Sure there’s plenty to get stoked about after the launch of the PS4 Pro. The adoption of HDR was always a given and the ability to render at 4K resolution for select games is exactly what we wanted to hear. The promise of an HDR update for all PS4 owners is a nice bonus. Throw in better frame rate stability, and even the promise of more detail and texture for 1080p TV owners, and you have what appears to be a decent reason to consider an upgrade… even if you don’t yet know which 4K TV to buy.
But for those looking to use the PS4 Pro as a true 4K AV hub, there’s devil in the detail. The PS4 Pro doesn’t play 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. Think about that for a moment; savour the supreme idiocy of upgrading the PlayStation for the 4K generation, yet deciding to leave the deck with a ten-year-old Blu-ray disc player. Upgraded visual fidelity aside, the one element that pretty much everyone (and I mean everyone) expected from this mid-cycle refresh was a 4K Blu-ray player upgrade.
The original PS4 debuted just before HEVC decoding chips were available. The timing was just a bit out of whack. But the PS4Pro should have fixed all that. Today 4K is commonplace. Over half of all TVs sold over the next 12 months in the UK will most likely be 4K. You can buy good 4K TVs for under £500. Ultra HD is fast becoming the new normal. So why has Sony just snubbed the fledgling Ultra HD Blu-ray market – even as it prepares it’s own dedicated 4K player for launch. Am I the only one who doesn’t think this makes any sense?
“We wanted to get something out there to support the growing 4K TV market,” says PS4 designer Mark Cerny. Sony isn’t just mixing messages. It’s putting them in a blender. To be honest, I found news that the PS4 Pro had blanked UHD Blu-ray so perplexing I was convinced Team Sony just forgot to mention it. But no…there’s really no 4K Blu-ray playback.
I wonder what the dudes at Sony Home Entertainment think about all this? Who do they think is going to buy all their Ultra HD copies of Smurfs 2 now? As the horrible realisation dawned, my Twitter feed filled with disgruntled PS4 owners pledging allegiance to the Xbox One S (shame Microsoft doesn’t have any to sell, but that’s another debacle). Is this PlayStation’s first massive tactical blunder?
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Victor Matsuda sits on the Blu-ray Disc Alliance board and chairs the UHD Alliance. Last week at IFA, he gave every indication that Sony’s console update would support 4K UHD discs – without implicitly saying as much. Instead we talked about how the BDA was going to keep momentum moving forward. He said getting more 4K capable hardware into the market “would be huge”. He explicitly referenced the Xbox One S.
I asked (naively as it transpires) how important announcements like Xbox One S, and presumably the next PlayStation, are for 4K Blu-ray. “If we look back at what PlayStation 3 did for Blu-ray, it’s extremely, extremely (he said it twice) significant. You can talk a lot about what the gamers are doing online, but at the end of the day, if there is a disc drive inside that unit that’s huge for the Blu-ray Disc Association and the people purchasing that unit. Studios recognise that the attachment rate for discs with games console owners is extremely high.”
It’s no secret that the PS3 was a decisive Trojan Horse for Blu-ray during its bitter format battle with HD-DVD. With the PS4Pro, Sony has publicly eulogized 4K streaming, mentioning Netflix and YouTube, then led Ultra HD Blu-ray to the back of the AV stable and, barely out of public view, shot it cleanly in the head.