Sony announced during its PlayStation Meeting this week that it will add support for high dynamic range (HDR) color to every PlayStation 4 next week with a system software update. That’s all well and good, assuming that the feature works as promised — we’re still awaiting technical details from Sony, since it doesn’t seem like the original PS4’s HDMI port would be compatible with HDR video.
But what good is HDR support if there aren’t actually any games to show it off?
Thekla, the Jonathan Blow-led studio behind The Witness, announced yesterday that it will patch the PS4 version of the game to work with the PS4 Pro. Since The Witness already runs at 60 frames per second on PS4, the update is focused on increasing the visual fidelity of the game. People playing the game on a 1080p TV will also see benefits, including a bump in resolution to native 1080p.
"We don’t know the technical details of how it will work, yet"
The studio is also working on HDR support for The Witness on PS4, but it’s still early days. "We don’t know the technical details of how it will work, yet, but provided that nothing prevents us, the Witness patch will use HDR on all PS4s when available," said Blow. Thekla is currently planning to release the update alongside the PS4 Pro’s launch on Nov. 10 — not next week, when HDR goes live on the existing PS4 and the "slim" model.
The Xbox One version of NBA 2K17 will support HDR when the game launches Sept. 20, making it the first Xbox One game to offer HDR color for players who own an Xbox One S. (Two of Microsoft’s big exclusives this fall, Forza Horizon 3 and Gears of War 4, will also support HDR.) A 2K Sports representative confirmed to Polygon yesterday that NBA 2K17 developer Visual Concepts will add HDR to the PS4 version of the game with a post-launch patch, but the spokesperson could not specify timing at this point.
As for Sony-published games, a representative for the company told Polygon today that "some existing titles will be patched for 4K/HDR support at the PS4 Pro launch timing" — which, again, isn’t until mid-November.
Caught off guard
The Witness creator Jonathan Blow said that his team was surprised by Sony’s announcement of the HDR firmware update for non-Pro PS4 models.
"We thought we were working on HDR support only for the PS4 Pro," said Blow. "Sometimes Sony even surprises developers!" He added that Thekla was also "surprised" by some of the final hardware specifications of the original PS4, when Sony unveiled that console at the PlayStation Meeting in February 2013.
Yes, it’s a good thing for developers to have access to more power and new tools; indeed, Blow said Thekla thinks "it’s great" that Sony is adding HDR to every PS4 in the world. The studio wasn’t planning to update The Witness until the launch of the PS4 Pro anyway, so it makes sense for that indie team to bundle the graphical upgrade and HDR support into one patch.
We don’t know whether NBA 2K17 developer Visual Concepts was also "surprised" by the announcement of the HDR firmware update for all PS4s. But if the game will already support HDR at launch on Xbox One, it stands to reason that the PS4 version could’ve also offered HDR— if the studio knew ahead of time that the firmware update was coming.
Sony certainly told developers about the PS4 Pro well in advance, but perhaps the non-Pro HDR update came in hot and was confirmed at the last minute. And PS4 owners will likely have a shorter wait to play HDR content than Xbox One S buyers: Microsoft launched that console at the beginning of August, and the first game to support HDR, NBA 2K17, isn’t coming out until seven weeks afterward. It’s a bummer for Sony, Microsoft and owners of HDR televisions, all of whom would like to actually use the latest, greatest display technology in their games.