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Sony PlayStation 4 Slim review: This slimmed-down PS4 is for bargain hunters only

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There are really only three things you need to know about the PlayStation 4 Slim.

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8.6

Sony PlayStation 4 Slim

The Good

The newer PS4 has a smaller footprint, slick design, quieter operation and keeps intact all of the PS4 awesomeness it's offered since 2013. The slightly updated DualShock4 controller is a bonus.

The Bad

The slim PS4 loses its optical audio port, which will be a bummer for third-party headphone users. The somewhat pricier PS4 Pro delivers a larger hard drive and the promise of better graphics.

The Bottom Line

The PS4 Slim is a deja vu game console: great for gamers on a budget, not quite as good as the PS4 Pro and skippable for any existing PlayStation 4 owner.
  • If you already have a PS4, you can ignore this model. It's basically the exact same hardware, just in a smaller case.
  • If you're in the market for a new PS4, you should first consider the PS4 Pro, the step-up model with a larger hard drive and (potentially) better 4K-friendly graphics.
  • If you don't have a 4K TV and you're a first-time PS4 shopper on a budget, the PS4 Slim may well be a great option for you.

If none of that quite makes sense, don't worry. Here's why Sony currently has two PlayStations on the market, and how they differ from one another.

The PlayStation 4 Pro arrived in early November and retails for $399 in the US, £349 in the UK and AU$559 in Australia, though deals abound online.

Read: Best gaming chairs we've sat in for 2019

The redesigned version of the baseline PS4, which everyone calls the "PS4 Slim" because it's even more svelte than the original 2013 model, sells for $300, £225 in the UK and AU$440 with an included game. You can find both PlayStation models with hefty discounts during the holiday shopping season.

Both new PS4 models run the same games and can use the same accessories, including Sony's PlayStation VR headset. But the Pro is designed to offer sharper graphics when connected to a 4K TV, if and when you play a specific title that's gotten a software patch to enable the better visuals. The problem? In the handful of initial 4K-friendly games we viewed, we didn't see a huge difference from the non-enhanced version running on an identical TV from an old-school PS4.

Sony's PlayStation 4 Slim meets its fatter, older cousin

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That may well change in 2017 when we see the first batch of games designed from the ground up to take advantage of the Pro's more powerful hardware. Early peeks at Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone, for instance, looked promising. But even without the better graphics on day one, the PS4 Pro's larger 1TB hard drive and the knowledge that you're getting a degree of futureproofing might be worth that $100 extra for some.

Where does that leave the PS4 Slim? The internal hardware is basically identical to the earlier 2013 model, just crammed into a smaller housing. In other words, there are zero reasons for existing PS4 owners to get one. And the PS4 Pro should be the first stop for gamers looking to finally take a leap into the PlayStation realm (if you have have a 4K TV). But with sale prices as low as $250 -- with Uncharted 4 included -- the PS4 Slim is at least a great budget game system, and one that doubles as a solid Blu-ray player and video streamer to boot.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

What's different? Not a lot

So what's different about the PS4 Slim? For the most part, just the plastic body. It's rounded now instead of pointy at the ends and it's surprisingly thin. In fact, I wouldn't stand it vertically without the optional stand Sony sells. I also like the tactile power and eject buttons on the front left side. Sony had replaced the overly sensitive touch ones in later runs of the original PS4, but these are even better.

The console itself does run quieter than the original PS4, but I'm not sure it runs much cooler. The PS4 Slim seems to warm up just like its predecessor does, but it handles the heat just fine.

Thankfully, the Slim also lets you easily swap hard drives: any 2.5-inch laptop SATA drive (including solid-state models) up to 6TB should work.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

To be clear: There is no performance change with the PS4 Slim at all and you won't notice anything new or different when playing PS4 games.

The most noticeable difference between the original PS4 and the new Slim is the omission of an optical digital audio port around back. This probably won't mean much to you unless you use a third-party headset from a company like Astro or Turtle Beach. These devices use that port for a digital audio signal (it can carry surround sound) and you won't get that same digital high fidelity using the DualShock 4's analog headphone jack. Of course, if you're gaming with a headset, you probably already have the old PS4, or you're looking at the Pro model (which does have an optical port).

Then there's the slightly modified DualShock 4 that ships with the Slim. First off, it features a thin horizontal LED light window near the top of the touch pad. This makes sense -- it was always tough to appreciate the color the controller was displaying, especially if it's contextual to the current game you're playing.

The new DualShock 4 also can give players increased response time when connected using a USB cord. I know, you're thinking "wait, what?" But yes, the old controller doesn't move data over a wired connection where this new one does. Go figure.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

HDR

Thanks to a firmware update, all PS4s now have high dynamic range (HDR). That means the possibility of improved contrast and color compared to standard 1080p and 4K video. However, most people using PS4s have them connected to a 1080p HDTV, none of which, as far as I'm aware, support HDR. That's a 4K TV thing.

If you're itching for 4K and HDR gaming, the PS4 Pro is likely for you.

Other choices: PS4 Pro, Xbox One S

Sony's beefier home console, the PS4 Pro, includes a 1-terabyte hard drive and offers improved graphics with games that are suitably updated. If you're looking to buy your first PS4 console, you can skip the Slim and pay $100 more for Sony's latest and greatest. It's worth noting that the PS4 Pro, however, can't play 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays.

You should also be aware of the Xbox One S, which can play 4K Blu-rays and is HDR compatible. It also starts at $300. Microsoft's answer to the PS4 Pro, something the company currently calls Project Scorpio, won't be here for at least another year, but it does appear to edge out the PS4 Pro's specs on paper.

Final thoughts

So there you have it: There's no need to buy a PS4 Slim if you already own a PS4. If you're looking to enter the PS4 family for the first time, you should first check out the more powerful 4K-capable PS4 Pro for $100 more.

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8.6

Sony PlayStation 4 Slim

Score Breakdown

Design 9Ecosystem 8Features 8Performance 8Value 9