PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio not Upgrading Consoles as Expected [UPDATE]

[UPDATE: 2017-03-20] PS4 Pro adds "Boost Mode" for older PS4 games

The PlayStation 4 Pro launched with clear benefits for people who owned 4K HDR televisions. For those without a 4K HDR TV, some games still performed better because of Pro developer patches. While titles like Titanfall 2 and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided performed better with Pro patches, the hardware didn’t improve all games. Patch 4.50 for the PS4 Pro adds a “Boost Mode,” which aims to improve performance for all games in the PS4 library.

The Pro’s small hardware upgrade also means a small upgrade in performance. While we won’t see games jump from 30 frames per second (FPS) to 60FPS, we will see steadier, smoother games. Although the Boost Mode tries to take advantage of the CPU and GPU, the PlayStation Blog does not guarantee improvement. Not all titles will work with the Boost Mode.

Digital Foundry then ran tests using the Boost Mode, and saw notable improvement in many games. Dark Souls 2 often ran below 60FPS, but the PS4 Pro smooths performance and holds a steady 60FPS. Their tests saw smaller improvements in games like Batman: Arkham Knight. The game ran at 30FPS throughout, except from some of its Batmobile driving scenes. The Pro’s Boost Mode cleans up any performance drops, keeping the framerate steady.

Although I stand by my recommendation to own a 4K HDR TV to warrant an upgrade, some exceptions complicate things. DICE’s Frostbite engine – the tools used to make Battlefield 1 and FIFA – see huge improvements on the PS4 Pro. Battlefield 1 often dips below 60FPS in multiplayer when explosions and effects fill the screen. The Pro withstands Battlefield’s busier moments, which makes the PS4 Pro the best console hardware to play its multiplayer. The performance bump gives a clear edge for PS4 Pro owners, even allowing them to increase of their field-of-view (FOV).

The PS4 Pro launched in an awkward state with its limited appeal. After the Boost Mode update and Battlefield 1’s improved performance, the Pro makes a lot more sense for existing PS4 owners. Boost Mode’s minimal - yet not insignificant – improvement prevents the PS4 Pro from becoming an absolute, definitive upgrade. The small bump doesn’t offer enough just yet, so we’ll have to see what the Xbox Scorpio does for the console upgrade market.  

 

[ORIGINAL FEATURE: Published 2016-09-17]

Once every week I push my red lawn mower around my yard. If I owned a riding lawn mower maybe I would use it, but it wouldn’t help. No matter what I use, the sun beams down and the trees block the way. But a farmer with a huge yard rides off into the sun, trimming the grass faster than any push mower available.

Like a riding mower, the PS4 Pro targets a very specific buyer. The hardware touts improved visuals on 4K televisions and allows for people to play in virtual reality (VR). But the rest of us, the ones sweating over our grass patches, wonder if the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio improves how we play.

Sony hits the market ahead of Microsoft with their PS4 Pro this November. The Pro aims for 4K High Dynamic Range (HDR) gaming and VR compatibility. Although a firmware update turns every PS4 into an HDR ready console, you need a compatible TV to see the brighter colours of HDR. The new console requires a lot of investment from buyers beyond the simple hardware purchase. And despite the Pro running on a GPU two times more powerful than a PS4, the Pro does not upgrade a game’s framerate or fidelity.

With the Xbox Scorpio, Microsoft too outlined the benefits for 4K HDR TV owners. Nowhere during their E3 conference reveal or during interviews would Microsoft commit to the Scorpio as an Xbox One upgrade. As of now, unlike a gaming PC, a Scorpio won’t improve visual fidelity or framerates for Xbox One games. It won’t offer any exclusive games either.

Think of the Pro and Scorpio as different versions of existing consoles, not successors. The Scorpio and Pro promise compatibility between accessories, games and multiplayer – a shared ecosystem. We won’t see game exclusives, yet the Scorpio’s monstrous GPU gives Microsoft the opportunity to change that restriction. If they readjust the Scorpio as newer console – like upgrading your gaming PC – then maybe its appeal grows beyond VR and 4K.

The Pro’s approaching release leaves no time for Sony to sell us a console everyone can use. Without a VR headset or a 4K HDR television, the Pro doesn’t change how we play PS4 games. When we picture a new version of a console, we expect an upgrade. If framerate, graphics and performance stays the same, then no one will care.

For the next year Microsoft has time. The Scorpio’s infancy and ambiguous reveal gives them the opportunity to show us why everyone needs a Scorpio. If it turns into a PC-gaming-like experience with compatibility between consoles, then people understand that concept.

As much as I want to, buying a riding mower won’t improve how long it takes to mow my backyard. And as much as I want a new console, a PS4 Pro or Xbox Scorpio won’t change how I play games. Both need something I just don’t have. As this generation of consoles continue, the more apparent the need for stronger hardware becomes. So you can buy a riding mower, but a faster, stronger push mower sounds a lot more useful.