PS4 or PS4 Pro: what's the difference? Does it really matter which one you buy?
The answer, short and sweet, is that it absolutely matters. Sure, they both play the same games, use the same peripherals and are joined together by the PlayStation Store, but when it comes to how games look and feel, they're entirely different.
The PS4 Pro, the newer of the two consoles, is Sony's premium console. It plays games in a higher resolution (4K) and often in High Dynamic Range (HDR). It's a little more expensive, but that's because it uses slightly different hardware to get better results in terms of performance. It's not the PS5.
The PS4, well, you probably know what that is already. But, if you don't, it's Sony's fourth major home console, not counting remakes or the spectacularly short-lived PlayStation TV. It's a huge step up from the PS3, and plays a whole new set of games.
So what's the difference?
The biggest difference is resolution: Whereas the original PS4 is limited to 1080p, the new PS4 Pro can go as high as 2160p – or 4K, as it's more commonly known. The catch (because there's always a catch isn't there?) is that games will need to receive a PS4 Pro patch to enable these more detailed resolutions.
We only point that last part out because it's up to game developers themselves to issue those patches and ultimately utilize the more powerful hardware. No PS4 Pro mode, no PS4 Pro performance.
Thankfully, going forward, all new PS4 games will need to include a 'Pro Mode', which will allow them to make the most of the Pro's enhanced hardware. This guarantees that there'll be a lot of Pro content in the future and is slightly different than the approach Microsoft is taking that developers are free to opt out.
Now, it's worth noting that should you want to see what games in 4K HDR look like, you're going to need a 4K HDR TV - your old 1080p screen probably won't see a benefit outside of a few extra frames.
Should you buy a PS4 Pro and have a 4K TV on hand, however, you should prepare yourself – games look great on the PS4 Pro. Textures in Spider-Man on PS4 Pro are significantly clearer than they are on the regular PS4. Insomniac (the game's developer) has done a great job optimizing the game for PS4, but playing it on a Pro is the far superior experience.
PS4 vs PS4 Pro price comparison
The Pro offers some rather obvious advantages over the original PS4, but there are still plenty of reasons to go for the latter. Namely, price. Take a look at some of the best deals available for Sony's popular console.
Of course, if you decide that a PS4 Pro is more up your alley, you're in for a treat –especially if you have a new 4K HDR television to play it on. You'll find the lowest prices on Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro further down below.
- PS4 Pro is bigger, but not by much
- Sleeker finish on top of the Pro console
The most obvious difference between the original PS4 and the PS4 Pro is the addition of an extra layer onto the console.
While the original PS4 had two layers separated by a gap for the disc drive and two USB ports, the PS4 Pro has three layers.
Thankfully this hasn't lead to too much of an increase in its dimensions. The original PS4 measured 275.1 x 305.1 x 53.1mm, while the Pro measures 295 x 327 x 55mm. That means it's slightly bigger, it's 2cm deeper and 2cm wider, but interestingly it's more or less the same height.
It's also half a kilogram heavier, or just over a pound.
- PS4 Pro has an extra USB port
- PS4 Pro also has an optical audio port
- Original PS4 uses HDMI 1.4, Pro uses HDMI 2.0a
In terms of rear connectors, the PS4 Pro is nearly identical to the standard PS4, aside from the addition of an extra USB 3.0 port – which should be pretty useful if you're planning on hooking up a PlayStation VR, since the headset takes up a USB port when it's plugged in.
An extra USB port is an excellent inclusion, since the PSVR brings back the Move Controllers which each need a USB port to charge.
Unlike the new slimmer PS4, the PS4 Pro does include an optical audio output on its rear like the original launch PS4.
The final difference between the ports on the back of the console is the HDMI port. While the original PS4 had an HDMI 1.4 port, the PS4 Pro has an HDMI 2.0 port to allow it to output at 4K resolutions (more on that later).
Important to note is that you don't need to upgrade your HDMI cable to take advantage of 4K, despite what Sony is claiming on its official FAQ. Any HDMI cable that can handle 1080p can do 4K just fine.
- Both systems have Blu-ray drives
- Neither are capable of 4K Blu-ray playback
This is a particularly sore spot for Sony's new system. Despite speculation to the contrary, the PS4 Pro does not include an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. It can play Full HD 1080p Blu-ray discs just the same as the original PS4.
Sony's decision to omit a Ultra-HD Blu-ray drive from the system is puzzling, considering that Blu-ray support was one of the major boons of the PS3. Now, Sony might be saving that for another console down the road, however, considering that Microsoft's Xbox One S already has the high-end disc drive, it would've benefitted Sony to launch the Pro with one as well.
- PS4 Pro has better GPU performance (4.2 TFLOP vs 1.84)
- PS4 Pro has 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna and Bluetooth 4.0
- PS4 Pro has an additional 1GB of DDR3 RAM
The internals are where we see our first major difference from the original PS4.
Both consoles share an AMD Jaguar x86-64 8-core CPU, which has seen a 30% boost in clock-speed from 1.6GHz to 2.1GHz.
Meanwhile the GPU has seen a much bigger performance increase. Its power has been doubled, and its clock-speed has been boosted from 800MHz to 911MHz.
In total the GPU has jumped from 1.84 TFLOP in the launch PS4 to 4.2 TFLOP in the Pro. This bump is in order to accommodate the new 4K functionality.
The Wi-Fi of the Pro has also seen an upgrade to include 802.11ac and a Bluetooth bump to v2.1 to v4.0. Both of these upgrades were also seen in the new slim PS4.
The Pro also has an additional 1GB of DDR3 RAM, which will be used for non-gaming apps to free up the faster GDDR5 RAM for gaming performance.
4K TV Performance
- PS4 Pro supports 4K/HDR
- Original PS4 just supports HDR
- Developers decide how to use the extra power
This is the big one – the main reason it's worth making the jump from the original hardware to the PS4 Pro. The PS4 Pro supports 4K output, as opposed to the standard PS4's Full HD 1080p resolution.
When it comes to streaming services such as Netflix this means that the console will be able to play movies and TV shows in their maximum resolution, but unfortunately the lack of an Ultra HD Blu-ray drive means that the console will not be able to play physical 4K media.
Games are slightly more complicated because it will be up to developers to decide how they want to use the PS4 Pro's extra muscle, though we're seeing it bear more fruit the longer the jacked-up console is on the market.
In our review of God of War, we found the PS4 Pro version came with two separate graphics modes: one which favors resolution, displaying the game at checkerboard 2160p (or 4K), and another which favors performance, lowering the resolution to 1080p but displaying at a framerate that's closer to 60fps (but never actually locking at it).
The one you choose will obviously come down to your personal preference. Camera movement is much, much smoother in performance mode, though the drop in visual detail is noticeable — especially in game, where the level of detail seen at 4K is so high.
Of course, HDR is also available for those with TVs that support the format, and we can say that it definitely adds to the experience, particularly when it comes to lighting and shadows.
Other games such as Days Gone are upscaled to achieve a 4K output, but reports indicate that the upscaling process used is more clever than simply stretching the image over a larger number of pixels. But other games such as Deus Ex: Mankind Divided are said to upscale much less successfully.
The takeaway seems to be that achieving good 4K performance will need developers to be clever about the balance they strike between native rendering resolution and the upscaling technologies used.
In summary: the PS4 Pro is not powerful enough to run a game at 4K with all the graphical bells and whistles turned on, but with some compromises the results can be reportedly impressive.
Although HDR support is new with the PS4 Pro, this same functionality is set to come to launch PS4s via a firmware update. Check out our full guide to HDR for exactly what that means for how your games will look.
In terms of loading times, the PS4 Pro offers a small improvement over the stock PS4, but if you're looking for a boost in loading times, then you'll see more of an improvement if you upgrade your launch PS4 with an SSD.
1080p TV Performance
- Some games play at higher framerates on PS4 Pro
Although the PS4 Pro is meant mainly as an accompaniment to 4K televisions, the console will also give a graphical boost if you're playing on a 1080p screen.
But while some of these enhancements are intentional, such as using supersampling to enhance the amount of detail in a given scene, others are not.
The Last Guardian, the much-delayed game from Team Ico, finally launched with numerous framerate issues that were present on both the PS4 at 1080p, and the PS4 Pro at 4K.
But a performance analysis revealed that these issues almost completely disappear if you force the game to run in 1080p mode on a PS4 Pro by changing the system settings.
We don't think this is an intentional feature of the Pro, but if this trend continues in the future it might make the Pro a much more necessary upgrade for 1080p TV owners.
- Frame-rate increases can now also be seen in games that haven't received a Pro patch.
Introduced in PS4 firmware 4.50, 'boost mode' is a feature that allows PS4 games that haven't received a PS4 Pro patch to receive a performance boost when played on the new console. While the exact improvements aren't fully understood, a Digital Foundry analysis has unearthed performance boosts of as much as 38%.
Titles tested included Assassin's Creed: Unity, Battlefield 4, and Project Cars, all of which saw substantial performance increases when running on the Pro, despite not having a Pro patch available.
Check out the video below for a more in-depth outline of the benefits.
PlayStation VR performance
- PS4 Pro offers improved PSVR experience
- ...but it's not a major difference
Although prior to the PlayStation VR's release there were rumors circulating that the headset's performance on launch consoles was going to be 'terrible', now that the hardware is out the distinction appears to be much more subtle.
In fact a recent analysis by Digital Foundry suggests that in some games the difference between PS4 and the PS4 Pro can be a struggle to find.
Other games appear sharper on the Pro because of how the developers have enabled super-sampling techniques, effectively rendering games at a higher resolution in order to enhance detail levels.
In Robinson: The Journey for example, details are much crisper, and textures benefit from a higher level of texture filtering.
The bottom line with the PlayStation VR is that the differences between the two consoles are too slight to conclusively recommend the Pro on the basis of VR performance alone.
If this changes in the future as developers get better acquainted with the PS4 Pro then this may change, and we'll update our thoughts accordingly.
Conclusion: A substantial upgrade short of a generational leap
The PS4 Pro is undoubtedly a substantial step up from the PS4, but 'true' 4K gaming is difficult for it to achieve without compromise.
The biggest physical difference between it and the standard PS4 visually is the addition of an extra layer, but the internals have also been beefed up considerably. The GPU is a great deal faster, and although the CPU is architecturally similar it's been clocked at a faster speed.
So should you make the upgrade from your existing PS4? The answer largely depends on if you have a 4K TV or plan on upgrading to one. If you are, then the PS4 Pro will present numerous visual benefits. If you aren't, well, there's likely isn't anything on the PS4 Pro that will be worth the extra money, at least not yet.
- Check out the competition in our Xbox One X review