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PlayStation 4 Pro Is Set to Provide the Best Graphics in Gaming This Holiday


About six months ago, I wrote an op-ed article detailing why PlayStation 4K's ace would be High Dynamic Range support, rather than 4K support as one would have expected. That is because HDR support, which is now breaking through mainstream with a slew of affordable TVs, is a more significant graphics upgrade than even the huge increase in definition that comes with 4K resolution.

AMD and Microsoft both stated as much after testing with their internal focus groups, with AMD going as far as saying that 1080P+HDR "just looks better" than 4K+SDR (Standard Dynamic Range, the one we're all accustomed to). That's been confirmed now that the first major HDR games are available on Xbox One S, with Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4 both being hailed as better looking on console when compared to PC due to this technology.

You can read more details in the aforementioned article, but suffice it to say that HDR (and Wide Color Gamut) allow for better pixels to be displayed on the screen, rather than just more pixels. More precisely, HDR technology brings us much closer to the range of colors that the human eye can see thanks to the Rec.2020 standard and 10-12 bit color depth. It allows for a huge variance within the same scene, from 0.0001 to 10.000 nits of luminance in theory though this will vary depending on your specific TV.

What does that mean in practice? Dark areas will be much darker and bright areas much brighter - the usual example is that a sunrise can actually be blinding in proper HDR content, instead of just pretending to be. But there's more: thanks to the greater capability of displaying different shades of colors, even certain details inevitably become more noticeable. That's why game directors (and filmmakers) are very eager to use this technology, as it allows them to bring users a lot closer to their original artistic vision.

HDR content cannot be really seen on SDR displays, but here's a comparison picture by Dolby that gives you an idea of the kind of difference we're talking about.

Now that the console has been officially unveiled as PlayStation 4 Pro and pinned for a November 10th launch date, it's fair to say that it will provide the best graphics in gaming this Holiday season. That's because it's the only gaming platform set to enable both 4K and HDR support in 2016.

Obviously, PlayStation 4 Pro has the edge over Microsoft's new Xbox One S as the latter only adds HDR support and 4K upscaling to the existing Xbox One hardware. On the other hand, Sony will offer an enhanced hardware powered by AMD's Polaris GPU with 36 Compute Units, for an estimated 4.2 teraflops (a 2.3x increase over the basic PlayStation 4). That's on top of an overclocked processor, increased memory bandwidth and custom enhancements such as hardware support for checkerboard rendering and the ability to complete two 16-bit floating point operations in the time taken to complete one on the basic PlayStation 4.

While in most cases this might not be enough to deliver native 3840*2160 4K (though there are already exceptions, such as The Elder Scrolls Online), it will likely translate into base resolutions that are close enough to be almost indistinguishable, such as 1800P (3200*1800).

Of course, a powerful PC system can provide a native 4K experience in all games today. However, for the moment being HDR support on the platform is basically non-existent and even games that already have HDR support on other platforms, like the aforementioned Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4, lack it on PC.

That's mostly because the vast majority of PC gamers play on monitors rather than TVs and right now, there is not a single monitor that features this technology. Monitor manufacturers have been literally sleeping on the importance of HDR technology, apparently; this situation will only change next year, when the first batch of HDR monitors is scheduled to be presented at CES 2017 (January 5-8 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada).

PC will eventually reclaim the graphics crown at some point in 2017, then, and even Microsoft's Xbox Scorpio is already set to surpass Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro in this department due to its superior hardware (6 teraflops vs 4.2, 320 GB/s memory bandwidth vs 218).

But this Holiday season, you can only play games like Dishonored 2, Battlefield 1, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare & Modern Warfare Remastered, Mafia 3, Final Fantasy XV, FIFA 2017, PES 2017, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Watch Dogs 2 with both 4K and HDR on PlayStation 4 Pro, thus making it de facto the definitive platform for graphics enthusiasts in 2016.