The next generation of consoles launches at the end of the year, but there are plenty of key questions to be answered before release. After months of rumours, Sony finally lifted the lid on the console’s architecture, revealing more about what the console can do. Here’s what we know so far.
PlayStation 5: Australian Price and Release Date
The PlayStation 4 launched in Australia in November 29, 2013, mirroring the console’s worldwide release. It was a return to a familiar pattern for Sony – the PlayStation 3 was meant to launch concurrently worldwide, but a shortage of components for Blu-Ray drives meant the console didn’t arrive in Australia until March 23, 2007.
Barring the PS3, the holidays are when Sony puts new hardware into the wild. The PlayStation released in November 15, 1995, having originally launched for the 1994 holidays in Japan. The PS2 launched on November 30, 2000, and slim versions of the PS2, PS3 and PS4 have launched in the September/October/November busy period.
So there’s a long-standing pattern of releasing hardware just in time for Christmas. But extra confirmation came from AMD, the makers of the semi-custom chip that will be in the PS5, Xbox’s next console, and the current console generation.
In a quarterly earnings call, AMD confirmed that revenues in their semi-custom business – the part of AMD that makes bespoke chip designs, and the unit whose earnings are mostly driven by console sales – would be down for the FY2019-2020 financial year.
“As we go into 2020, without talking about any specific customer, we believe that semi-custom will return to a growth business for us in 2020 and beyond,” AMD CEO Dr Lisa Su said.
Lead Sony engineer Mark Cerny also confirmed that the PS5 wouldn’t release in 2019, but it’s also unlikely that we’ll see it in early 2020. The console uses the 7nm manufacturing process that AMD’s new Ryzen and Navi CPUs/GPUs are built with. But the amount of units that have to be made for a simultaneous worldwide console release is well beyond the amount of new desktop CPUs and GPUs that go into the wild.
And while manufacturing silicon gets more efficient over time, the sampling and testing process that follows can take several months, especially at the quantities that a Sony or Microsoft would require.
While the price is currently unconfirmed, it’s likely to launch around the $US499 ($730) mark according to the latest rumours, and console pricing trends of the past.
PlayStation 5: Launch Games
We don’t currently know a lot about what games are coming to the PlayStation 5, but some titles have already been confirmed. These include the following:
There are also strong rumours indicating a Horizon Zero Dawn sequel could be in the works for the PS5, but for now its remains unconfirmed.
Stay tuned for news about more games coming to the PlayStation 5 soon.
The PS5 will have a custom audio chip dedicated to audio processing and 3D audio.
As Cerny noted in the original PS5 reveal, using ray tracing for audio has been done before. The best visual example of this is in a demonstration of Battlefield 4‘s audio obstruction system, which indicates whether there’s an object between the player and the source of sound.
In the March livestream, Cerny revealed more details about how this would work in practice. The PS5 ships with a custom audio engine and proprietary algorithms called the Tempest 3D AudioTech, with the internal hardware designed to be functionally similar to how a Synergistic Processing Unit (SPU) would work in the PS3.
What that means in practice is that the PS5 will have dedicated hardware for audio processing, allowing the PS5 to supporting hundreds of sound sources at much higher quality.
But to get proper 3D audio the way Sony wants it, gamers will have to go through a compatibility test. The PS5 will ship with five presets, based off a range of Head-related Transfer Function tables (HRTF) that Sony generated. The HRTF tables can be individualised per person, but it’s not currently possible for to generate individual HRTF tables for every gamer. But the idea is that you’ll pick the HRTF preset that gives you the warmest, richest and most precise sound to your ears – because everyone’s ears and hearing is completely different. Players will be able to toggle between the original PS4 stereo audio and the PS5’s 3D audio, however.
“”Maybe you’ll be sending us a photo of your ear, and we’ll use a neural network to pick the closest HRTF in our library,” Cerny said during the livestream. “Maybe you’ll be sending us a video of your ears and your head, and we’ll make a 3D model of them and synthesise the HRTF.”
“Maybe you’ll play an audio game to tune your HRTF, we’ll be subtly changing it as you play, and home in on the HRTF that gives you the highest score, meaning that it matches you the best.”
The PS5 will have no loading screens and install times will be a thing of the past.
Sony's official video comparing performance of PS4 Pro vs next-gen PlayStation pic.twitter.com/2eUROxKFLq
— Takashi Mochizuki (@6d6f636869) May 21, 2019
Sony, Microsoft and other executives have already spoken about some of the things that annoy gamers. One of the easiest wins is with loading times, especially since the current generation of consoles are still built using older SATA-based hard drives, instead of the lightning quick NVMe drives in newer laptops, or the still-quite-fast SSDs that have become commonplace in most gaming rigs.
The PlayStation 5 will ship with an 825GB M.2 NVMe SSD, allowing for a sub-second loading times in Insomniac’s Spider-Man, as demonstrated by Sony recently.
In a livestream in mid-March, Cerny confirmed that the speed of the PlayStation 5’s SSD would be 5.5GB/second. He confirmed that this won’t be the fastest available SSD on the market by the time the PS5 is out – PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives are commercially available now, and those devices can hit 7GB/s or 8GB/s when they fully saturate the bandwidth available. However, the key with Sony’s SSD is that it has a custom flash controller with a 12 channel interface, along with a custom I/O unit supporting the Kraken decompression tech from RAD Game Tools:
Oodle Kraken is a revolutionary new data compression algorithm that achieves very high compression ratios, but with unheard-of-fast decompression. It gets compression like the highest compression LZ compressors – LZMA, LZHAM, Brotli, and more than ZStd or RAR. With other compressors that means accepting a tradeoff for slower speeds; that is, in the past you had to choose high speed or high compression, you couldn’t have both. Kraken blows that away, with decode speed 3-5× faster than zlib, and 10-30× faster than LZMA. It’s just much faster than anything else at its compression level.
The SSD, compared to traditional platter drives and with the advancements in architecture, is approximately 100 times faster than the standard PS4.
“At 5GB/s, the potential is that the game boots in a second, there are no load screens – the game just fades down while loading a half dozen gigabytes and fades back up again. Same for a reload: you’re immediately back in the action after you die, and fast travel becomes so fast it’s blink and you miss it.”
Cerny stressed that the most important function, however, could be on level design. Designers currently have to create a lot of twisted passages and objects in their levels wholly for the purpose of limiting how much textures and data have to be loaded at any given time. Insomniac’s Spider-Man uses a particular technique to deal with the seek time of the PS4 and PS4 Pro, by grouping all the data for parts of a city block together. It helps the streaming speed, but the game has to duplicate a ton of data unnecessarily: something like a mailbox, for instance, is duplicated on the hard drive around 400 times just to get around issues with the hard drive.
Running off a custom SSD with custom controllers means designers and programmers no longer have to find workarounds to deal with these issues, freeing up level design. The speed of the SSD also means that the system memory for the PS5 can be used more efficiently, with RAM only holding data for the next second of gameplay, rather than the next 30 seconds in the PS4.
PlayStation 5 will support real-time graphics ray tracing too, although developers will decide on how much ray-tracing they use.
While the Radeon 5700 and 5700 XT cards that just launched don’t have any on-board support for AI or real-time ray tracing, it’ll definitely be a feature of the PS5. AMD was very tight lipped about ray tracing before E3 – understandable, given that it wasn’t supported in the products that launched – but Lisa Su did say they had made specific optimisations for the PS5.
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“We certainly have done very specific optimisations for Sony,” Dr Lisa Su said in a roundtable interview at Computex, as transcribed by Anandtech. “What you should expect though is ray tracing is important technology, and you will see it across our portfolio. Particularly working with the ecosystem will ensure that there will be strong ecosystem support.”
But in the March livestream, Cerny talked that AMD’s roadmap for their GPUs could also be modified based on their collaboration with Sony. “If you see a similar discrete GPU available as a PC card around at roughly the same time as our console, that means our collaboration with AMD succeeded in producing technology useful in both worlds. It doesn’t mean at Sony we simply incorporated the PC part into our console.”
But simliar to PC, developers will have plenty of choice on how ray-tracing is implemented. Beyond ray-traced audio and leveraging the Tempest 3D AudioTech and Tempest Engine, developers can implement ray-traced reflections, global illumination, ray-traced shadows. One PS5 title, Cerny said, is “successfully using ray-tracing-based reflections in complex animated scenes, with only modest costs.”
Machine learning and variable rate shading, which we’ve seen in some PC games like Wolfenstein: Youngblood and will be a part of the Xbox Series X’s feature set, wasn’t mentioned.
PlayStation 5 Backwards Compatibility
The biggest problem with playing PS3 games was the console’s custom-built processor – the 8-core Cell CPU, which cost around $400 million to develop.
So when Sony threw that out the window and went with an AMD semi-custom design for the PS4, older games had to be rewritten, or emulated, to work on the new console. The next-gen PlayStation uses the same architecture as the PS4, so if you want to see what your PS4 games looks like at 8K or with a more stable frame rate, you’ll be able to.
But the PS5’s backward compatibility requires testing on a game-by-game basis. Sony has tested the top 100 PS4 titles, ranked by playtime, and “almost all of them to be playable at launch” on the PS5.
But why not all games? Cerny explained that the boost in the PS5’s GPU and CPU, not to mention the increased size of each compute unit in the PS5 compared to the PS4, meant that some games simply couldn’t handle the increased speed. “The boost is truly massive this time around and some game code can’t handle it. Testing has to be done on a title-by-title basis,” he said.
It’s probably the biggest difference right now between the PS5 and the Xbox Series X: the Xbox Series X will support all Xbox One games and any existing Xbox and Xbox 360 titles in Microsoft’s backward compabitility library. Sony does have the PlayStation Now service for those who want to play older PS1, PS2 and PS3 games, but that isn’t available in Australia – and Sony has spoken little about whether Australians will get access with the PS5.
Speaking of backward compatibility support…
PlayStation 5 will have PSVR Support
For those who invested in PSVR, hold onto it. Mark Cerny confirmed PSVR would be “compatible with the new console”, but was very strict about saying anything further. “I won’t go into the details of our VR strategy today,” Cerny said.
A second generation PSVR, however, is definitely coming. The company’s global head of research and development, Dominic Mallinson, told CNET this year that PSVR has to evolve. “It’s not quite there yet as a mass market proposition… we do want it to be lighter weight, and easier to put on, less cables, less mess,” Mallinson said.
Whether Sony opts for a wireless VR future, which most consumers would want, is another thing. Removing wires ramps up the cost of materials significantly, and a huge element of PSVR’s appeal was that it made VR more affordable. But Sony has taken out a patent for a wireless VR headset, which shows the headset communicating with the PS4 via a breakout box (similar to what the PSVR has now).
Sony’s also filed patents recently for other VR peripherals, including new controllers with analogue sticks and a control system that’s “capable of presenting the sense of force for the movement of each finger of the left and right hands of a user”.
Cerny’s livestream spoke about PSVR and the hardware’s advancement in audio algorithms, but nothing further was mentioned about PSVR support on the PS5.
You can upgrade the PS5’s storage with an off-the-shelf NVMe drive, but you’ll have to wait for Sony to certify what drives you can buy.
Having less than 1TB obviously isn’t ideal for a lot of gamers in a world where 150GB+ downloads are increasingly common. Cerny confirmed during the Sony livestream that players would be able to expand storage by adding a M.2 NVMe PCIe 4.0 drive into a bay of the PS5.
However, you can’t just buy any drive today. For one, the bay in the PS5 is particularly small. The second problem is that the drives need to be faster than the PS5’s SSD to account for differences in their architecture. “Right now we’re getting M.2 samples and benchmarking them in various ways,” Cerny explained.
“When games hit beta as they get ready for the PS5 launch at year end, we’ll also be doing some compatibility testing to make sure that the architecture of particular M.2 drives isn’t too foreign for the games to handle. Once we’ve done that compatibility testing, we should be able to start letting you know which drives will be able to physically fit, and which drive samples have benchmarked appropriately high in our testing.”
Cerny said this list, however, was likely to be released after the PS5’s launch. “Please hold off from getting that M.2 drive until you hear from us,” he said.
PlayStation 5 Supports 8K
There’s not much detail on this one, other than the initial confirmation that the next-gen console will support 8K graphics. It’s supremely unlikely that you’ll get 8K/60fps out of the gate, much in the same way 4K consoles now generally target 30fps instead of 60fps.
But what is more likely, since nobody owns an 8K TV yet and plenty of people only just upgraded to 4K HDR TVs, is support for higher frame rates at 4K. The latest HDMI standard, 2.1, allows for up to 120Hz refresh rates and, consequently, justification for consoles to support frame rates beyond 60fps. The new standard also supports the following:
- Dynamic HDR, which is capable of changing HDR settings on a frame-by-frame basis.
- Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), which enables the use of object-based surround sound formats, such as Dolby Atmos.
- Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Quick Frame Transport (QFT) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), which are helpful for video games since they reduce input lag, latency, and refresh rate for smoother, more accurate gameplay.
- Quick Media Switching (QMS), which removes the delay when switching between resolutions and frame rates.
Variable refresh rate will be a massive boost for games with unstable frame rates or inconsistent frame timings. But just as interesting is dynamic HDR. An upgrade to the existing HDR support in TVs and certain monitors, dynamic HDR adds additional metadata that allows for frame-by-frame or scene-by-scene adjustments, meaning that each individual scene or shot can be optimised for the content in it.
The kicker is you’ll need a new HDMI cable for all the good stuff. Older HDMI cables won’t support the additional bandwidth in the new standard, so get ready for another couple years of knock-off HDMI cables filling up the aisles of JB Hi-Fi and co.
PlayStation 5 Controller May Feature An In-Built Mic
Patents spotted in the wild indicate that the new PlayStation 5 controller could have an in-built mic. The mic is rumoured to tie into the PlayStation Assist AI voice assistant, another new development which popped up last year.
While the existence of the mic is yet to be confirmed, it would be a great change from having to purchase external technology like the PlayStation Camera, or an all-in-one headset.
PlayStation 5: Cloud Streaming
Sony has dabbled in the cloud gaming space for years, even if its PlayStation Now service stubbornly hasn’t made it to our shores. But with the recent strategic partnership between Sony and Microsoft, which allows the former to use the latter’s Azure data centres for “game and content-streaming services”, Sony’s cloud streaming should be more of a possibility.
You can, after all, already use your PS4 or PS4 Pro to stream games to phones and PCs. It’s called Remote Play, and while it’s best with a PS4 Pro connected via Ethernet, it works pretty damn well. The limitations of the consoles, however, meant you could only stream at 1080p and 60fps with a PS4 Pro, or 720p from a base PS4.
Sony unleashed its latest major software update for the PS4 on the world last night, and with it came Remote Play on PC and Mac. The idea is pretty attractive, especially for those with families or large sharehouses where there's a high possibility of the TV being in use. I've toyed around with Remote Play for a number of hours across a variety of games. And so far it's pretty impressive -- with a few caveats.Read more
In a release sent out on the corporate Sony website this year, Sony said streaming was one of the main pillars for the “future direction of PlayStation”. “PlayStation streaming: Through the evolution of ‘Remote Play’ and ‘PlayStation Now,’ provide a seamless game experience anytime, anywhere.”
Precisely what the evolution of Remote Play looks like is anyone’s guess, although the direction Microsoft is going with Project xCloud provides a useful guide.
“Imagine that you just began a single-player campaign the day before heading out of town and want to keep playing from where you left off,” Microsoft said in a xCloud blog post. “Maybe you just need a few more minutes to wrap up that weekly challenge before you head into work, but your bus just won’t wait.”
That’s undoubtedly what Sony is thinking as well, especially since they partnered with Microsoft specifically to help fuel their cloud gaming aspirations. Exactly how much processing is done in the cloud, and how much is done on a local device or the local console, is another matter.
Before the next-gen PlayStation launches, expect Sony to talk a lot about playing Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Last of Us Part Two and probably Death Stranding on a train or bus.
Sony will limit PlayStation 5 production in the first year
According to reports from Bloomberg, Sony is planning on producing the PlayStation 5 in limited quantities during its first year. Bloomberg quotes industry sources that say only 5 to 6 million PS5 units will be produced in the fiscal year ending March 2021.
This is speculated to be because the PS5 will launch with a high, spec-based price that limits its mainstream appeal. According to Bloomberg, Sony is having difficulty placing a firm price on the console because of the ‘ambition’ of the machine specs.
From July, all newly developed PS4 games must run on PS5
According to Eurogamer, Sony has issued an edict to all developers that games created for PlayStation 4 must also be compatible with PlayStation 5 starting from July 13.
This is likely a method of future-proofing to ensure all games can transition into the next gen if developers desire. According to the report, Sony will contact developers directly to help ensure this compatibility.
What this means in the long-term is currently unconfirmed, but it may be that the PlayStation 5 offers an ‘upgrade’ service for last gen games, similar to Xbox’s Smart Delivery software.
We’ll learn more about the PlayStation 5 soon
Sony announced it would hold its PS5 showcase on June 5. It was set to run /”a bit more than an hour” and feature games as well as a look at the brand new console.
This has now been postponed in the wake of America’s protests against racism. Sony noted this move was made so “more important voices can be heard.” Expect the conference to be rescheduled at a later date.
Stay tuned for updates as we learn more about Sony’s newest flagship console.