PS4 Pro: What does it offer for PS VR owners?

By Alex Donaldson, Wednesday, 9 November 2016 12:24 GMT

We test out Sony’s two big new releases together. Does the Pro help VR?

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The PlayStation 4 Pro is a matter of days away. We’ve already posted our initial impressions after spending a few days with the machine, and in that review we cover performance of PS4 games at both 4K resolution and look at how games perform on 1080p displays with the Pro’s extra horsepower.

But how does it perform with PS VR? We’ve reviewed the headset a while ago and concluded it was a solid entry-level piece of VR kit with some caveats that come as a result of its reduced price – but does PS4 Pro help to hold off some of the smaller performance issues that come from trying to do full VR on a machine that doesn’t quite compare to the mega PCs recommended for Oculus and Vive?

“Unpatched games might run a little smoother with less pop-in or quicker load times, but the nuts and bolts of the game will remain unchanged. Pro patched PS VR games do show a more noticeable difference.”

I had a bit of a game getting the PS VR to work on the PS4 Pro; I had some sort of HDMI cable issue where several different cables wouldn’t work despite all being HDMI 2 – but once I got it working with a different cable everything worked just as it did on the regular PS4. After stacking the two consoles up next to each other in an identical setup with the same headset, I spent several hours doing as close as I could to side-by-side comparisons in a variety of games. It’s hardly scientific, but in some games one could draw a solid conclusion.

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As with regular PS4 Pro support, games actually have to be patched to have proper, full PS4 Pro support. What this means is that a game like Batman Arkham VR won’t be different in any material way since it hasn’t been patched for the Pro. The extra power the Pro is packing might mean that the unpatched games might run a little smoother with less pop-in or quicker load times, but the nuts and bolts of the game will remain unchanged. Pro patched PS VR games do show a more noticeable difference.

Some VR titles have been fully patched for PS VR support, however. These are:

  • Battlezone
  • Bound
  • Driveclub VR
  • PlayStation VR Worlds
  • Rez Infinite
  • RIGS Mechanized Combat League
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • The Playroom VR
  • Thumper
  • Until Dawn: Rush of Blood

Some of this list is a bummer. The game I feel could benefit most from PS VR is the awesome early VR poster child EVE Valkyrie, and that’s sadly absent. Hopefully more PS4 Pro patches for VR games come.

I tested a few of those available out. The results mirror those with regular games as mentioned in our PS4 Pro review – they’re mixed, varying greatly depending on what developers have chosen to do with the additional power. The major point to consider here is that the PS VR headset isn’t a 4K screen, and so we’re back to the argument covered in the main review of how well PS4 Pro works for owners of 1080p displays. Downsampling saves the day there, and it does decently well for VR too – albeit with the caveat that the 3D visuals inside the PS VR are always a tad blurrier and not as crisp as they are on a high-quality TV display anyway.

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For some of the titles I tested the impact of games being rendered at a higher resolution and then shrunk down for the PS VR was more pronounced. Thumper is a favourite of mine, a mad, thrumming rhythm game that makes you feel like you’re going a bit mad, but in the good way, when you play it in VR.

The simple-looking but stylish game runs at 90fps as an absolute standard in order to really maintain its frantic feel, but on PS4 Pro the game renders at a higher resolution and is then supersampled down. The end result isn’t something that’s game-changingly different for Thumper but it is there; if you’ve already played a lot of Thumper, you’ll likely spot the little boost PS4 Pro gives you.

PlayStation VR Worlds ended up as my main PS4 Pro VR testbed. It is, after all, Sony’s flagship suite of tech demos. Weirdly, it was difficult to notice the difference most of the time here except for in one place where the PS4 Pro impact was more pronounced… and that was in the menus. Weird, right?

VR Worlds’ menus take place in dusky room space which you can look around. I always found this dimly-lit place to be a little dull, but there’s a crispness of image in this menu room that wasn’t there on the regular PS4.

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“Games generally look and perform more or less as I perceive them on the regular PS4, but occasionally there’s a moment where one can definitely sense an increased sense of clarity offered when you’re on the Pro.”

In some of VR Worlds’ games I couldn’t notice the difference at all – the Luge and Underwater demos both felt basically identical, but on the other hand I noticed subtle but pleasing visual improvements in the London Heist mini-game, which is the best on the disc.

This generally seems to be a theme for the various Pro-friendly games I test. Games generally look and perform more or less as I perceive them on the regular PS4, but occasionally there’s a moment where one can definitely sense an increased sense of clarity offered when you’re on the Pro. This happened a fair amount with RIGS in particular. There felt to be no real difference in the unpatched games.

For those curious, there’s no improvement to tracking offered by the additional horsepower either.

PS VR is a pretty cool experience, though one that’s held back a little for better and for worse by its more affordable price. PS4 Pro seems like it’ll offer a decent boost for PS VR owners, and if you’ve already felt compelled to invest £350 in the early and untested days of the headset perhaps the additional cost of a Pro will feel less painful. The difference in the experience isn’t enough to make the Pro a must-have on VR alone just yet, though – even for the most VR-dedicated players.

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