Skyrim on PS4 Pro runs at native 4K - but there's a catch

The standard PS4 version has smoother performance overall.

By David Bierton. 10/11/2016

Skyrim Special Edition is one of the first games to support PlayStation 4 Pro, with the code already included on the game disc., and unlike the majority of Pro enhanced titles, Bethesda's popular RPG runs natively at 4K resolution - that's a 3840x2160 framebuffer without utilising checkerboard rendering or upscaling from a lower resolution. We can also confirm that resolution appears to be locked at that number with no dynamic scaling or any other similar technique. It's fair to say that the boost in pixel count provides an immediate leap over the native 1080p base PS4 game, resolving more detail and definition across the game's rugged environments.

Running on a standard PS4 at 1080p, Skyrim features a distinctly soft appearance that lacks the sharpness you'd expect to see when running 1:1 pixel-mapped on a full HD screen, caused by the game's temporal AA solution blurring the image to a noticeable degree. The upside is that jaggies and other edge artefacts are practically eliminated, which creates a very clean presentation. This is an area where the quadrupling in resolution on PS4 Pro using the 4K mode yields a welcome upgrade. The presentation may still appear on the softer side, but there's a nice uptick in visible fine details across distant scenery and textures, which are smoothed over to a greater degree at lower resolutions.

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Bethesda also employs the same temporal AA solution with the game running in PS4 Pro's 4K mode, and when combined with the increase in pixel count, we get a highly refined image where edge artefacts are a non-issue. Arguably, there's less of a need to use strong levels of anti-aliasing at ultra-high resolutions owing to the tight pixel density helping to conceal jaggies to a better degree than on a 1080p screen - the stair steps are much smaller and thus stand out less obviously.

However, combining both temporal AA and UHD resolution produces a very smooth image, though sharpness is sacrificed as a result. Even so the resolution boost is a worthwhile upgrade for owners of 4K TVs, where avoiding a 1080p upscale is preferable. And in terms of image quality alone the Pro's 4K mode matches up nicely to the PC version running at the same resolution.

Outside of the boost in pixel count, the PS4 Pro mode features little else in terms of visual enhancements. Shadow quality and general effects work is identical to the experience running on a standard PS4, and the core artwork remains untouched. That said, we do get a boost to foliage draw distance, bringing this element into line with the PC version's ultra preset. This leads to plants and tufts of grass getting steamed in more quickly than on the standard PS4, with these objects visible at longer range. It's a subtle difference that doesn't immediately stand out during gameplay, but does add an extra layer of refinement to the presentation that's nice to see.

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However, improved streaming doesn't extend to other aspects of the visuals, and draw distances for geometric objects and other elements appear identical to the base PS4 game. As such, the PC version still features additional details at range, from rocks scattered across the ground to sign posts that have yet to materialize on consoles.

In fact, the increase in resolution is by far the biggest upgrade for PS4 Pro owners, but what does the game offer for those using a full HD screen? Well, as we're likely to see on many titles going forward, Skyrim's 1080p mode provides a super-sampled image, where the image is rendered natively at 4K before downsampling to 1080p. Given that Skyrim Special Edition already has very clean image quality when displayed on a stock PS4 the upgrade here isn't as dramatic as we'd see in titles using a less aggressive anti-aliasing solution.

That's not to say there is no benefit. Slight shimmer across sub-pixel details displayed when running on the standard PS4 are eliminated, while the downsampling effect manages to produce a slightly sharper image with subtle improvements in texture clarity across the game. The increased foliage draw distance is also in effect in 1080p mode, which is to be expected.