In announcing their two new Playstation 4 models on September 7, Sony displayed stunning ignorance of one the fundamental laws of technology public relations: Do not announce your new products on the same day Apple introduces a new iPhone. There's only so much room in the tech press for a given day, and new iPhones will win every time.
Despite that, the two new consoles Sony unveiled are indeed newsworthy and deserving of your attention.
First up is the new Playstation Pro, perhaps better known by its rumored name, Neo. With the Pro, Sony has taken the standard PS4 and given it a solid boost in performance. The new machine boasts 4K resolution and full HDR output, to accompany the latest generation of HDTV units.
In terms of raw performance, the new Pro is estimated to be about twice as powerful as the standard PS4. Under the hood is a custom 8-core AMD CPU and 8GB of RAM. Most impressive is the new GPU, another custom AMD chip capable of 8 TFLOPS worth of power, up from the original 1.84 TFLOPS in the original PS4.
What does that mean? In addition to pushing out those 4K HDR images, the new GPU is simply much more powerful. Character models will be sharper, particle effects will be more impressive, lighting will be more realistic, and so on.
If you have a 4K display boot up the big screen and enjoy some pre-alpha 4K footage from the upcoming Mass Effect: Andromeda, captured from the new PS4 Pro:
Sony was quick to point out that the Pro will run all existing and future PS4 games. Developers will not be allowed to create a “PS4 Pro Only” title. All games must run on existing PS4 hardware, but players with a Pro model will get the benefit of that more-powerful system and enjoy the enhanced resolution and other special effects.
In a somewhat surprising and controversial move, the PS4 Pro will not play 4K Blu-Ray discs. Sony has announced that they’ll support 4K output from streaming services, but won’t play 4K discs. Some analysts have called this move a strong showing of support for streaming video over physical media, while others are dismayed at the lack of support for physical media. This omission also gave Microsoft an easy opening for a punch, as their revamped Xbox One will play 4K discs. How this will all play out remains to be seen.
The PS4 Pro will go on sale in November, retailing for $399.
The other piece of news is the hardware makeover of the base PS4 model, now called the PS4 Slim. Due to a series of leaks, including one we published here, the reveal was not a huge surprise. Sony has managed to cut the power consumption by about one-third, though, an appreciated economic and ecological boost. The only item removed is the optical audio output jack, but with most systems connected solely through HDMI, Sony has gambled that it’s not a big risk. The rest of the system specs remain unchanged.
The Dualshock 4 controller has gotten a minor makeover, shifting to a grayer color and a more rubbery, grippy texture. There’s also a small slit at the top of the central touchpad, allowing color from the lightbar to shine through. Whether or not that’s a benefit is up to you.
If you’ve already got a PS4 system, there’s no need to rush out and buy a Slim model. They’re on sale immediately, selling for $299.
This is shaping up to be a curious generation of gaming consoles, with both major companies releasing more-powerful yet fully compatible versions of their machines. It’s about three years into the eighth generation of home consoles, the seventh having been the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. Both of those consoles received multiple physical redesigns, but no processing power changes. Now in the eighth generation, we’re seeing this unprecedented “generation 8.5” series of machines. It’s likely we’ll see entirely new systems in a few years, but this mid-generation boost in performance is likely to keep gamers happy until generation nine arrives.