The PS4 4K experience

You’ve just come home from Best Buy with a brand new 4K TV and your PS4 is still hooked up to your legacy 1080p set.

Or maybe you’ve been holding off on the latest Samsung, Sony, Vizio, or TCL.

The million dollar question is this – how does the PS4 look on a 4k TV? Is it really that big of an upgrade?

It’s going to depend on multiple factors (more on this below), but this is what you need to know:

  • The jump to 4k is less impressive than the move to HD resolutions
  • The regular PS4 and Slim revision will be upscaled and have the potential to look better
  • TVs with poor upscalers can worsen the overall image quality
  • The PS4 Pro won’t look as good as native 4K content (Netflix, Blu-rays, etc.), but will appear very sharp or “clean”

4K output: regular PS4 vs Pro

The PS4 Pro is going to look significantly more impressive than a regular or Slim models.

Why?

While base models resort to your TVs upscaling, the Pro uses a technique called checkerboard rendering.

The end result is a picture that, while not native 4K, does a great job of emulating the resolution.

The original models aren’t going to look terrible by any means, but don’t expect a revolutionary jump.

Is a 4K TV worth it if you only have a regular PS4?

In most cases, yes. Gaming isn’t the only way to enjoy Ultra HD content, and next generation consoles will push higher resolutions much more than the PS4 and Xbox One. What has started to ramp up in the last couple years will have matured by the time the PS5 rolls around.

What will ultimately decide how good the normal PS4 looks like on your 4K TV is your TV model.

The reason is simple – some TVs are better at upscaling than others.

For example, I have a Sony X800D and a PS4 Slim.

In my case, the picture output is better than any 1080p TV I’ve used in the past and looks quite clean due to the processing chip (X-Reality Pro).

Sony TVs in particular are known for good upscaling, especially newer models like the X950G, but most modern sets perform well enough. Websites like RTINGS.com are great for determining whether or not a certain set handles resolutions at or below 1080p well.

This is not only due to the processing chip which handles up scaling, but also the contrast, color reproduction, and every other facet of picture quality.

It’s why you’ll want to look into the following if you haven’t made a TV purchase yet:

  • Contrast ratio
  • Color accuracy
  • RGBW vs real 4K
  • Black and white uniformity

Unfortunately, some TVs that are advertised as 4K aren’t technically full 4K. You’ll see this with some of LG LEDs, and the end result is a picture that is less crisp than a panel with a native pixel arrangement (though the practice seems to be less common lately).

In some ways, it’s still the wild west of 4K TVs. Technologies integral to the viewing experience like local dimming, micro LED, OLED, variable refresh rate, and latency are constantly evolving.

The ebb and flow of TVs makes it so that what is acceptable now will be looked at as sub-optimal in 5 years time (this is especially true for HDR).

Native 4K vs approximations

When Sony launched the PS4 Pro back in 2016, they set the price at the ever enticing $399. As you might imagine, a retail price this low almost guarantees that most games running on the Pro aren’t native 4K.

And if you’ve ever watched 4K Netflix, YouTube, or Blu-Rays, then you know just how crisp and defined Ultra HD content can look when outputting natively.

Planet Earth 2 and Our Planet are prime examples of what current standards in resolution can do for the the viewing experience.

PS4 games, on the other hand, are not going to be a 1:1 match of what you’ve experienced with other forms of media.

As mentioned above, checkerboard rendering does a great job of approximating 3140×2160, but it’s still a few steps shy of 4K reference material. Having a look at some gameplay of games like God of War, Spider Man, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is a good way to see the potential of the tech.

I’m someone who tends to nerd out about things like Blu-Ray bitrate, graphical effects, and emerging audio/visual trends on the horizon, and even I was impressed with checkerboard renderings emulation of 4K.

Watching Gran Turismo Sport on a 65 inch TV running through the Pro was quite the experience compared to the way it looks on my Slim. I’m sure I could have found incompatibility with native 4K if I went looking for it, but even as an approximation, the clarity was astonishing.

At the end of the day, checkerboard rendering is beyond acceptable – it may even remain the standard with the PS5 – but if you want the most detailed picture quality possible, picking up an Xbox One X could be worth it.

Compared to the PS4 Pro, Microsoft’s mid generation refresh offers many more native 4K experiences, but it also lacks the dense library of quality exclusives.

Not a monumental jump

The hype of 4K can make it seem like a technological breakthrough when in reality, it’s more along the line of a refinement.

Instances when it can be a big jump is when moving to super sized TVs – anything 55 inches and over is where 1080p starts to fall apart.

But generally speaking, 1080p vs 4K isn’t going to contend with 1080p vs sub HD resolutions or even 720p.

If there ever was a jump to be a monumental leap, it was the move to HD gaming.

If you’ve ever gone back and played games on the Xbox 360, PS3, or Wii, you’ll notice that games look significantly blurrier than even standard PS4 games.

I remember playing a ton of Diablo 3 on my Xbox 360 before the start of this generation. At the time, the only thing that stuck out to me was the sometimes choppy performance.

It was only when I played Reaper of Souls on my new PS4 using a 24 inch monitor that I realized just how clean native 1080p was.

Watching native 4K content?

It’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, but nothing will beat moving out of the sub and half step HD era.

Why does the PS4 look bad on a 4K TV?

If your PS4 doesn’t look good on your new 4K TV, there are a few factors to consider:

  • The console’s resolution output settings
  • Your TVs upscaling
  • Your TVs optimal settings for playing games

Before you implode from blurry, grainy, or ugly graphics, try out these quick fixes:

  • Turn on Game or PC Mode
  • Make sure your TV isn’t over or under sharpening the picture
  • Swap HDMI cables with one that’s been verified to output correctly
  • Confirm that your PS4 is outputting at the correct resolution

If you’ve followed all of these steps and are still left with a less than stellar image, try hooking up your PS4 to another 4K TV if at all possible.

A standard or Slim PS4 has the potential to look better on a 4K TV, but subpar upscaling can actually worsen the overall picture quality when compared to a native 1080p set.

At the very least, you’ll rule out whether the problem has to do with your console or your TV.

Another possibility is that you’re not yet accustomed to playing on a larger TV. If you make the jump from a 32 inch set to a 55 inch behemoth, it’s much easier to notice the imperfections of games.

I went from playing on a 24 inch 1080p monitor to a 43 inch Sony X800D and the jump was still staggering. I still notice inconsistencies like jaggies, smearing, artifacts, low resolution textures, and so on, much more often than I did before. And as in my case, these detractors often pop up most when sitting close to the screen.

Going big has the tendency to make flaws glaringly obvious to those who are sensitive to them.

The last thing to consider is that some TVs are better than upscaling than others, as mentioned earlier. Sony TVs in particular are known to do a good job of this, while others perform poorly.

Head to Google and search “your TV model upscaling” to see if the TV you own, or the TV you’re looking to buy, has any reports of bad upscaling. Alternatively, search for your TV model on RTINGS.com and head to the section that covers resolution output.

Unfortunately, a bad upscaler isn’t something that your can fix, and is going to be more common with TV models that land in the budget range. The PS4 Pro, theoretically, should produce a better image in this case since the system itself is doing most of the heavy lifting.

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