4K HDR, the PS4 Pro, Xbox One S, and What it All Means


With Sony announcing the PlayStation 4 Pro today, there’s a lot of confusion going around about what the consoles (and existing consoles) can or can’t do. Hopefully this will help straighten things out a little bit.

Both the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One S support upscaling of games to 4K resolution with HDR (High Dynamic Range). HDR basically gives you much better color depth and more realistic lighting, especially in places where there’s harsh lighting or direct sunlight. The PS4 Pro does have a greatly upgraded GPU to allow more detailed graphical effects, however it looks like the 4K games will just be upscaled right now.

What the PS4 Pro can’t do is play UHD Blu-Ray discs, while the Xbox One S can. There’s a lot of confusion over this because people don’t really understand that UHD Blu-Ray is technically a different disc format from normal Blu-Ray despite sharing the name. UHD Blu-Rays support a third layer to extend the storage capacity to 100GB. This requires a different hardware drive to play the discs, so a 4K UHD Blu-Ray will not play on a standard Blu-Ray drive. Microsoft upgraded the drive in the Xbox One S to play these new discs, but Sony did not do so on the PS4 Pro. This is not something a firmware upgrade or patch can fix. It requires different hardware.

Likewise is the confusion over Sony patching all PS4s to support HDR. This made some people think their current PS4 could run 4K Netflix or UHD Blu-Rays. Again, those two things are hardware reliant and the launch PlayStation 4 and Xbox One do not have the correct hardware for 4K Netflix streaming. Netflix requires HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0 to stream their 4K content. Both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One S have that hardware, but the older systems do not. That means your current PlayStation 4 won’t be able to use 4K Netflix, but you will be able to take advantage of PS4 games that support HDR if you have a 4K TV…even if you don’t buy a PS4 Pro.

So, basically here’s how everything comes out for the current systems:

PlayStation 4: HDR games (after upcoming firmware upgrade).
Xbox One S: HDR games, games upscaled to 4K, 4K video streaming, 4K UHD Blu-Ray playback.
PlayStation 4 Pro: Improved graphics in 1080p games, HDR games, games upscaled to 4K, 4K video streaming.

If you don’t have a 4K HDR TV, none of this will really apply to you. HDR is a feature only on 4K sets, and even then it’s only on the more recent TVs (most of the 2015 ones didn’t have it). The PlayStation 4 Pro will have small improvements for games running in 1080p, but if you want to really take advantage of these updated systems you’ll want a 4K HDR TV.