Four and a half months after the debut of the PlayStation 4 Pro, the 4K-capable console will finally gain support for playback of 4K video files.
Sony is updating the PS4’s built-in Media Player app today with this feature, the company announced in a PlayStation Blog post. The update will allow owners of a PS4 Pro and a 4K television to play 4K-resolution MP4 files — not MKV or other formats — in the app, whether the videos are saved on a USB stick or streamed from a home server. (Unlike on the PlayStation 3, it’s not possible to copy files directly to the PS4’s internal hard drive.)
This feature gives the PS4 Pro a bit of a leg up on the Xbox One S. Microsoft’s white Xbox One was the first 4K-compatible gaming console, and it supports 4K content via streaming video apps and its Ultra HD Blu-ray drive. But the Xbox One S does not support playback of 4K content from USB drives, whether in the new H.265 standard (aka HEVC) or the older, more common H.264 format (aka AVC). We’ve reached out to Sony for further details on the PS4 Media Player’s 4K support, and will update this article with any information we receive.
Curiously, the Media Player app will only read videos on USB storage if that external device has not been formatted as additional storage for the PS4. (Sony added support for USB external storage in the PS4’s 4.50 firmware update two and a half weeks ago; the feature requires formatting a hard drive specifically for use with the PS4.) If you’re using an external hard drive as an expansion of your PS4’s internal storage, that USB drive “can only be used to save games and apps — it can’t be used to save and play videos,” said Sony.
There’s no word on whether the Media Player update will add support for HDR content in addition to 4K; we’ve asked Sony, but have not received comment as of this writing. In fact, of the main streaming video services that offer HDR content and are available on the PS4 — Amazon Video, Netflix, Vudu and YouTube — not one of them supports HDR via its PS4 app. To be clear, Microsoft doesn’t fare much better in this respect; of the aforementioned services, only Netflix supports HDR on the Xbox One S.
Today’s update to Media Player will also enable playback of 4K virtual reality content. Of course, that’s useful only for customers who own both a PS4 Pro and a PlayStation VR headset. While PSVR offers a resolution of 1080p — 960 x 1080 pixels per eye — Sony said that “4K VR videos will be displayed in a higher image quality compared to HD VR videos.”
Update (March 28): After installing the PS4 Media Player’s version 3.0 update last night, we tried playing two different versions of the same 4K video: one encoded in H.264/AVC and one encoded in H.265/HEVC. Only the former video played in the app, indicating that Media Player does not support the H.265 compression standard.
Update 2 (March 29): A Microsoft representative confirmed to Polygon that the Xbox One S cannot play 4K video files or 4K HDR videos from USB media. The console does support the H.265/HEVC standard, but only for streaming video and UHD Blu-rays.