New York—Sony Interactive Entertainment introduced two new consoles (PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation 4 slim) at its PlayStation Meeting event at the PlayStation Theater in Times Square. While most of the console information had been leaked early, one surprise was the decision to not include a 4K Ultra HD player in the new PlayStation 4 Pro. Instead, the new $500 console (available November 10) will offer 4K streaming entertainment content through YouTube and Netflix apps, but gamers who have begun collecting the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies will either have to buy a separate player or the new $300 Xbox One S from Microsoft. The Xbox One S also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR), which replicates the colors and lighting that the human eye can see within virtual worlds, television shows and film.
4K And HDR Are Transforming Entertainment
Mark Cerny, the PlayStation 4 architect, said Sony has doubled the power of the GPU and boosted the clock rate of the CPU in the PS4 Pro, allowing additional hardware rendering for enhanced resolutions on screen, as 4K supports 8 million pixels of resolution for gaming and entertainment. Sony had a dozen playable games in 4K at its event, and the company is encouraging first-party and third-party developers to adapt both existing and new titles to 4K, as well as HDR when possible. There was much more support for 4K by developers than HDR, which is a much newer addition to the Pro.
Cerny said HDR is the most exciting advance in TV technology in the last decade because current HDTVs only offer a fraction of the colors the human eye can see. “HDR is a new technology and the standards are still in flux, so game creators are still figuring out how to take advantage of it,” Cerny said. “Not everyone will support HDR out of the gate.” But there’s also more of an incentive for developers to support HDR moving forward, as the original PS4 consoles will get a patch next week that will enable HDR capabilities. That means an audience of over 40 million gamers may experience HDR if they have compatible televisions.
Andrew House, CEO at Sony, said the upgrade to 4K will transform entertainment like we haven’t seen since transition from standard definition to high definition. “Our vision is to present clear choice to the gamer,” House said. “We want to offer an option for those who want to heighten the game experience. We’re asking developers how they can support HDR and 4K in each title.” At the same time, House said the goal is for PS4 to remain a single unified community, which means the same discs and downloads will work across all consoles.
“PlayStation 4 Pro sits alongside the standard PS4 and is part of this generation of consoles, House said. “It’s targeted toward the hardcore gamer or those who have invested in 4K TVs.” Sony has the current lead in the console wars, but it will face competition in 2017 from the Nintendo NX, which is currently slated to launch in spring, and Microsoft’s Scorpio, which has not received a launch window yet.
According to IHS Markit analyst Piers Harding-Rolls, Sony’s PS4 Pro console strategy reflects the nature of the consumer electronics market today. “Consumers are looking for updates to hardware more regularly and consumer electronics companies are looking to sell more devices,” Harding-Rolls said.
At the same time, today’s consoles use less proprietary technology compared to older generations and are more like PCs. AMD powers Sony’s PlayStation consoles. Harding-Rolls said this makes it easier and quick to develop and build improved versions. IHS forecasts PS4 Pro worldwide sales of 1.5 million in 2016. The overall installed base of PS4 is forecast to reach 53.5 million by the end of 2016.
Mike Goodman, Strategy Analytics’ director of digital media strategies, forecasts that game console sales globally will fall slightly, to around 34 million units this year, mainly due to Nintendo’s Wii U being discontinued. Sony will account for 60 percent of game console shipments, while Microsoft will represent 36 percent. “We estimate that Sony has shipped around 46 million PS4s—compared to 27 million for Microsoft’s Xbox One/One S,” Goodman said.
According to IHS, 4K TV shipments are expected to grow from 55 million units in 2016 to more than 112 million units by 2020. Hardcore gamers are traditionally early adopters of new technology, and 4K TV prices are dropping. Goodman said that while HDR may be the future of television, it has a long way to go. As of year-end 2016, the global installed base of HDR compatible televisions will only be between 3 and 3.5 million.
Some big publishers were on hand to reveal what titles will be receiving 4K support this fall and next year. It’s not yet clear how Sony or its third-party partners will market 4K and HDR capabilities, but there will clearly be messaging for gamers. For example, Bend Studios was on hand to demonstrate its 2017 Sony exclusive Days Gone featuring both 4K and HDR. The developer said this technology brings all of the brightness of the sun and the colors of the clothing and environments to life with photorealism, but it also accentuates the nighttime scenes. The playable demo included the ability to throw Molotov cocktails into the crowds of “freakers” in the shadows of the night.
Activision CTO Andy Hendrickson was on hand to announce that Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will support both 4K and HDR. An “Operation Dark Quarry” mission was played live on a PS4 Pro to showcase the added visual clarity, and the game was playable at the arcade following the press conference. Activision is also supporting 4K with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered and will provide an online title update for Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.
Aaryn Flynn, vice president of Electronic Arts-owned Bioware, said FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1 will support 4K this fall, while Mass Effect Andromeda will support 4K and HDR next year. Andromeda was playable in the arcade with a dark alien world showcasing the lighting effects and visuals that HDR opens up on a 4K display.
Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man was shown in 4K during the presentation to illustrate the level of depth and detail in the distance as tiny pedestrians were crisp and clear as Spidey sat perched high atop a building, every crevice and fiber in his suit crystal clear. Meanwhile, Naughty Dog said it was “fairly easy” to go back and add 4K and HDR support to Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us. Both games were playable, and a chase sequence in Uncharted 4 featured explosions that are dozens of times brighter than what a conventional TV can display. Additionally, an underwater sequence showcased HDR as the sunlight came down through the water and highlighted the coral reef.
Ubisoft’s For Honor was featured during the press conference and playable at the arcade. Cerny pointed out that 4K opens up the intensity of the combat and the authenticity of the experience through more detailed models and textures for both the environment and the warriors battling within them. Meanwhile, Tripwire Interactive’s Killing Floor 2, which GameStop will publish for PS4 Pro and PS4, was featured as an example of what smaller teams can bring to titles using 4K. Tripwire said this technology not only adds more lighting to the darker environments, but brings the blood-soaked snowscape to life in a way that allows the player to traverse the environment more safely.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was shown in the press conference and playable afterward. Square Enix said 4K unlocks new details like the work that went into Lara Croft’s hair, as well as the clothes she wears, and the huge environments, including more realistic waterfalls and full realized backdrops. Meanwhile, Square Enix’s other hit game, Deus Ex Mankind Divided was also shown with a playable demo afterward. Although already launched, a patch will add 4K and HDR support to the game. Cerny said this technology brings to life the extreme level of detail in both environment and characters that the developers created, but previously weren’t able to be seen on console systems.
Guerrilla Games was on hand to show a new level of Horizon: Zero Dawn featuring 4K and HDR support. The developer said this technology ultimately brings thier vision to life more accurately, since everything from the worlds to the characters are more visually stunning and more immersive. Similarly, developer Impulse Gear showed the leap 4K provides for PlayStation VR with its first-person shooter, Farpoint. The developer said the Unreal Engine 4 game features four times the visual clarity on PS4 Pro, which makes the immersion within the virtual world much more realistic.