Why do some PS4 Pro games run worse than normal PS4 games?
PlayStation 4 Pro continues to be tested on Digital Foundry and although the impressions are positive for its capabilities – especially with a 4K TV – there is an aspect to the performance of some games that concerns us. Several games run less than the normal PS4 versions, supposedly due to support for higher resolutions. As far as we know, this goes against the technical requirements that Sony presents to the studios, and is something we didn’t expect to see in the finished games.
It is not a universal problem that applies to all games (we have seen incredible improvements in some) and the extent of the problems varies from game to game, and from scene to scene. However, the conclusion is that in Skyrim, The Last of Us and Mantis Burn Racing, the gameplay will be smoother on the normal PS4. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is more complicated: some scenes show a lower frame rate, others deliver a more consistent performance.
For 1080p support, Pro converts to 4K mode for all these games, offering improved image quality via super-sampling. However, areas where performance is degraded remain affected when running on a full HD TV – meaning that Pro users can do nothing to have a smoother experience in these games. In fact, the normal PS4 runs these games with superior performance at the expense of some image quality.
The most surprising may even be The Last of Us Remastered, a production by Naughty Dog. Known for being home to some of the best programmers in the industry, and for its superb optimization capabilities. The Last of Us was highly fun to revisit on Pro. You have a resolution of 3200×1800 at 60fps, rising to native 4K at 30fps. It is also one of the best HDR games we’ve seen. If you have a 4K TV, losing 2-5fps in performance in 60fps mode doesn’t seem like a bad trade-off, but you can’t opt for better performance.
However, if your Pro is connected to a 1080p TV, there is no HDR and the leap in resolution comes in the form of better anti-aliasing via down-sampling. The exchange is not so good – we shouldn’t even have to talk about commitments, and the experience should be protected by Sony’s technical requirements applied to all studios. All Pro games must run at the same frame rate or better, regardless of the higher resolution or additional features. The Last of Us is the most obvious example, because any impact on performance on the normal PS4 is worse on the Pro. In some cases, the normal game runs at fixed 60fps, while on the Pro it loses frames.
The Last of Us stands out because the performance differential is frequent. Other games show minor fluctuations during gameplay, most of the time the performance is the same. Skyrim, for example, is a game with a very similar feel – blocked at 30fps, and the Pro version does it. Improvements include viewing distance for higher foliage, but the main improvement is resolution – the Pro version runs at 4x higher resolution than the normal PS4 version, offering native 4K. However, in scenes full of alpha effects, frame rates may drop, which is not the case on normal PS4.
Super-sampling at Pro offers improvements in details, but the improvement in anti-aliasing is limited, since the native 1080p temporal AA solution is already very good. The presentation is also smooth, so we have a 1080p / 4K split: on an ultra HD screen, we prefer to play on Pro and enjoy a nice increase in resolution all the time and occasional drops in the frame rate. However, at 1080p, we prefer the most consistent performance across the game that the normal PS4 offers and a smoother overall experience. But, again, these differences should not exist.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is an interesting game. After the first mission, followed by a cutscene made with the engine, we have interesting results. The higher resolution mode consists of a dynamic resolution system that goes up to 4K, using the checkboard technique. The cinematics in Prague are notable for their poor performance on the normal console, while on the Pro it even offers improvements – superior frame rates and no tearing. However, the first mission runs close to a fixed 30fps on the normal PS4 and not on the Pro. At worst we have drops to 20fps – something that is not acceptable in a Pro experience. It leaves a bitter taste to whoever played the original, and it would certainly be obvious to the development and testing team.
We will continue to test the games on PlayStation 4 Pro and present the findings as soon as possible – we are limited by the availability of the console. You can check our YouTube for first impressions, but although only a few games are affected, we feel that this should have been advanced as soon as possible. In no way should PS4 Pro offer any kind of downgrade in any part of the experience compared to the normal model, and although we understand that any console release presents challenges for developers, it is not a good idea to break the technical requirements when the system is still has so much to prove. Performance is closely linked to the quality of the gaming experience and the PS4 Pro is required to match or exceed the frame rates of the normal PS4, it is one of the technical requirements.
Despite being a problem that worries us a lot, we must take into account that it is the first days and we have seen many games that match or exceed performance, and still present visual improvements. However, further analysis begins to reveal that even some Pro games optimized for 1080p can exhibit problems. Rise of the Tomb Raider gets it right, offering enhanced full HD modes and looking beautiful at 4K. However, after a promising start at the first levels, we now find that at the most challenging levels we have problems – see this picture. The normal PlayStation 4 runs at a fixed 30fps with a perfect frame rate. However, the 4K mode and the other with enriched visuals exhibit really bad frame ordering, while 4K in some cases runs at a lower frame rate compared to the original PS4. The unlocked frame-rate is faster, but not consistent. For those looking for a fixed experience, at 1080p30 consistent with Rise of the Tomb Raider, it is best to opt for the normal PS4.
It is worth saying that many games work on the Pro as they should, offering improvements and an equal or higher frame-rate, but we would still like to have the option of running with the base mode specifications with the Pro CPU and GPU improvements fully unlocked. At least, being able to run with fewer, if any, drops in performance would be welcome. So The Last of Us, a simple 1080p60 mode that would guarantee a performance that no current version of the game can, would be cool (perhaps applying a downscaling from 1440p to 1800p?) Needing some work. Not all Pro updates need to offer major improvements – but there needs to be a fundamental guarantee that Pro will never perform worse than the normal PS4. The bottom line is that games that do this are undermining the entire concept of Pro.
We presented these findings to Sony who replied: “We are aware of the problem and are investigating it.”