PS4 Pro vs Xbox One S - which is the best console?

PS4 Pro vs Xbox One S - which is the best console?

Sony yesterday revealed the long awaited PS4 Pro, the mid-generation hardware refresh for PlayStation 4.



While previous eras have seen slimmed-down consoles - a niche here filled by the PS4 Slim - the PS4 Pro is something new. More powerful, capable of 4K gaming, and with a large focus on High Dynamic Range, which boosts colour profiles and visual acuity in video and gaming.

However, PS4 Pro's announcement comes on the heels of Microsoft's release of Xbox One S, which delivered a similar mid-gen boost to the Xbox One. But how do the two compare?

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PS4 Pro

Sony

CPU: x86-64 AMD 'Jaguar', 8 cores single-chip custom processor
GPU: 4.20 TFLOPS, AMD Radeon based graphics engine
Memory: GDDR5 8GB
Hard Drive: 1TB
Disc Drive: Supports Blu-Ray and DVD playback
4K Gaming: Yes
4K Video: Streaming only

There are some heavy caveats to the PS4 Pro's specs. The above information comes from Sony's official releases, which so far do not include exact details on processor speed, RAM bandwidth, or many other finer points that hardware. 

CPU: 1.75GHz AMD 8-core APU
GPU: 914 MHz AMD Radeon GCN
Memory: 8GB DDR3 (5 GB available to games)
Hard Drive: 500GB, 1TB, 2TB (limited edition launch model, officially sold out)
Disc Drive: Supports 4K Ultra High Definition Blu-Ray and DVD playback
4K Gaming: Upscaled only
4K Video: Streaming and UHD Blu-ray

While the Xbox One S sees marginal power gains over the original model, Microsoft's planning lead Albert Penello has said they have "literally no impact" on gaming performance.

"When we made changes to the box for 4K we unlocked a little bit more processing power to enable HDR. That's it. It's exactly the same architecture as the existing one," Penello added.

However, Rod Fergusson, studio head of Gears of War developer The Coalition, said games can see performance boosts on Xbox One S, while Ars Technica noted some older games can benefit from higher frame rates on the newer machine.

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Comparison

On the surface, these two consoles are closer than fans may have expected. PS4 Pro undoubtedly has the edge as far as pure gaming goes, capable of actually outputting games in the ultra-high definition 4K format, while Xbox One S only upscales 1080p games. As an all-in-one media centre - something increasing numbers of users use their games consoles as - Microsoft wins out though, able to play both UHD Blu-ray discs and 4K streamed media content such as Netflix.

Indeed, Sony's seemingly deliberate omission of UHD Blu-ray support is baffling. The inclusion of a Blu-ray drive in the PlayStation 3 helped Sony win the format war over HD-DVD, and with the company trying to push 4K as a format (and, ideally for them, shift Sony-brand 4K TVs to showcase the benefits) sticking with 'regular' Blu-ray only feels like an own goal.

Sony

This is especially true when you begin to look at prices. Both Sony and Microsoft are to be lauded for keeping their new reasonably priced - PS4 Pro is £349, taking the RRP of the original PS4 model, while Xbox One S starts at £249 for the 500GB model - but a standalone 4K Blu-ray player will fetch you around £349 on its own. Perhaps Sony was keen not to cannibalise its own standalone 4K player market - it hasn't released one yet - but looking at price alone, it's automatically made Xbox One S the best option for 4K video in all forms.

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Things get a little hazier when we start looking at the future. As game developers start embracing 4K for gaming, PS4 Pro has a clear edge. Multiplatform games will look better on Sony's platform, as Microsoft's can only upscale 1080p content. How much HDR improves either will likely depend on both the material and the display, but if the source is higher quality to begin with, Sony again has the lead.

There's also the matter of VR. Frankly, Sony underwhelmed with how little was made of PlayStation VR yesterday, certainly far less than we expected. Still, Sony promises PS4 Pro will offer a better visual experience in virtual reality, which is more than Microsoft can say.

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The Xbox maker doesn't have any concrete plans in place, beyond a vaguely acknowledged partnership with Oculus for some nebulous future point. VR may not be a dominant force in gaming yet, but it is one that's growing in prominence. Just as Sony has handed the blue ribbon for UHD content to its rival, so has Microsoft handed one right back for virtual reality.

Currently then, the mid-gen consoles for both factions seem to have each missed a trick or two. This should actually make it easier for consumers to decide which to go for though; if you want good looking games and the best all-round ultra-high definition media content possible, go for Xbox One S. If you want actual 4K gaming, and see yourself abandoning physical media, PS4 Pro is probably for you.

The game's not over

That's not the end of the story though. When the Xbox One S was revealed at E3 2016, it seemed at the time like a stop-gap measure, or at least an attempt to one-up Sony with a new machine released solely to get an upgrade out first. In hindsight, it could prove to be a rather canny move.

While both manufacturers had been rumoured to be producing up-specced devices, Microsoft surprised with both the S and the still-forthcoming Project Scorpio. This third iteration of the Xbox One is intended to be the most powerful console ever, rumoured to house an 8-core CPU, 6 Teraflop GPU power, native 4K gaming, VR support (this is that nebulous future point we mentioned), and all the enhancements already offered by Xbox One S.

With no further PS4 upgrades known or rumoured, the PS4 Pro may have inadvertently allowed Microsoft to leapfrog Sony. Given Project Scorpio still lacks a firm release date or exact specs, Microsoft now has a window to potentially improve it even further.

Sony has enjoyed being able to claim it has the most powerful console this generation, something which is more debatable than ever in the light of both manufacturers' hardware refreshes. The looming Scorpio could end the argument once and for all, in Microsoft's favour. For now though, it's something of a stalemate - until the seemingly inevitable PlayStation 5 is announced, at any rate.

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