Field In View: Why Sony Failed To Impress This VR Enthusiast With Its PlayStation 4 Pro

by Jamie Feltham • September 10th, 2016

I know, I know, another article bashing PlayStation 4 Pro. They’re spreading like wildfire on the internet right now, but it is with good reason. The awkward, stilted press conference to announce the upgraded console was a far cry from the show that Sony had rocked us with at E3 just a few months ago, failing to get the message of 4K gaming across in a way that would excite me. For me, most of the scathing commentary since the reveal of the console has been spot on; I don’t care about granular visual improvements and complicating the developer ecosystem seems risky.

But in reality I always knew I wasn’t going to get excited about the enhanced visual capabilities of the PS4 Pro, at least on the 2D gaming side. As you might have guessed, all I was ever interested in was what the machine might do for VR. In fact I was pretty confident that I was going to buy a PS4 Pro just to have the added assurance that my games would run better on PlayStation VR. Judging by this week’s showing, though I’m pretty sure I won’t be picking up a Pro for some time.

ps4 pro focus (2)

PS VR improvements could have really been where Sony made an impact with the Pro for the hardcore fan base. I’ve played on the headset with the traditional console multiple times and almost always come away impressed at the performance, but in this ever-evolving gaming landscape and a year in which the PC market has made huge leaps in power and price, I’ll admit that the idea of getting more horsepower inside my PS4 gives me a bigger sense of security. The gap between PS VR and the Rift and Vive is only going to get wider, so the idea of narrowing it in the early stages is very appealing.

What a shame, then, that the tiny PS VR section of the press conference only really clarified that some games might look a bit better on the headset, without much focus on performance. Rather than touting improved framerates (perhaps getting some games to 90fps instead of 60), the conference breezed over that more promising fact and focused on the point that so far one developer, Impulse Gear, had improved the “crispness” of its upcoming VR FPS, Farpoint.

News flash, guys, you’re taking a 1080p display and putting it right in front of people’s faces. Your headset still has the biggest screen door effect of any of the major headsets out there; refined crispness is not going to mean anything. Not to mention that those improvements, which were barely noticeable on screen, aren’t going to make much, if any difference to the player experience. Robinson: The Journey features a richly detailed world, some of which is lost in the translation to a VR headset. Improving software isn’t the answer on the visual front, it’s the hardware that needs the bump.

It was an underwhelming demonstration to say the least. If Sony had wheeled out, say, four or five titles that had some genuinely recognizable improvements then I’d be writing a very different post right now.

All that said, I’m still curious about the PlayStation 4 Pro. While 4K doesn’t interest me right now, it’s not anywhere near as intrusive and unnecessary as Sony’s irritating attempts to get everyone to buy 3D TVs back in the PS3 generation, and the next time I’m out to buy a new display (my 10 year old 32″ 720p screen still looks great), I’ll definitely be looking to get one that supports this resolution. By that time, though, I suspect Xbox’s Project Scorpio will have demonstrated a far bigger leap over the Pro.

Plus we still have a few months to go before the kit’s launch in November, and VR developers will hopefully have a chance to get their own say on what Pro does for PS VR in the meantime. In fact, we’ll have had PS VR itself for a month by then and perhaps some of us will be longing for a bit of added horsepower. Right now, I don’t see myself being one of those people, but I’m certainly still ready to be convinced.

PlayStation 4 Pro looks like something of a stumble for the mighty PlayStation brand right now. Let’s hope Sony can turn it around in the weeks ahead.

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