PS4 Pro ‘boost mode’ runs unpatched PS4 games more smoothly

UPDATE 3/2/17 8:45pm: Sony has confirmed boost mode and offered a statement about its capabilities. According to word received by , boost mode “lets PS4 Pro run at a higher GPU and CPU clock speed in order to improve gameplay on some PS4 games that were released before the launch of PS4 Pro. Games that have a variable frame rate may benefit from a higher frame rate, and load times may be shorter in some games too.”

UPDATE 3/2/17 7:52pm: Since publishing this story, the 4.5 system software update has started to roll out in volume to beta testers, and we can fully confirm that boost mode is indeed a real feature coming to PlayStation 4 Pro users. Digital Foundry will be putting this feature through its paces as soon as possible. In the meantime, here’s a look at the option as it appears on the English version of the firmware.

Original story: Sony has revealed , including long-awaited support for external hard drives, but if reports online are to be believed, it seems that the new firmware also adds ‘boost mode’ support to PlayStation 4 Pro, allowing non-patched standard PS4 games to tap into the power of the new hardware.

The race for 4K: how Project Scorpio targets ultra HD gaming

The race for 4K gaming has begun. PlayStation 4 Pro is in the marketplace, and while success in supporting ultra HD gaming varies dramatically between releases, an established series of techniques is in place that is already capable of effectively servicing a 4K resolution with a comparatively modest level of GPU power. In the wake of its E3 2016 reveal for the new Project Scorpio console, Microsoft began to share details with developers on how they expect to see 4K supported on its new hardware. A whitepaper was released on its development portal, entitled ‘Reaching 4K and GPU Scaling Across Multiple Xbox Devices’. It’s a fascinating outlook on Microsoft’s ultra HD plans – and it also reveals more about the Scorpio hardware itself. For starters, Xbox One’s contentious ESRAM is gone.

A small, but ultra-fast array of embedded static memory integrated into the Xbox One processor itself, ESRAM was the high-bandwidth scratchpad designed to mitigate for the lower-speed DDR3 system RAM on which the Xbox hardware relied. An evolution of the eDRAM attached to the Xbox 360 GPU, ESRAM is massively fast but suffers from one major shortcoming – the lack of it. Microsoft’s whitepaper categorically rules out ESRAM for Scorpio, while at the same time suggesting that developers continue to support it to ensure strong performance on legacy Xbox One hardware.

“ESRAM remains essential to achieving high performance on both Xbox One and Xbox One S,” the whitepaper reveals. “However, Project Scorpio and PC are not provided with ESRAM. Because developers are not allowed to ship a Project Scorpio-only SKU, optimising for ESRAM remains critical to performance on Microsoft platforms.”

How does PS4 Pro improve the PlayStation VR experience?

Some might say that the new PlayStation 4 Pro is better equipped for enhanced VR gaming as opposed to its stated purpose of adapting titles for ultra HD displays. Effectively doubling GPU power over base hardware opens up a range of options for improving PlayStation VR titles – an area where smooth frame-rates take priority over image quality or graphical features on standard PS4 hardware. So the question is simple: to what extent does PSVR benefit with a PS4 Pro upgrade?

Of course, we need to bear in mind that it’s early days for PS4 Pro development in general, as evidenced by a small number of sub-optimal ports we’ve seen so far. On top of that, there are commercial considerations to take into account. Development budgets for VR will be constrained enough already, owing to the relatively limited number of launch units out in the wild. To add support for this specific combination of PS4 Pro and PSVR – a subset of an already small installed base – is perhaps a hard sell for a developer when it comes to allocating development resources.

This may explain , hinting that only a few visual features are enabled in PSVR’s flagship racer on PlayStation 4 Pro. As it happens, we struggled to find any at all, though further comparisons revealed enhanced reflections are enabled on the body work of the car. Otherwise, the rest of our comparisons came up empty. Admittedly, we are hamstrung here; the social feed limits resolution, making pixel-count comparisons difficult. And even access to the HMD feed offers limited results owing to the distortion pass added to account for PSVR’s lenses. Truly, there is nothing quite like actually putting on the headset to judge the actual differences – something we can’t really present in an article, or even a video.

Batman: Return to Arkham has stealth PS4 Pro support

Yesterday we talked about , which only adds superficial improvements. Today, it’s the turn of Batman: Return to Arkham – a game that boosts performance but nothing else. It’s as if developer Virtuos simply pulled a switch to enable PS4 Pro’s additional CPU and GPU power on its base title with little regard as to what would actually happen. The results are predictably variable and rather poor overall, but it may well address unfinished business from our PlayStation 4 Pro review – just what would happen if users had the ability to enable the full resources of the new hardware on existing PS4 titles?

The vast majority of console games operate with a frame-rate limit of some description – typically 30fps or 60fps – meaning that the extra Pro power could simply be utilised to stabilise performance where base hardware can’t meet the target. The tearing and frame-rate drops under 60fps in Project Cars could vanish, the mid-20fps drops occasionally seen in The Witcher 3 could improve significantly. It’s not a massive upgrade, but for those of us who value stability in console performance, it’s a big plus. Xbox One S has a minor GPU overclock that can help in this way – PS4 Pro has an uplift in both CPU and GPU terms that could do a whole lot more.

Batman: Return to Arkham actually has two titles that could help to isolate what the additional resources could achieve. Arkham Asylum operates with a wobbly 30fps cap, while Arkham City actually operates with an unlocked frame-rate that caps only at 60fps – a somewhat bizarre set-up, bearing in mind that the first Batman title is actually far less impactful on system resources. And let’s be clear here, the Pro enhancements adopted by Virtuos appear to have required no real effort from the developer itself. Arkham City offers no resolution or effects upgrades. It just runs faster, but it’s actually the variation in the boosts available that proves most fascinating.

Battlefield 1 and FIFA 17: Frostbite shines on PS4 Pro

DICE’s Frostbite engine now powers a great majority of Electronic Arts’ internally developed game – a state-of-the-art piece of technology that has strongly delivered cutting-edge experiences on key franchises including Battlefield, FIFA, Need for Speed and the upcoming Mass Effect. With some of the sharpest rendering engineers in the business working on the technology, we expected big improvements bearing in mind Pro’s big GPU boost. By and large, we haven’t been left down.

We’ll begin with the ‘easy one’. FIFA 17’s PlayStation 4 Pro upgrade is impressive – not especially so in terms of visual features, but certainly for its prodigious increase to base resolution. The 1080p framebuffer from the standard PlayStation 4 version gets an uncompromised lift to native 4K – no upscaling, no checkerboarding, no temporal super-sampling. The end result is that an already clean and crisp title receives an even great boost to visual clarity.

However, FIFA’s ineffectual anti-aliasing solution remains in effect at 4K. Edge and specular shimmer at 1080p is reduced owing to the higher pixel density, but it’s still visible owing to the high contrast aesthetic. We did most of our testing on a 40-inch Samsung KU6400, which possesses a remarkably high pixel density, but the aliasing is still plain to see – it’ll even show up in the video below. 1080p users at least get this image down-sampled, so it’s less of an issue, but Frostbite’s excellent temporal anti-aliasing would have helped here.

Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti review

Nvidia’s Pascal architecture continues its top-down steamrolling of the graphics product stack, with the arrival of the first of two more budget-orientated parts – GTX 1050 Ti and GTX 1050. It’s the first card we’re looking at today, highlighting the debut of the fully enabled version of Nvidia’s GP107 processor, offering performance significantly ahead of PlayStation 4 and paired with a useful 4GB of GDDR5. GTX 1050 Ti can get you to 1080p60 in most titles with careful tweaking, but really this class of GPU is all about matching ballpark console performance with improved visuals and more consistent frame-rates.

In this fully loaded iteration of the GP107, GTX 1050 Ti features 768 CUDA core processors (a match for the last-gen GTX 950) backed by 7gbps GDDR5 memory fed by a 128-bit memory interface. But the real star of the show here is that fact that the card itself is – depending on the vendor – absolutely tiny, and in base configurations requires no additional PCI Express power. This is important. Essentially, like GTX 750 Ti and a very small selection of GTX 950s before it, this opens the door to a powerful GPU upgrade that will fit into the majority of PCs, with no additional PSU juice required. Everything comes from the meagre 75W provided by the motherboard slot and it’s safe to say that we were amazed at just how much performance we managed to squeeze from this tight power envelope.

The full spec is available elsewhere on the page, but one thing that stands out immediately is that the boost clock spec is a good 300MHz lower than what we’ve come to expect from the Pascal line – presumably owing to the meagre 75W TDP. However, we’re happy to report that the spec is highly conservative in reality. The Zotac board we were provided with happily boosts to 1650MHz out of the box without breaking a sweat, and overclocking taps out at 1850MHz, without exceeding that hard 75W limit.

Inside PlayStation 4 Pro: How Sony made the first 4K games console

Six weeks on from the unveiling of the Sony’s latest console and I’m in a conference room in Sony’s new San Mateo HQ, revisiting the bulk of the PlayStation 4 Pro titles unveiled so far, accompanied by system architect Mark Cerny. It’s a chance to confirm that the new hardware is indeed delivering the high quality 4K gaming experience I witnessed last month, but more to the point, this is where we find out how Sony has managed to accomplish this achievement – how it has deployed a relatively slight 4.2 teraflops of GPU power in such a way that makes PS4 Pro a viable console for an ultra HD display.

“When we design hardware, we start with the goals we want to achieve,” says Cerny. “Power in and of itself is not a goal. The question is, what that power makes possible.”

What becomes clear is that Sony itself – perhaps unlike its rival – does not believe that the concept of the console hardware generation is over. Cerny has a number of criteria he believes amounts to a reset in gaming power: primarily, a new CPU architecture and vastly increased memory allocation. And of course, a massive revision in GPU power – Cerny refers to a 434 page, eight-hour PowerPoint presentation he gave to developers about the PS4 graphics core. It was a new paradigm for game makers.

Face-Off: Gears of War 4

In development since 2012, Gears of War 4 marks the triumphant return of the chainsaw-wielding franchise. While it may seem like familiar ground initially, Gears of War 4 is actually a game of many firsts – it’s the first project from The Coalition – the Gears focused studio formerly known as Black Tusk – the first big AAA console game powered by Unreal Engine 4, and the first Gears title released day and date on both Xbox One and PC.

Gears of War is certainly an important franchise for the Xbox platform and it has quite the heritage on the technology side of things. The original game helped influence the amount of memory included in Xbox 360 while simultaneously showcasing Unreal Engine 3 at its best, helping it to become the most popular toolset of the last console generation. Times have changed as of late with more studios favoring in-house solutions but Epic has continued to refine its latest iteration of the technology, Unreal Engine 4. Now, 10 years after the original release, does this latest iteration keep the Gears tradition of pushing technological boundaries alive?

Let’s start with the basics – Gears of War 4 is focused on delivering pristine image quality on both platforms. On Xbox One, the game presents a full 1080p resolution for most of the experience while using an adaptive pixel count on the horizontal axis in order to counteract GPU spikes. While playing the campaign or engaging with the game’s horde mode (both of which operates at 30 frames per second) you can expect to see full 1080p more than 94 per cent of the time. In competitive multiplayer mode, however, the frame-rate is bumped up to 60fps resulting in more noticeable drops in clarity as the action heats up.

Digital Foundry: Three hours with PlayStation 4 Pro

I went into the PlayStation Meeting today as a sceptic, believing that the hardware may not be up to the task of powering a 4K display. The good news is that several hours later, I emerged from the event impressed with the quality of the experience and respectful of the wizardry utilised to make this GPU punch above its weight. However, fundamentally, there’s little doubt that PlayStation 4 Pro is going to be a tough sell. Traditional gaming media simply can’t capture and communicate the quality of the imagery I saw today, as there’s no real way to showcase HDR meaningfully. And this is actually a key component of the PlayStation 4 Pro experience. 4K is impressive and a worthy upgrade in its own right, but HDR takes it to the next level.

But first, let’s talk about the actual box itself. It turns out that the PlayStation 4 CUH-2000 ‘Slim’ leak was even more significant than we realised. It was a preview of the design language that would carry across the entire PlayStation line, and the PS4 Pro (CUH-7000, designation fans) looks very much like a bigger brother of sorts – a bigger, fatter, triple-decker but with very similar design cues, right down to the collection of PlayStation symbols on the underside of the unit. Curiously, the LED strip-light found on the side of the CUH-1000 series PS4 has been relocated to the front of the machine, recessed into the lower ‘slash’. And yes, finally, we have a rear USB 3.0 port in addition to a brace at the front.

It was not possible to get an idea of acoustics in the PlayStation Meeting environment, but max power consumption is rated at 310W – we assume that this is the maximum load capable by the PSU, not a typical system draw, bearing in mind that a PC running a Core i7 6700K with a Radeon RX 480 (an upclocked version of the Pro’s core GPU tech) draws just 270W in our tests. The power supply is internal, but it is interesting to note that the old figure-eight power input is replaced by a sturdier ‘kettle’-style socket – just like the launch model PlayStation 3.

Sony announces PlayStation 4 Pro for November 2016, priced £349

Sony has announced the Playstation 4 Pro machine at the PlayStation Meeting 2016. It will be released 10th November 2016, for £349/$399. This is the PlayStation Neo machine rumoured for so long.

Sony’s chief console maker Mark Cerny said PS4 Pro has “more than doubled” the GPU power of the standard PS4, and that it uses AMD’s Polaris architecture. The clock-rate of the CPU has been boosted but he didn’t say what to.

The PS4 Pro will have a 1TB hard-drive.