Sony PlayStation 4 Pro tricks you into thinking it's running at 4K; but that's not necessarily a bad thing

Rendering at 4K requires rendering about at least 4 times the maximum resolution of the Sony PlayStation 4. For a console that’s "only" twice as powerful as the PS4, that’s a very tall order.


Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro announcement on 7 September was a pivotal moment in gaming history. Sadly, the event ended up being scheduled just after the Apple iPhone 7 announcement and much of the hype around the console was brushed under the carpet.

Now that the stardust from Apple’s event has settled, let’s take a closer look at the brand new PS4 Pro.

For starters, the console’s hardware is at least as twice as powerful as that of the older, PS4 (approximately 4.2 TFLOPS was 1.84 TFLOPS). The real pull of the PS4 Pro is the purported support for 4K gaming. This assertion has us pricking up our ears.

As we all know, today’s PCs with their Rs 60,000 graphics cards already struggle to run games at 4K. Does Sony really expect us to believe that a $400 (Rs 26,000) console can do the same?

As it turns out, Sony does expect us to believe that, but there’s a very big catch. Rendering at 4K requires rendering about at least 4 times the maximum resolution of the PS4. For a console that’s "only" twice as powerful as the PS4, that’s a very tall order.

Instead of releasing a more expensive, 8 TFLOP console, Sony uses technological trickery and the limitations of the human eye to their advantage. You just need enough resolution for your eye to perceive a sharp image; that resolution need actually be 8.29 million individual pixels as 4K UHD would expect.

The PS4 Pro effectively renders frames with around 4 million pixels, double that of the PS4, but half of that required for 4K. These 4 million pixels are rendered in a checkerboard pattern, with half the pixels having information and the others remaining blank.

Complicated algorithms, temporal anti-aliasing in this case, fill in these blanks.

In other words, the PlayStation 4 Pro is rendering images at 2K and scaling them up to 4K, but more intelligently than regular scaling algorithms.

A simple analogy would be CD audio vs MP3. While CD audio is uncompressed and holds a lot more information, mp3 strips out information that the human ear cannot perceive. The result is a file that’s more compact. As long as a user can’t tell the difference, the trade-off is worth it. When MP3 wasn't enough, we tried AAC and OGG. In either case, a more efficient algorithm improved our perception of the audio quality.

The same applies for the PS4 Pro. Obviously, we didn’t get a chance to test out the PS4 Pro for ourselves just yet, but reports from those who have suggest that Sony’s hit upon the right formula.

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