After three years enjoying the current generation of consoles, developer Polyphony Digital is finally almost ready to publish its first game for PlayStation 4, Gran Turismo Sport. We have recently been thoroughly testing the closed beta and we can confirm that it represents a big leap in visual fidelity compared to PlayStation 3: the materials, the detail, the lighting quality and the acoustics of the engines have been radically improved. We’ll take a closer look when we get our hands on the final version, but this beta offers a fantastic opportunity to see how Polyphony is harnessing the extra power that PlayStation 4 Pro brings.
The head of the studio and the franchise, Kazunori Yamauchi, already gave us last March some details of what users with 4K televisions could expect: 1800p resolution with checkerboarding rescaling and bt.2020 color space with HDR rendering. The latter allows, according to Yamauchi, that the red Ferrari is represented for the first time completely accurately in a video game.
Gran Turismo Sport’s HDR support is also exemplary, with support for panels up to 10,000 nits, ensuring that high dynamic range rendering is ready for the HDR televisions of the future. The Gran Turismo Sport beta includes a slider to adjust the HDR brightness on your screen, and even on the mid-range panels the effect is impressive.
Our tests confirm both the 1800p resolution and the checkerboarding rescaling effect. The image is not as sharp as that of a native 4K output, but as you can see in the video we include on this page, the effect is generally excellent and, without any doubt, a huge improvement over the standard 1080p mode. It’s yet another example of how clever rendering technique gets more out of the PlayStation 4 Pro GPU than expected, and it’s also nice to see good support for 4K panels, when most games stay in gaming territory. 1440p (that is, if there is support for Pro, because recent titles like Prey or Shadow Warrior 2 do not take advantage of its hardware at all).
What Yamauchi didn’t explain is how Gran Turismo Sport will use the PlayStation 4 Pro hardware if the console is connected to a standard 1080p TV, and here’s good news … and bad. Let’s start with a key point: Polyphony Digital joins the list of developers who have decided not to allow 4K downsampling for users with 1080p panels. In fact, if you compare the beta graphics on the original hardware and Pro (running at Full HD), there is no difference between both machines. This is disappointing because technically there is no reason why this feature should not be implemented.
This can be easily demonstrated. If you have an ultra HD TV you can load the game with the 4K output active, exit the menu, select 1080p and continue playing normally with the system-level supersampling activated. However, if you have a 1080p TV there is no way to access the 4K output in the first place, unless you get an expensive 4K upscaler like HDFury’s HDLinker. That is why it is necessary for developers to include an in-game selector, or at least an option to choose which Pro implementation to use when the game loads.
That’s not to say that users who continue to use 1080p televisions are left without improvements, which brings us to the good news. Although the 1080p output on the Gran Turismo Sport PlayStation 4 Pro is identical to the original hardware, the extra power is used in a different way, specifically in performance. In our tests we discovered that the version for PlayStation 4 Pro managed to maintain a stable 60FPS, while the original hardware, under the same conditions, could suffer drops around 45FPS in the most demanding scenes. This improvement is more than welcome, because the drops produce problems in the control response and some quite intrusive jerks. Based on what we have played in the beta (which, remember, is just a snack of the final version) when playing in Pro at 1080p you get a stable 60FPS with hardly any negligible drop.
And the improvements go further. Since Gran Turismo debuted on PlayStation 3 Polyphony has chosen to offer replays at 30FPS, cutting the frame-rate in half to add additional effects and more detailed modeling. This remains the case for PlayStation 4 Pro users using 4K mode, and for the original PlayStation 4 at 1080p. However, Polyphony takes advantage of the extra power of the Pro in full HD mode, unlocking the frame-rate and offering an output at (almost) 60Hz. Frame-rate drops only occur when there are many cars on screen simultaneously, and in this sense the performance profile is similar to that of the normal game on the standard PlayStation 4.
The return of replays to 60FPS is therefore great news, as is having the power to solve most of the performance issues that the game suffers with on standard PlayStation 4 hardware (although we were hopeful that Polyphony use the power of the current generation to match the stable 1080p60 of the Forza Motorsport series, even on the base hardware).
The question is why Polyphony automatically assumes that PlayStation 4 Pro users with 4K displays do not want access to the option with improved performance. Ultra HD TV owners have to reset the console menu to 1080p, load the game, go back to the menu, and reset the display settings to 4K (otherwise, additional latency could be added due to rescaling). In beta for now, this is the only way to access performance mode if you don’t have a full HD TV. Again, this could be completely fixed with a simple in-game selector.
Although the 4K mode may suffer some drop, it is still an improvement over the performance seen in the previous generation Gran Turismo. It’s not perfect, but it’s still impressive based on what we’ve seen so far, although it is disappointing that there’s no 1080p super-sampling option for users who don’t have a 4K TV. Why developers are still obsessed with blocking certain options and modes to certain types of screen is something we do not understand. We hope that the already announced decision by Microsoft to offer all modes to all types of screen in Project Scorpio will make Sony reconsider and produce a change for the better for PlayStation 4 Pro users.
In general, from what we have been able to test in the Gran Turismo Sport beta, users with a Pro console will get two different profiles that offer an improved experience compared to what is enjoyed on a standard PlayStation 4. Polyphony’s approach is a bit controversial, because apparently the visual aesthetics are not far from what was seen in Gran Turismo 6, but after revisiting the previous game it is evident that there are several graphical improvements that contribute to a notable generational jump. The beta, in short, is quite impressive and the truth is that we are dying to try the final version.