Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro launches next month, and there’s still a whole lot we don’t know about how this new device will affect the quality of games and what it means for the cadence of the console industry as we know it today. We’re still unsure of exactly how game developers will make use of it, how it will aid Sony’s recently released virtual reality headset, and whether the Pro’s existence will undermine in any way the sizable audience of the current PS4.
To assuage some fears and shed some light, Sony’s chief PlayStation architect Mark Cerny sat down with The Verge this week to offer a rundown of what’s going on inside the Pro and what we can expect to change and stay the same when it hits the market. Cerny, who's worked on everything from Crash Bandicoot and the first Uncharted to Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank, is a game industry veteran with some considerable hardware experience. Here’s what he had to say about the PS4 Pro’s specs and capabilities, as well as what mysteries and open questions remain.
The PS4 Pro is 2.28 times more powerful than its predecessor, but not everything will run in native 4K
Instead of using an entirely new GPU, Cerny said the PS4 Pro is using a "double-sized one." In effect, the new console has a second, identical GPU configured next to the original, with a 14 percent boost in frequency to 911MHz, which more than doubles the processing power of the Pro. While the standard PS4 produces 1.8 teraflops, the PS4 Pro achieves 4.2 teraflops. The console uses the same eight Jaguar CPU cores, but clocked at a higher speed. It also makes use of its system memory in a more efficient fashion, using a higher bandwidth on the 8GB of GDDR5 memory to squeeze out an additional 512MB for game developers to make use of. An additional 1GB of convention DRAM was put in the Pro to help it switch applications, so software like Netflix will be stored on the DRAM when open but not in use.
This is how the device can achieve native 4K and, in some cases, what Cerny said are results "extremely close to 4K." For select software, including games like adventure title Horizon Zero Dawn and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, the PS4 Pro will use a crafty technique called checkerboard rendering to achieve 2160p resolution. Checkboard rendering changes the formation of pixels to achieve higher-fidelity graphics.
For other titles, like Watch Dogs 2 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, the PS4 Pro will render in 1800p using similar techniques. (The new Deus Ex can also achieve higher resolution depending on the scenario being rendered onscreen.) Developers can also patch existing games to run in upscaled 1080p, meaning the image will be a shrunken-down version of a 4K one.
Standard PS4 games will play just the same unless devs patch them
For the more than 700 or so existing PS4 games, Cerny said the goal was to ensure those titles played smoothly no matter what. That’s why the Pro incorporates an identical GPU. Because the new console has "the old GPU next to a mirror version of itself," Sony can support existing games with a simple trick: "We just turn off the second GPU," he said. Developers can patch these titles to boost graphics and performance in very subtle ways. But unless you have a 4K television, the difference will not be substantial.
Sony says it doesn’t want games released solely for the PS4 Pro
When asked whether Sony would ever let a game run exclusively on the PS4 Pro, Cerny was blunt. "We’re putting a very high premium on not splitting the user base in that fashion," he said. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that, two or even three years down the line, a game comes out that relies so heavily on the hardware improvements of the Pro that it becomes unplayable on the standard PS4. Cerny wouldn’t really speak much to that scenario, saying that Sony is asking developers to take advantage of the new console without leaving older hardware behind.
The PS4 Pro won’t offer an immediate benefit to PlayStation VR
The launch of the PS4 Pro is happening just one month after the launch of Sony’s PSVR headset. That’s led many to wonder whether the company’s decision to release its mid-generation console refresh many months before Microsoft’s Project Scorpio is because it wants the more powerful hardware for VR.
"We're just asking them [developers] to take advantage."
Cerny said that’s not exactly the case. There’s no direct correlation between PSVR and the PS4 Pro. In fact, owning the new console doesn't mean you'll see any immediate benefits to the VR experience unless developers decide to take advantage of the graphical and memory boost post-launch. "We’re just asking for them to take advantage," Cerny said. "We’d like for them [developers] to take a look at what the hardware can do and do something with it." Some possibilities include boosting pixel counts for smoother images in VR or increasing the headset’s refresh rate.
There won’t be a 2TB option for the foreseeable future
One of the benefits of the PS4 Pro is a larger hard drive. The new console will ship with 1TB of storage, and the drive will remain user-replaceable in the event you want to put in a larger HDD or swap in a faster SSD. As to whether Sony would be offering a 2TB model for those uninterested in doing the work themselves, Cerny was tight-lipped. He did say that Pro-ready games would not be larger in size than standard PS4 games.
There won’t be a PS4 Pro Elite controller
Despite its new console seemingly targeting the serious gamer, Cerny made the point that Sony is not interested in selling an expensive gamepad like the Xbox One Elite controller. "We want to keep PlayStation 4 as a single unified audience," he said. "We need to be quite careful to the enhancements we add to the controller. But it’s not the sort of thing that’s going to create have’s and have nots." The new Dualshock 4 controller, bundled with both the PS4 Slim and the Pro, is just a slightly different model with an extended light bar.
Sony left out a 4K Blu-ray player because it thinks streaming is the future
Cerny wouldn’t speak much to Sony’s controversial decision to leave out a 4K Blu-ray player in the PS4 Pro, which means it won’t be to play movies on discs as the Xbox One S can. Citing Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Andrew House, Cerny said the future is in services like Netflix. "What we’re seeing is the consumer behavior is streaming," he said. "Having 4K streaming with PS4 Pro is very natural." Cerny would not elaborate as to what benefits removing the disc functionality provides.
How you’ll know you’re buying a PS4 Pro-ready game
Given that a number of upcoming and existing titles will be Pro-ready when the console launches next month, it’s going to be interesting to see how this is communicated to consumers. Sony will have to figure out a way to indicate when a game is playing at a certain resolution while others won’t be able to achieve that benchmark. Cerny says that boxes bought in stores and information on digital download pages will reflect a game’s Pro support, but it’s unclear exactly what that’s going to look like.