With the PS4 Pro now available to buy, many first generation PS4 owners and those looking to jump platforms still have questions. With the most prominent being “can it do ‘real’ 4K or does it just upscale games? “ So, today we’re going to attempt to answer that question is a short but sufficiently detailed manner. Of course, this is going to be for the laymen, as we don’t want to blind you with science!

PS4 Pro
Image Credit: Sony Corporation

So here goes…

Native 4K on PS4 Pro?

While the console is capable of delivering native 4K, games that require it to do so are and will be rare! Instead, Sony has instructed developers to create titles with resolutions in the region of 2K, which then can be upscaled.

However, how the PS4 Pro does it’s upscaling is entirely different to how others do it. And as such, even with your face close to a TV, you wouldn’t know the difference! Meaning that games played on the console can look like real 4K even when they’re not.

Sony made the Pro do More than just Upscale

Now before we go into some detail about what the PS4 Pro does, let’s familiarize ourselves with upscaling.

If you’ve used a Blu-ray player, PS4, or other non-native 4K output device on a 4K TV, the TV is doing the upscaling. How does it do that? To be honest, that’s complicated! But, in short, the devices mentioned above are sending the TV around 2-million pixels. Now, to reach a 4K resolution, there are 6-million pixels that the TV has to find. So, it will fill in the empty pixel spaces with what it thinks should be there.

However, and we mentioned this earlier, Sony has introduced additional technologies which make upscaling look like Childs play. Now, if you don’t already know this, all games designed for the PS4 Pro are developed to take advantage of its extra power. What this means is, all games will come with a minimum resolution higher than 1080p. In doing so, this will give the console less work to do by decreasing the number of missing pixels it has to fill in.

Furthermore, there’s a new technology called ID buffer. Which during the upscaling process tracks the edge of objects as they move through frames. However, this isn’t (well not on its own) the new Sony tech that makes the 4K difference…

Geometry Rendering and Checkerboarding

If you’re into gaming technology, there’s a chance you may have heard of the two technologies above. However, how they make use of ID buffer for the PS4 Pro is unique and not something you’ve come across. Now, remember when we said we’d try to keep this simple? This next part won’t be easy, but here goes.

To start with, geometry rendering helps to smooth out the edges of an object without putting too much strain on the console. While checkerboarding, sometimes referred to as super-sampling helps to fill the gaps in detail. However, with geometry rendering alone you get sharp near 4K edges, but the interior detail remains at a lower resolution.

As an example, imagine a characters face with a defined facial structure, but no way of being able to tell his/her expression! This is where Sony‘s use of checkerboarding comes in to fill in the gaps. As this technology not only helps to sharpen edges but also adds more texture. Which would make the facial expression of the character visible.

How is this done? In the simplest way, it can be explained. It’s all because of exotic pixels that have one color, and two Z values which tell the pixel where it should be. And because they are twice the size of a standard pixel they enable color to be calculated in twice the number of places. Compared to 1080p this is a massive improvement which allows the Z values to be treated as if native 4K.

Quality Results

The upshot of all of this extra sampling and detailing is a gaming experience which is unrivaled on a console. Not only will the PS4 Pro fool you into thinking that you’re playing in 4K, but it will also fool your friends.

However, this big questions is “why didn’t Sony just create a native 4K console? “ Surprisingly, it turns out that the answer is a relatively simple one: To have done that, the Japanese tech giant would have had to redesign the internal components of the console. And that would have made the already on sale 700-plus PS4 games non-compatible with the PS4 Pro!

And that’s the reason Sony decided to push the already available technology as hard as it could while remaining stable. In doing so, it managed to push the CPU from a clock-speed from 1.6Ghz to 2.1Ghz. Additionally, the graphics power is doubled, thanks to using two of the standard PS4 GPU’s. This results in a power increase of 2.28x and 4.2 teraflops!

Essentially, what all this means is, Sony has pushed its already established technology to its limits while maintaining backward compatibility. And it’s this that makes the PS4 Pro a mid-generation upgrade not a next generation device like the Xbox Scorpio will be.