS4 Pro: VR
The PS4 Pro is compatible with PlayStation VR, but there isn't a huge advantage playing with the headset using the Pro console compared to the standard or Slim versions. Although the graphics and text seemed sharper as I blasted my way through hordes of enemy drones in Battle Zone, it wasn't a substantial leap from using PSVR on a standard PS4. Same goes for PlayStation VR Worlds, which, despite being a first-party title, didn't deliver much of a notable difference. The frame rates on both titles were smoother, but not enough for me to tell you to purchase the Pro instead of the PS4 to enjoy VR games at their best.
PS4 Pro: Game Library
From 2017, every PlayStation 4 game has been Pro-enabled. That means these titles, identifiable by a "PS4 Pro Enhanced" badge on the box, will play in 3840 x 2160 and HDR on 4K TVs and could get smoother frame rates on 1080p sets. Sony has patched several older fan favorites, like The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of Mordor, and Infamous: First Light to work in 4K too.
While PS5 titles will not look their best on the older console, some will still be available on the PS4 Pro, with a few offering transferrable save games should you decide to upgrade. It's worth checking which games those are in case you could afford to save money by playing a new release on an older platform.
However in terms of titles, you get the same mix of multi-platform and exclusive games that the PS4 gets. If you're looking to get into the PlayStation library of games, then the PS4 Pro is an expensive way to go about it, unless you have the hardware to make the most of the 4K enhancements.
PS4 Pro: Interface
The PS Pro's interface is identical to the PS4 and PS Slim. Amid a blue background with white and gray ribbons swirling around, you'll find tiles for the PlayStation Store, recently played titles, TV and Video, Library, What's New, PlayStation Video and PlayStation Music centrally located. Icons for PlayStation Plus, Notifications, Friends, Settings, Trophies and the time sit just above the tiles.
The Quick Menu and Share Menus have been overhauled to take up only a portion of the left side of the screen when launched, so you don't have to stop gaming. Overall, it's a slick, easy-to-use interface that most gamers can jump right into.
PS4 Pro: Sharing
PlayStation continues to be the king of sharing. It's still the only console that can stream to YouTube as well as Twitch. It's also the only system that can share screenshots and video to Facebook and Twitter. Xbox One owners can only tweet. Another PS exclusive is Share Play, which lets you cede control of your game for 60 minutes to a friend in another location. This can be a lifesaver when you get stuck on a difficult level. Thanks to the Pro's increased performance, Share Play will now stream in 1080p instead of 720p.
The console's Remote Play feature, which lets you stream your games to a PC or PS Vita, can also output in 1080p. Not to be outdone, Microsoft recently launched the ability to stream Xbox One games to a nearby Windows 10 PC.
PS4 Pro: Upgradability
The PS Pro ships with a 1TB hard drive, which should be fine for first time PS4 owners. However, if you're like me and already own a PS4, you might have already swapped out that smaller drive for something a bit more substantial. You'll retain this ability with the Pro as well, although it would have been nice if Sony finally allowed gamers to save their games to an external hard drive, like the Xbox One. But c'est la vie.
Similar to the PS4, you can swap out the included drive for either a 2.5-inch SATA hard drive or an SSD. Whatever you choose, just make sure it's 9.5 millimeters thick or less. Instead of sliding off the top portion of the PS4, access to the hard drive is relegated to the back of the system. After removing the plastic plate concealing the hard-drive caddy, it's a simple matter of removing a screw, removing the hard drive and installing the new one.
Not ready to swap out the hard drive? You can simply transfer your precious gaming data from your old PS4 to the Pro by connecting the two systems with an Ethernet cable and follow the prompts when the system asks if you want to swap data. Just be sure all your game saves and trophies are synced to PlayStation's cloud service — just in case.
PS4 Pro: Bottom Line
Sony has raised the bar for console gamers with a system that can reasonably compete with members of the PC master race. For $399, the PlayStation 4 Pro delivers bona fide 4K gaming with a gorgeous injection of color, thanks to HDR. And when you're not gaming, you can watch Netflix and Hulu in 4K. If you were on the fence about buying that 4K TV, the PS4 Pro makes a strong argument for making the leap.
However, if you're looking for a 4K entertainment hub, the Xbox One X might be your best bet. This also lets you play and stream content in 4K, but also supports UHD Blu-ray — a feature the PS Pro lacks. But in the PS4 Pro's defence, you do get cheaper online services and arguably a better library of exclusive games.
Overall, this PlayStation 4 Pro review shows that the console is the one to buy if you have a 4K HDR TV and want to take your console gaming to the next level, at least if you're content to ignore the newer kids on the block: the PS5 and the Xbox Series X.