When Sony built the PS4 Pro, it prioritized backwards compatibility and capabilities above virtually any other feature. While the new PS4 Pro can offer improved performance or visual effects in a number of titles, Sony bent over backwards to ensure that games would always run at the same speed, no matter what, on classic PlayStation 4 hardware. It now seems that these efforts have produced some odd effects, including several games where the PS4 is actually faster than its PS4 Pro successor.
Digital Foundry has been testing the new hardware over the past few weeks and has rounded up a number of titles where the original PS4 is quicker and maintains better frame rates. The Last of Us, Mantis Burn Racing, Skyrim, and Watch Dogs 2 are all better on the original PS4, while Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is a mixed bag. Some scenes have significantly lower performance, some are improved overall compared with their predecessors.
The problem is straightforward. Most game developers have offered various resolution and graphics settings combinations that target a 1080p frame rate target with enhanced visuals and a 4K target (mostly via various types of rescaling, though a few games do have native 4K at 30 FPS). But in some cases, this upscaling still hits the final frame rate. For example, The Last of Us runs at a rock-solid 60 FPS on the PS4, but can dip to 54 FPS on the PS4 Pro. Why? Because the 1800p resolution target is being downsampled to match a 1080p HDTV’s resolution. Downsampling and super-sampled antialiasing are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing: In both cases, the GPU is rendering a much higher internal resolution target, then outputting the image at a lower resolution. The advantage of this is that it can improve final image quality (Dynamic Super Resolution from NV and AMD’s own super resolution scaling use a similar process). But remember, even if the final output is 1080p, the GPU is still using all of the same memory bandwidth and resources that would be required to hit the higher resolution target.
Digital Foundry stresses that this issue isn’t game-breaking, and that the overall experience remains very good, but this type of errata is unusual and somewhat off-putting. As Digital Foundry writes:
Super-sampling on PS4 Pro offers detail improvements, but the anti-aliasing boost is actually rather limited, as the game’s base temporal AA solution at native 1080p resolution is actually very good. The presentation is fairly soft anyway, so again we have a 1080p/4K divide: on an ultra HD display, we’d rather play on Pro and enjoy a huge resolution boost all of the time and frame-rate dips only occasionally. However, at 1080p, we’d prefer more consistent performance throughout the game and so the base PS4 provides a smoother experience overall. But the point is that once again, we shouldn’t be seeing these divides at all, on any title.
Some of these teething pains are to be expected, given that this is the first time any console manufacturer has pushed such a significant platform upgrade in the same console generation. Microsoft will undoubtedly watch the situation closely, to see where it might need to adjust its own plans for Scorpio and to adjust for any hiccups pre-launch. Sony is aware of these issues already and is investigating the problem, but there’s no word on any solution yet.