Well that was a bit odd wasn’t it? Over a day after Sony’s most recent “Playstation Meeting” and I’m still not entirely sure what happened there. Sure, we learnt all about the PS4 Pro (the console formerly know as Neo) along with confirmation, finally, of a revised and slimmer base model but it was delivered in such a dull and businesslike manner that it seemed even Sony were not particularly excited. But though Andrew House and the team ran through the slides like the had a dinner to get to, what they showed was still pretty impressive.
Having previously set out I was hoping for from the the event, I felt it largely delivered – telling us more than I’d expected in some respects, less in others and skipping things like PS+ price rises entirely (and to be honest, I can’t really blame them for that). So without further ado, here are my main wins, losses and the one big question that I took out of Wednesday’s event.
Biggest Winners – Current PS4 Owners
Strange as it may be for an event launching a new, more powerful machine – the biggest news for me was that even existing PS4s will be HDR capable after the upcoming software update. As the owner of a pretty good HDR* capable 4K TV, it’s high dynamic range that impresses me more and, I believe, will have a greater impact on my gaming pleasure. Enabling this feature for my existing PS4, and millions like it, is not something I’d expected or actually thought possible and I can’t wait to see it in action. If it’s well supported and Sony have managed to get “true” HDR (I understand they are talking about HDR10) working on on older style HDMI output then I’d be a very happy gamer indeed. And if Microsoft can follow suit for my day one Xbox One then even better!
*that’s Dolby Vision and HDR10, for any format fans out there
But I also thought that Sony did a good job of convincing me that no PS4 owner would get left behind by the launch of the PS4 Pro. It must have been a tricky balancing act, hype the new machine and the difference that it can deliver – while reassuring owners of the base model (old or new) that they will continue to get great experience. And, while I’ll need to get used to checking the disclaimers on preview footage and can already see myself looking jealously at the PS4 Pro, I think they managed to achieve it. Maybe over time the experience will differ enough for the base model to feel like an afterthought – maybe, for example, we’ll see unoptimised code targetting the PS4 Pro and then somehow “making do” on the lower spec. Maybe fans of online gaming should be nervous about the FAQ when it says PS4 Pro players should “generally” not have an advantage. And if you are thinking about getting PSVR, well … let’s come back to that.
Other notable wins
- PS4 Pro is real and clearly powerful – It already has a great library and higher resolutions, more detail, or smoother gameplay would be welcome.
- ..and it’s cheaper and coming sooner than I’d expected – although interesting that the date and specs from May were bang on.
- We saw footage and demos – Although I love my teraflops and slide presentations it was good to see things in action – even if we had to wait for 4k videos and still have to rely on the reaction in the room and aftershow for HDR. It’s going to be a marketing challenge for sure.
- Console gaming – I’m firmly in the pro camp for this kind of mid-generation “soft upgrade” and Sony explained it well. We’ll not look back.
Biggest Loser – the new, base model PS4
With the leaks and shambolic denials, the new PS4 base model (look I’m just going to call it PS4 Slim) was never going to set this event alight, but it’s pretty impressive to still be a disappointment. Unlike the Xbox One S, there is literally no reason for existing owners to upgrade to the new model – unless then really need a few inches more space or are particularly fond on the new design of course. And with the PS4 Pro coming in so relatively cheap (just £90 more) and so soon (less than 2 months later), it’s also hard to see who will choose to buy it over the Pro model. Maybe I’m missing something here but isn’t it essentially pointless? Let me know in the comments or I guess we’ll see when it launches.
Other notable losses
- Generational leaps – The PS4 Pro isn’t a huge step change but was never meant to be. Like with mobile phones, upgrading is now a choice.
- Ultra HD Blu-ray – The lack of UHD Blu-ray on PS4 Pro is a big shock, especially given Sony’s stake in the format. It’s odd and a big gamble.
- “The truth” – Annoying more than scandal, but Sony are being pretty flexible with the definition of “4k”. If consumers feel misled it will backfire.
…and my biggest question mark – Playstation VR
So those are the big wins and losses that I took from the Playstation Meeting, but it also left me with a number of questions – and they all revolved around PSVR.
Now, although it’s not for here, I should start off by saying that I have some general reservations about VR taking off anytime soon. The technology looks great (although I’m probably more excited by Hololens and Magic Leap) but I have doubts whether enough people are prepared to set aside the money, power and space needed to deliver a good experience. As a film lover who owned Sony’s (non-VR) HMZ-T2 headset I loved the capabilities but never got comfortable with the wires, discomfort or feeling of isolation. But if anything will take VR gaming mainstream it will be the relatively convenience and cost of Playstation VR.
However, the concern I have is that the PS4 just doesn’t appear powerful enough to make Playstation VR a viable or enjoyable experience once the initial excitement wears off. It was something I felt before the Playstation meeting and something I feel more strongly after it. Don’t agree with me? Then go back and check out Wednesday’s presentation. PSVR was rarely mentioned – which seems odd to me, given it launches just next month which is slap bang in between the re-modeled PS4 and PS4 Pro going on sale. In the 40 or so seconds that it did feature, Mark Cerny explained that -just like for non VR titles – developers could choose to bump up the resolution, frame rate or detail and it’s here where I start to get nervous. Given the standard PS4 struggles to maintain 60fps in most AAA non-VR titles and the stories of nausea on the show floor at this summer’s expositions from games like Resident Evil 7, my concern is that only PS4 Pro will be able to power a VR experience that is both comfortable and visually rich.
Just as for non-VR gaming, it will be a tightrope for Sony to walk to sell the “enhanced” experience offered by PS4 Pro without the standard model coming across as substandard. However after Wednesday’s Playstation meeting, and unlike for non-VR titles, I wonder if they could be in for a fall.