Everything Sony Announced About The PS5

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Everything Sony Announced About The PS5
Image: Mark Cerny, chief architect of the PS4, PS4 Pro and now the PS5.

After letting Microsoft have free reign for almost three months, Sony and their chief architect Mark Cerny finally lifted the lid on what everyone wanted to know about the PlayStation 5: install times, backwards compatibility, how 3D audio works in practice, GPU and CPU speeds, ray-tracing, architecture and what that means for video games.

In a premiered video over YouTube, Mark Cerny stood in front of a quiet room, starting by saying “there’ll be plenty of opportunities later this year to talk about PlayStation 5 games”. Rather, the livestream was an opportunity to talk about the console’s architecture and what that meant for developers.

“About once every two years, I take a tour of the industry,” Cerny said, talking about spending “weeks on the road” as he visited more than 24 developers and publishers talking to them about the PlayStation console and ecosystem.

Cerny spoke about a custom engine for audio. It wasn’t a feature requested by developers, but something Sony was pushing for internally (and something that it’s shown off publicly before at CES).

The most requested feature from publishers and internally at Sony, however, was an SSD. “A lot of developer time was being designed around slow load speeds,” Cerny said. The PS4’s platter hard drive can take between 2 to 50 milliseconds seek time for a gigabyte of data, with a read speed between 50mb to 100mb/s depending on what edge the data is located, which works out to be an overall load time of about 20 seconds per 1GB.

“My rule of thumb is that the hard drive is spending two thirds of its time seeking, and only a third loading data,” Cerny said. And this is just for 1GB of data, which is bugger all these days.

The target for the PS5’s SSD hard drive, Cerny noted, was to hit at least 5GB/s bandwidth at a minimum. The load time for 2GB of data is 0.27 seconds, meaning players don’t have to deal with loading times, reloading after dying, and fast travel becomes “blink and you miss it” type of quick.

“We might even have to slow that transition down,” Cerny said, although he argued the SSD’s main advantage is the freedom it gives developers.

Another strategy Cerny mentioned was the ability to load all the data behind a player instantly, reducing the amount of data that has to be streamed. Install times “as you know them today” will be gone, and system memory will be more efficiently used with the PS5. The SSD itself is “in some ways more like RAM”, and that the console will ship with 16GB of GDDR6.

But extra abilities like reducing install times, streaming bottlenecks and data streaming issues aren’t all resolved with an NVMe-level SSD. There’s also bottlenecks in the existing PS4 architecture, which is why adding an SSD yourself to a PS4 doesn’t automatically resolve all these issues.

So Sony worked on a custom flash controller, using a 12 channel interface that meant the natural size of the SSD would be around 825GB. “The friction caused by reinstall or redownloads would be quite low, so we locked in on that 825GB size,” Cerny said, adding that Sony would allow gamers to add more storage if they wanted.

After his tour of studios in 2017, Sony adopted a new decompression standard called Kraken that was either already in use at every major studio, or about to be evaluated. So when building a custom I/O unit, which forms part of the Zen-based system-on-a-chip from AMD that sits on the same die as the GPU and CPU.

But what if users want more storage? Cerny mentioned that users would be able to support “certain M.2 SSDs” that could be installed in a bay on the PlayStation 5. The drive will have to be a PCIe 4.0 drive, however, and those commercial NVMe drive won’t have the advantages of the custom flash controller that Sony created.

Cerny noted that Sony would be doing “compatibility testing” with various M.2 drives, and they’ll supply a list of compatible M.2 drives that are not only fast enough, but are physically capable of fitting within the specified bay in the PS5. “Please hold off on getting that M.2 drive until you hear from us,” Cerny said, noting this list would most likely be published after the PS5’s launch.

As for the GPU, it’s a RDNA-2 custom design from AMD, Cerny stressed, adding that users should not use compute unit counts or teraflops as a measurement for the power of RDNA 2 GPUs against the PlayStation 4.

“The PlayStation 5 GPU is backwards compatible with the PS4,” Cerny said, noting that this was handled by including legacy modes for the base PS4 and PS4 Pro inside the PS5. “Once backwards compatibility is in the console, it’s in. It’s not as if a cost backdown will remove backwards compatibility,” Cerny said, noting it took AMD years to get backwards compatibility going.

Almost all of the top 100 games on PS4, sorted by playtime, are expected to be playable at launch on the PS5 using this boost mode, Cerny said. Sony has to do individual game testing to be sure for other games.

The PS5 uses what’s called an intersection engine – the same technique AMD will use on their upcoming GPUs for PC soon – to enable real-time ray-tracing on consoles. Developers have full reign to decide what amount of ray-tracing they want to use: they can invest hardware time into global illumination, ray-traced shadows and reflections, or focusing on ray-traced audio.

“I’ve already seen a PS5 title with ray-traced reflections in complex scenes with only modest cost,” Cerny said.

To make all of this possible, Sony have tried to push the speed of the GPU much faster. Cerny deployed another example how running fewer compute units at a higher frequency wasn’t necessarily comparable to more compute units at a slower speed, because of how the frequency of a GPU affects all parts of a game. The PS5 will have 36 CUs – although each CU is larger than their PS4 equivalent – and the GPU has a variable frequency. “We continually run the GPU and CPU in boost mode,” Cerny said.

What happens is that the console runs at a consistent power draw, and the frequency of the CPU and GPU will vary based on the load require. AMD’s SmartShift technology lets the console send any unused cycles from the CPU to the GPU, and with the variable boost strategy Sony ended up capping the frequency of the GPU at 2.23GHz. The CPU, meanwhile, spends “most of its time” at 3.5GHz, although not all games will run at these high speeds all the time.

Cerny mentioned the most “dramatic progress” with audio over the PS4’s lifecycle was the audio in the PSVR. The main goals for sound on the PS5 was to support “hundreds of advanced sound sources”, make sure audio was part of the console and an improved experience for all users in all environments, and to improve the locality and presence of audio of games.

Using Dead Space of all games, Cerny pointed out it was easier for users to deduce where a final enemy was if you were using headphones as opposed to real TV speakers. With the PS5, the goal is to provide more precise, accurate 3D audio.

The audio engine is called Tempest, and the Tempest Engine is a hardware unit inside the PS5 that’s very similar on the audio units that were inside the PS3. “The goal being to make possible near 100% utilisation,” Cerny said.

Cerny mentioned that using an existing system like Dolby Atmos wouldn’t have been sufficient, because it wouldn’t have supplied 3D audio for all, and Sony couldn’t be sure what sound hardware certain users would have, not to mention issues with proprietary tech. But to actually get 3D audio working for regular humans, Sony has created five presets based that you’ll pick from using a configuration tool.

Cerny’s presentation didn’t include a teardown of the console, any upcoming features from the PS5’s controller or upgrades to the PS5 system software or ecosystem, although those details are expected to come as we get closer to launch.

This post is being updated live.

Comments

  • My connection was spotty, but I believe he stated the number of transistors in the PS5’s GPU CUs is 62% greater than those in the base PS4.

  • Maybe I’m just turning (turned?) into a grumpy old man, but I was looking for Sony to take some of Xbox’s thunder today … and they haven’t. Maybe this pivot to online means that entire PR plans are prompting drip feeds of information rather than ‘big bangs’ … it lacks that marketing pizazz that tickles my tits. Show me the box at least.

    • It’s Cerny doing a GDC talk to developers and programmers. Xbox is more savvy about how this generation is being marketed, and Sony is being a little oldschool about it all.

      I can personally say the 3D audio can be very cool. I did a demo of the tech at CES a couple of years ago, where they had to do measurements of the inside of your ear. It’s *supremely* effective, and Sony Music has been spending a couple of years building up support for it. If developers properly get on board, it’ll be sensational.

      • I might note though, its not like HRTF is new (theres extensions in DirectSound8, rofl), or all that costly in CPU time. I’m wondering what spending all that time on a DSP might end up with?

        • Alex didn’t mention it in the article, but I read elsewhere that it can do things like simulate directional sound for individual raindrops and a lot more individual points of sound than an existing system.

          • Pretty sure I saw that audio raytracing still has to be handled in the GPU’s shaders, rather than being able to be done on the DSP.

          • Apparently the Tempest Engine is just a bunch of GPU shaders without caches on a chip, so maybe that’s where the confusion lies.

      • Yes i think people got mixed up on what is was supposed to be, it was a tech talk aimed at developers so it was always going to be filled with tech jargon.

        I presume they will hold another video presentation around E3 revealing the console and controller design and prices.

    • *shrugs* does it really matter? I mean surely these days we all know what console we are going to buy, because if we have been gaming long enough we have got a whole catalogue of games, that we arent going to jump ship to lose.

      Also does it matter what it looks like, almost anything the PS5 does will be immediately more physically more practical and better looking that whatever the hell the new Xbox is called.

    • I don’t think it really matters what the thing looks like at the end of the day. Just about anything they come up with will be more appealing than the Xbox’s…uhhh…box shape.

      Also the specs may not be blowing the Xbox’s out of the water, but keep in mind the Xbox One X was more powerful than the PS4 Pro and that didn’t help its sales. The original Xbox was many times more powerful than the PS2 but we know how that turned out.

      Technical specs aren’t everything (though I do admit they help).

  • “The PS4’s platter hard drive can take between 2 to 50 milliseconds to load a gigabyte of data”
    I think you mean seconds, not milliseconds.

  • There’s a tonne of custom silicon going on here…. either this will be a really smart move from Sony, or really dumb.

    That peak GPU boost clock for example is whilst the CPU is downclocked for example, so Sony really must have faith in how much offload they have with custom controllers to not hit the CPU, or be feeding with JIT to not cause issues.

    • Apparently a lot of the custom processing stuff is transparent to developers so any game developed for the PS5 gets access to it “for free”, which is a big benefit, and an improvement over the old thing where developers actually had to learn to use those custom ICs *cough*Saturn*cough*.

  • Xbox has the edge in hardware this time around. I am surprised to be honest. More powerful CPU and GPU. The GPU difference is significant, especially at 4K.
    I like the focus on SSDs but SSDs don’t push framerates and graphical fidelity. Any time performance dips below 60FPS is a bigger deal than waiting a few more seconds for something to load.

    • Should be noted, the PS5’s SSD is approaching speeds where you can use it as a JIT cache rather than just a load to memory approach. This could be very beneficial.

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