First we had reports that Sony's new PS4 Pro suffers noticable FPS drops while playing in native 4K, but it looks like the system's 1080p modes aren't safe either. Specific games like Watch Dogs 2 are getting hit with performance hitches while played in the console's 1080p super-sampling mode.
Sony has assured that its new PlayStation 4 Pro will benefit 1080p HDTV users, and you won't need to own a fancy HDR-capable 4K Ultra High-Def TV in order to tap the system's new hardware. Developers typically enable a trio of graphics and performance modes including 1080p 60FPS, super-sampled 1080p graphics that improve visual fidelity, upscaled 4K 30FPS with checkerboard rendering techniques, and even "native" 4K gaming. But all of these modes need to be optimized properly, and are tied to the same resolution vs frame rate balancing act that plagued the PS4 and Xbox One era with dynamic resolution scaling.
For 1080p support, the Pro down-samples the 4K mode for all of these titles, offering enhanced image quality via super-sampling. However, the areas where performance is degraded remain impacted when running on a full HD display - meaning that there's nothing that Pro owners can do to get a smoother experience overall on these titles. In fact, the base PlayStation 4 will run these releases at a higher performance level overall at the expense of some image quality.
Read Also: PS4 Pro incompatible with some 4K TVs
According to Eurogamer, however, some games perform worse on the PS4 Pro than the regular PS4 in 1080p, especially with super-sampling enabled. Watch Dogs 2 is a prime example: Ubisoft has taken the upscaled 1800p resolution achieved with checkerboard rendering (which accounts for the game's upscaled 4K 30FPS mode), the game trades off frame rate performance for visual fidelity.
This means Watch Dogs 2 will effectively play better on the PS4 with its native 1080p 30FPS than the PS4 Pro, which uses super-sampling to boost visuals at the cost of FPS. This is basically the same thing we saw with the original 2013 console duo's dynamic scaling.
Read Also: Watch Dogs 2 first impressions
"For 1080p support, the Pro down-samples the 4K mode for all of these titles, offering enhanced image quality via super-sampling. However, the areas where performance is degraded remain impacted when running on a full HD display - meaning that there's nothing that Pro owners can do to get a smoother experience overall on these titles.
"In fact, the base PlayStation 4 will run these releases at a higher performance level overall at the expense of some image quality."
Remember that it's up to developers to decide how their games tap the PS4 Pro's new Polaris-grade GPU. Devs have the ultimate say which modes get added, so not every existing PS4 game will actually get upgraded (but all new PS4 games following the PS4 Pro's release will). So specific titles may get a 1080p 60FPS mode and a 4K upscaling mode with HDR, or maybe even just a 4K upscaling mode.
This upgrading of old PS4 games to harness PS4 Pro's power is called Forward Compatibility, and is distributed digitally via patches for existing games. New PS4 comes typically come with Forward Compatibility patches on-disc and in the download files.
The strange thing is that Sony says enabling 4K 30FPS, 1080p 60FPS, and 1080p super-sampling takes "almost no effort" for developers to add in...so why wouldn't a dev add in all the modes they can?
Bear in mind that we don't know everything about the system's various techniques and modes, with some devs using checkerboard rendering techniques to hit desired 4K visuals. Also remember that all games are different, so Sony's declaration that it's super easy to add these modes may not be completely true in a universal sense.
Some developers like Crystal Dynamics have incorporated a nice blend of modes for Rise of the Tomb Raider, adding in native 1080p 60FPS, an enhanced visuals mode for 1080p HDTV users that puts visuals first and frame rates second, and a 4K 30FPS upscaling mode.
But all in all, the PS4 Pro seems to have a major performance discrepancy with its cheaper, woefully-outdated sibling, especially with 1080p super-sampling and upscaled 4K enabled.
I can see why upscaled 4K could drop FPS a bit, but if 1080p super-sampling causes problems, devs need to be required to add in 1080p 60FPS. I mean, why else would you even play it in 1080p then? Might as well use the PS4 Pro's default mode
"The bottom line is that Pro users with 1080p screens may well get a boost to image quality via super-sampling, but reduced performance under any circumstances can only call into question the whole point of a more powerful console."
That being said, Eurogamer was quite impressed with the game overall. Despite the FPS drops and screen tearing, they noted the game looks great on a 4K TV even with upscaled 1800p.
Read Also: PS4 Pro max temps only hit 35C
PS4 Pro advantages in Watch Dogs 2
- Impressive draw distances
- Appealing graphics
- Steady 1800 30FPS outside of GPU-heavy sequences and scenes
Original PS4 Specs
- CPU: 8 Jaguar Cores at 1.6GHz
- GPU: AMD GCN, 18 CUs at 800MHz (equivalent to Radeon HD 7850)
- Memory: 8 GB GDDR5, 176 GB/s
PS4 Pro Specs
- CPU: 8 Jaguar Cores at 2.1GHz
- GPU: 4.20 TFLOPs Polaris GPU
- Memory: 8 GB GDDR5, 218 GB/s
In any case, it'll be interesting to see if more games suffer this same power discrepancy in the future. All in all it's rather surprising to see the gaming world's most dramatic mid-cycle refresh (and the most powerful console on the market to date) actually dip below its predecessor in performance.
The PS4 Pro represents a giant leap forward for consoles, but I posited that the system's outdated hardware would be its Achille's heel. The PS4 Pro uses an outdated Jaguar CPU--albeit overclocked--in order to maintain backward compatibility with all PS4 games. That's a smart move in terms of accessibility, as Sony can't afford to just flip a massive reset switch, but it might not have been a great move for performance.
Anyway, we'll just have to wait to see what happens. With time I'm confident devs can find new ways and techniques to optimize their games, and who knows, they might even roll out more Forward Compatibility patches for Watch Dogs 2 and enable a 1080p 60FPS mode in the future--along with any other games that take a FPS hit when super-sampled on 1080p screens.
The PS4 Pro is now available for $399, and check below for everything we know about the system so far.
PS4 Pro: What we know so far:
- Double GPU power over existing PS4 models (roughly 2x AMD Radeon HD 7850)
- AMD Polaris GPU support
- 16nm FinFET SoC likely
- CPU with boosted clock rate
- Higher memory bandwidth
- No 4K UHD Blu-ray player
- Launches November 10 for $399
- 4K resolution upscaling
- HDR support
- Higher frame rates, improved in-game performance across the board
- Plays all existing PS4 games, but not every PS4 game will leverage the new hardware for improved performance
- 1TB hard drive
Read more about Sony's PS4 Pro:
- Here's why Sony nixed PS4 Pro's 4K Blu-ray player
- PS4 Pro uses AMD Polaris GPU, sits below RX 470
- PS4 Pro FAQ: Sony explains the new $399 4K PS4 console
- 14 games have PS4 Pro support built-in so far
- Here's all the PS4 Pro upgraded games so far
- PS4 Pro won't play all PS4 games at 1080p 60FPS
- Mass Effect: Andromeda runs at 4K 30FPS on PS4 Pro
- Sony's new PS4 Pro rocks double GPU power, 4K and HDR
- Sony's high-end PS4 Pro costs $399, launches November 10
- Devs have final say on PS4 Pro's Forward Compatibility
- PS4 Pro specs: 4.2 TFLOPs, Jaguar CPU, 310W power draw
- Microsoft trolls PS4 Pro's lack of a 4K Blu-ray player
- Sony's PS4 Pro doesn't hit native 4K gaming