PS4 Pro - Taking the PlayStation VR Experience to the Next Level

Unlike its stated intention of adapting titles for ultra HD displays, the latest PlayStation 4 Pro is better equipped for improved VR gaming.

Doubling GPU power over base hardware effectively opens up a variety of choices for developing PlayStation VR titles. It is a domain where smooth frame-rates take the lead over image quality or graphical features on standard PS4 hardware. Let us consider as to what level PSVR benefit with a PS4 Pro upgrade…

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It is essential to remember that it's starting days for PS4 Pro development as proved by a small number of sub-optimal ports seen till now. In addition, there are commercial stuff to take into consideration.

Development budgets for virtual reality will be reserved already due to the limited number of launch units. In order to add support for this particular combination of PS4 Pro and PSVR is possibly a hard sell for a developer when it comes to assigning development resources.

We may get a better idea about the comments from DriveClub VR's developer which say that just a few visual features are enabled in PSVR's flagship racer on PlayStation 4 Pro. But we struggled to find any while though further comparisons exposed greater reflections are allowed on the body work of the car. 

We are cramped here - the social feed bounds resolution, which makes pixel-count comparisons tough. Even access to the HMD feed extends limited results due to the bias pass added to account for PSVR's lenses. There is nothing like putting on the headset to judge the real variances.

However, there are clear improvements to the experience by PS4 Pro on few titles. For instance, consider Crytek's Robinson: The Journey. Generally games use the Pro's extra processing power to render at a higher resolution. This one is one of the best examples of this. You're viewing the headset's pixels up-close always, PS4 Pro can super-sample the frame for better anti-aliasing. It provides less shimmer, less visual noise, and a cleaner image overall. 

You can see the gains in Robinson to the corners of the screen. The 'foveated rendering' technique employed to cull peripheral resolution to save on performance isn't as forcefully applied on PS4 Pro. A blurring side is still noticeable to the display's edges. However, details are much crisper for sure compared to the standard PS4 delivery. 

Crytek outlines a number of visual improvements beyond a resolution bump. These include screen-space directional occlusion, and ambient occlusion.

This turns out to be too slight to pick out in play in practice, but an enhancement in texture filtering is at least clear to see across the ground. The blur across surfaces is enormously reduced with the headset on. Textures are equal on both base PS4 and PS4 Pro. Similarly for shadow and object quality. However,  he boost for texture filtering is massively longed-for for any long distance views. 

Robinson probably offers up the best opportunity for PSVR enhancements on Pro. CryEngine has an enormous toolbox of budding advances already built into the engine. It may have get other funding that helps make the business case as a PSVR exclusive too. However, it is evident that the concept of improved resolution for super-sampling, together with a few visual features is a template for the other games we tried.

Like Rebellion's Battlezone is a simple case, and the profits of playing in VR with PS4 Pro are concentrated on the quality of image again. Similar to Robinson you get improved resolution, super-sampled to the 960x1080 view on each eye in the PSVR headset, which results in noticeable jump in clarity with PS4 Pro. 

Dynamic lighting inside the cockpit is enhanced - it's active in cut-scenes on base PS4 only, but enabled through the game on Pro. So you get HUD details and external factors adjust in-cockpit lighting as well. Performance? It is just as good. 

A PS4 Pro DriveClub VR takes on the original game in a contrast that displays the price of VR. Image quality and lighting effects take a hit, but the result is a resounding driving experience.

It's certainly possible that developers will dip into the middleware features not only increase resolution, but to bring over visual improvements formerly reserved for the PC versions of their games as well. Robinson's enhancements could turn out to be the tip of the iceberg when developers have additional time getting the hang of Sony's new console hardware.