Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life

The arrival of the PS5 and Xbox Series X has made 4K gaming a reality for millions of players, so it's understandable that many Switch owners are feeling a little left out and are seeking to make the resolution jump as well – despite the fact that Nintendo's console is now five years old. Rumours of a Switch Pro (and reports that Nintendo has future-proofed the Switch OLED's dock) feed into that desire, but for now, the console remains a 1080p machine – unless, of course, you resort to other measures.

We've already seen devices that promise to bump up the Switch's docked output to 4K, with the mClassic being the most notable; the company behind it, Marseille, has been creating upscaler tech for years. We came away slightly unimpressed with the most recent model of the mClassic, however; while it certainly had some impact on the image – it sharpened it, at least – the improvement wasn't perhaps enough to justify the cost of purchase.

Now, PhotoFast is releasing its take on this concept, the 4K Gamer Pro, and it promises massive strides forward in terms of sharpness, image processing and more. We were sent a review unit by the manufacturer to put through its paces – the unit is coming soon to Kickstarter later this month, with an expected "early bird" price of $109, which puts it in direct competition with the mClassic.

The 4K Gamer Pro is larger than the mClassic and is fashioned from quite cheap-looking plastic, with a design that hardly radiates a 'premium' feel. On one end you'll find the HDMI port (there's an 'extender' adapter included with the device which allows you to easily connect it to the Switch dock's HDMI-out port) and on the other, you'll see a female HDMI port, which is where you plug in your HDMI cable to connect to your TV. We were supplied with a high-speed HDMI cable by PhotoFast, but you'll most likely have one that's good enough lying around the house already. Next to the female HDMI port is a USB-C port, as the 4K Gamer Pro requires power to function. The bundled cable allows you to connect this to the dock's USB-A port.

On the top of the unit there's an illuminated button, which is pretty important when it comes to making the 4K Gamer Pro tick. Press this once, twice to three times gives you three levels of image enhancement, denoted by three LED brightness levels; the lowest setting bumps to 4K but uses a lower amount of enhancement and sharpening, while the third setting dials the enhancement all the way up; the second setting is in somewhere in the middle. Press the button a fourth time activates the 'pass-through' setting, which basically disables the 4K Gamer Pro and permits the standard 1080p image to run through to your TV, minus any image enhancement.

The good news is that the 4K Gamer Pro works as advertised. The image that hits your TV is 4K, so it's doing what it sets out to do – however, as was the case with the mClassic, the impact isn't always as noticeable as you might expect, as the signal is still 1080p – all the device is doing is upscaling it, so it's never going to be as crisp as a true 4K image.

That said, it's easy to spot where the 4K Gamer Pro is making a difference when you compare the upscaled and enhanced image against the pure 1080p one. The image is sharper and, in some cases, the device can make the visuals 'pop' more. While there's not a massive gulf between this and the mClassic, we did feel that the 4K Gamer Pro made more of an impact.

Screenshot 2022 04 08 At 11.33.49 Am
As you can see, the three 'enhancement' settings progressively sharpen the image, which can lead to remarkable results – but sometimes the top setting is a little harsh — Image: PhotoFast

One issue is that the 'enhancement' side of the 4K Gamer Pro can result in a less appealing image overall, especially when configured to the maximum setting. Each pixel is given more clarity which can, in some cases, result in a blocky image – this is especially noticeable when you're looking at icons on the Switch's home screen. These are assets that were designed to be viewed at a much lower resolution, and upscaling and enhancing them can sometimes make them look worse. We found that the second enhancement setting was perhaps the best one to use on balance, as it's more noticeable than the level 1 setting but not as harsh as the level 3. However, there were times when the top-level setting was capable of producing very decent results (Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one such example), so it's perhaps best to tinker with it on a game-by-game basis.

While we'd say that the 4K Gamer Pro definitely offers some improvements over rivals like the mClassic and can certainly make some of your Switch titles look sharper when playing docked, it's perhaps not the silver bullet that many people will be hoping for. At the end of the day, these devices can only do so much when they're given a native 1080p signal; while the 4K Gamer Pro does a decent job of sharpening things up and even improving the overall image quality, it's never going to challenge the pure 4K signal that is produced by consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X.

We'll most likely have to wait for Switch 2 (or Switch Pro?) before that becomes a solid reality, but in the meantime, those of you who want to take a little step closer to that dream have the 4K Gamer Pro as an option, at least.

Thanks to PhotoFast for supplying the unit used in this feature.