One week ago the PlayStation Meeting took place in New York City. In it, Sony unveiled two new PlayStation products, both of which we already knew existed thanks to multiple leaks. The conference started with the announcement of a new slim version of the PlayStation 4, which is the exact same thing as a regular PlayStation 4 but smaller. The slim PlayStation 4 will be the standard PlayStation 4 going forward, so if you buy a new PlayStation 4 later this year it will likely be this model. The second product shown, which took up a majority of the conference, was the PlayStation 4 Pro, formerly known to us as the PlayStation 4.5/4K/Neo. This Pro model of the PlayStation 4 will have more processing power than a regular PlayStation 4, will be able to run VR games better, and is optimized to work with TVs that have 4K displays and High Dynamic Range (HDR). A few games were shown running on a PlayStation 4 Pro, but since I was watching the conference on a stream the quality of the image I was seeing wasn’t high enough for me to tell the difference between the 4K, HDR resolution and standard HD resolution. The conference ended with a price and launch date reveal for both the slim PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 4 Pro.
I’ve had some time to think over the conference and the products shown within it since last Wednesday, and I’ve come to the conclusion that for me this was largely a nonevent. Since I already own a PlayStation 4, there’s no reason to get the slim model. I also don’t own a 4K TV, and am not a graphics snob, so there’s little reason for me to buy the PlayStation 4 Pro. Honestly, the only thing from that conference that really caught my attention was some new gameplay footage from Mass Effect: Andromeda. The conference itself didn’t seem to have much showmanship or energy, and the audience hardly reacted to anything that happened during it. This whole thing might have been better done as some sort of announcement video on Youtube. Additionally, and I mean this is just a silly aside, for some reason whenever I look at an image of the PlayStation 4 Pro it reminds me of a tall stack of pancakes.
I am also increasingly questioning the wisdom of very the existence of the PlayStation 4 Pro. It is certainly a more powerful console than the PlayStation 4, but not by so much that it’s a giant leap from its predecessor (and it’s certainly nowhere near what Microsoft is doing with its upcoming Project Scorpio console). At the end of the conference I’m not sure anybody was really sold on the need to buy a PlayStation 4 Pro. If you’re on the few people that has a TV capable of 4K and HDR display then maybe you’d want this, but I very strongly suspect that there isn’t yet a big enough market of those individuals for the PlayStation 4 Pro to be a success any time soon. While Sony will eventually need to put out a console that does 4K and HDR eventually, they don’t need to do it just yet. Were I an executive at Sony, my input would have been to just wait another year or two, and then, after seeing exactly what Project Scorpio is, announce the development of the Pro, or maybe even the PlayStation 5, which would do 4K and HDR, but also come with significantly improved internal hardware. The standard PlayStation 4 is still selling very well, and I would advocate keeping that train running for a while longer.
My other major concern with the PlayStation 4 Pro’s existence is that it seemingly is a step towards making the console market closer to that of mobile phones, which have more iterative hardware releases. One of the major appeals of console gaming is that you can purchase a console at or near launch and then be set for the next five years or so, knowing that you’ll be getting the exactly same experience as other console gamers and that you won’t need to purchase new hardware until the next generation comes out. Having iterative consoles takes away that stability and reduces the value of a console purchase, and will inevitably split the PlayStation community when we start seeing games that are undeniably superior in every way on the Pro model as opposed to the standard PlayStation 4. Owners of the standard PlayStation 4 will realize that they are getting an inferior experience, and I don’t think they’ll be too happy about this. PC gamers, who don’t know any other life other than having multiple tiers of gaming experiences for individual games depending on the quality of their PCs, will no doubt hear this bellyaching and dismiss it as more whining from console gamer babies, and in all honesty that is an accurate assessment. But at the same time one of the main pillars of traditional console gaming is a more the level playing field between gamers in terms of what everyone gets from a game and iterative consoles are a step towards destroying that pillar. I really hope I’m wrong in this assessment, but at the moment I think this is an ominous sign for console gaming.