PlayStation Meeting 2016: Sony unveils PlayStation Pro and Slim; brings 4K gaming to the masses

In a brief press conference (dubbed the “PlayStation Meeting 2016”), Sony unveiled a couple of consoles, the PlayStation Slim and PlayStation Pro.

In a brief press conference (dubbed the “PlayStation Meeting 2016”), Sony unveiled a couple of consoles, the PlayStation Slim and PlayStation Pro.

First up was the updated version of the existing PlayStation 4; a slimmer, more power efficient version of the console priced at US$299.99. The engineers at Sony have managed to reduce its weight by 16 percent and power consumption by nearly a third. The console will be available in North America and presumably, Europe and Japan starting 15 September. The “slim” version of the PS4 is targeted at potential new customers who don’t own a 4K or HDR capable display, offering the same PlayStation 4 experience as the current model. Looking for a new console or switching from an Xbox One? This is the SKU to buy.

The main event followed next, with the reveal of the PlayStation 4 Pro. Mark Cerny, lead architect of the PS4 Pro revealed that the new console will feature HDR (high dynamic range) and 4K support. The PS4 Pro will offer this quite-significant boost in visual quality by utilizing a combination of its hardware via AMD’s Polaris GPU as well as software rendering. The console will release on 10 November this year at a $399.99 (around Rs 27,000) price point.

Amidst the hardware reveals, Sony showed off a combination of first and third party games which were able to leverage the PS4’s shiny new internals. Of course, unless you were watching the stream on a 4K/HDR capable display, it would have been difficult to meaningfully understand the benefits of the PS4 Pro.

New footage emerged from Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn, and more notably Bioware’s Mass Effect Andromeda running on a PS4 Pro at 4K. The linked videos below are 4K, so be sure to watch them on a capable display if you have access to one.

While third party developers are likely to relish the prospect of having more powerful hardware to leverage, it’s going to be Sony’s own studios which will get the most out of it. Games such as Days Gone, Horizon Zero Dawn, Sony’s new Spider-Man title, and VR game Farpoint will support 4K/HDR at launch.  The third party list includes Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs 2 and For Honor, Square’s Final Fantasy XV and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Rise of the Tomb Raider (one of the most impressive 4K games on PC), Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare, Mass Effect Andromeda, FIFA 17 and DICE’s Battlefield 1 among others.

In addition to games, the PS4 Pro will also have YouTube and Netflix apps which are 4K capable. Oddly enough, however, the new console will not support 4K Blu-ray playback (Sony’s own format), while its main competitor the Xbox One S will do so at launch.

 PlayStation Meeting 2016: Sony unveils PlayStation Pro and Slim; brings 4K gaming to the masses

The PS4 Slim. Image: Sony

But does the upgrade make sense? The “slim” PS4 isn’t a tough sell — it’s reasonably priced, has a great back catalogue of games and is compact enough to fit into the smallest of AV units. The PS4 Pro, however, is arguably harder to market as both an upgrade or a new investment. Let’s go over a few of the reasons for this. First, there’s a substantial requirement in terms of accompanying hardware. In addition to the $400/Rs.40,000+ for the console, a midrange 4K TV with HDR capability will cost you something in the range of Rs.75,000 to 80,000. Second, it is very difficult to make consumers understand the benefits of both 4K and HDR without a physical demo — online videos and still images simply will not do justice to the actual experience itself. It's like trying to audition headphones on YouTube. Third, the actual disparity in terms of visual quality and frame rates are not a cent percent clear at this point, and will probably require research on a game-by-game basis on the part of the consumer before a purchase decision is made.

It’s also strange that consoles are treading into PC territory. The whole point of owning a gaming console is economical simplicity; paying $400 and receiving a standardized experience without having to micromanage graphics settings. With different sets of hardware in the same generation, new challenges in terms of creating homogenous gameplay experiences will emerge. Will the benefits of superior hardware translate into multiplayer experiences, with PS4 Pro owners seeing superior/more consistent frame rates while their counterparts do not?

PS4 Pro

The PS4 Pro. Image: Sony.

Overall, this was a good answer to Microsoft’s Xbox One S and Scorpio announcements earlier this year (even if the lack of 4K Blu-ray support is sort of embarrassing). Plus, the new hardware in the PS4 Pro is going to greatly synergise with Sony’s big push for virtual reality. PlayStation VR games are going to greatly benefit from the additional juice which the PS4 Pro will provide and the content is going to be better for it. Of course, this also means paying something in excess of Rs.1,40,000 to actually get the most out of all the individual pieces of hardware.

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