I have sunk a couple thousand dollars into a top-of-the-line gaming PC. After a week with the PS4 Pro, I’m beginning to regret it.
PC gaming has secured a monopoly on high-end visuals by catering to a subset of gamers willing to spend limitless amounts of time and money in pursuit of better frame rates, higher video resolution, and supplemental graphical effects. Meanwhile, console manufacturers have focused on selling reliable hardware at a reasonable cost. At launch, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were competent gaming machines, albeit graphically inferior to the mid-level gaming PCs of the time.
The PS4 Pro, released this month, marks a turning point. While the console still isn’t as powerful as a current high-end gaming PC, it nonetheless manages to offer many of the same benefits. A bundle of PS4 games now feature HDR, increased frame rates, visual flourishes, and even 4K resolution — a stretch for PCs even a couple years old.
Though the PS4 Pro doesn’t win in raw horsepower, it benefits significantly from three strategic choices:
While PC games must be designed with hundreds of components being assembled into nearly infinite configurations, the PS4 Pro is a singular and holistic machine that game creators can meticulously optimize.
Sony maintains a software-certification process that guarantees each game meets a certain qualitative threshold. Which is to say, unlike a PC game you can expect a PS4 Pro to work without any tinkering.
The PS4 Pro costs $399. NVIDIA’s newly released GTX 1060, the entry-level edition of its latest line of graphics cards, costs $199, and that doesn’t include the CPU, memory, motherboard, case, mouse, keyboard, and everything else you’ll need to get a machine running — including the time and knowhow to build and tweak a PC.
I don’t regret owning a PC in general. PC gaming is still the best way to play thousands of independent games that don’t make it to consoles, and with a top-of-the-line monitor and the most powerful graphics card, PC gaming is still a glimpse into the future. In the past, high-end PC gaming felt like playing the games of tomorrow today. Now my PC feels like the slightly better and significantly more expensive option.
Next year, Microsoft will release its own iterative upgrade to the Xbox One. Called Project Scorpio, the company has hinted that regular updates and cloud storage will allow customers to buy graphical upgrades with greater regularity than the six-year console-cycles of the past. I suspect if Sony and Microsoft release consoles at the biannual clip of graphics card manufacturers, and can offer price parity with a mid- to high-range card, they might actually get dedicated customers to update with a reliable frequency.
This looks like a win-win for both console makers, in that you can imagine high-spending consumers alternating upgrade cycles between Xbox and Playstation. But more importantly, the shift may be a threat to PC gaming. Many game analysts have claimed consoles are becoming more like PCs, and that’s true. But the PS4 Pro shows that Sony and presumably Microsoft won’t abandon the console’s big advantages: price, ease, and reliability.
PC gaming may lose its edge in visual fidelity, but it has one key benefit still above PS4 Pro and consoles at large: an open marketplace that welcomes creativity. As Sony and Microsoft master the hardware, expect this market problem to be the setting of their next big battle.