Update: Sony just announced that, over the last four years, it has sold 70 million PS4 systems. That’s a pretty impressive number, all things considered, and might be good indicator that the company is thinking long and hard about the PS5.
Article continues below…
New game consoles are always exciting, especially when the console in question is the PS5, Sony’s fifth installment of the PlayStation consoles. And while we’d like to stoke the rumor flames and tell you there’s a console coming in the near future – it’s hard to say when we’ll see the PS5 (or PlayStation 5 if you prefer).
Here’s some good news: while we’re not sure when the PS5 is coming, Sony President and CEO Shawn Layden confirmed in an interview with Golem.de that the PlayStation 5 would be coming eventually … just not anytime soon.
It makes sense Sony isn’t jumping on the next-gen bandwagon just yet. The company practically just released the PS4 Pro, a mid-generation console upgrade that’s expanded the hardware’s functionality sufficiently, and probably still sees a lot of life in the fourth-generation PlayStation.
There’s also the question of what, exactly, the PS5 could do better.
Sony now has a system that’s capable of both HDR and 4K upscaled gameplay which, for most gamers, is more than enough for the time-being.
Unless Sony has a treasure trove of 8K TVs ready to ship out exclusively with PS5 consoles, there might not be a point in launching a new system right now if the focus is going to be on visual enhancements.
But, perhaps even more importantly, the console’s existence and recent success has called into question whether a proper follow-up to the PS4 will ever be needed. We might be moving towards a more iterative hardware cycle.
Though Sony briefly had the most powerful console on the market with the PS4 Pro, Microsoft threw a spanner into the works in November 2017 with its Xbox One X. It’s too early to tell just yet but that could spell trouble for Sony.
But just because Microsoft has launched a new system, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Sony will counter immediately – there are good reasons to believe that Sony is less comfortable with the idea of taking a mobile phone-style “upgrade every year” approach to consoles in the future, including comments from Yoshida himself.
Also, it boils down to simple economics: it’s well documented that the longer a console can persist on the high-street shelves, the more profitable it becomes, as economies of scale reduce manufacturing costs, while a large install base means publishers can sell more copies of their latest games.
What does that mean for the PS5? Will Sony’s fifth console come to fruition? What would it do differently? What can it do differently?
For right now, at least, we don’t have all the answers.
But instead of twiddling our thumbs and waiting for Sony to plop the next system on our laps, we’ve done some digging to try and get to the bottom of the mystery that’s kept us up at night: what is the PS5 and when is it coming out?
PS5 Release date
With no official word from Sony, it’s difficult to know exactly when we might get to see a PS5, so all we have for the moment is the guesswork of industry analysts to go on.
Analysts are predicting we could see the PlayStation 5 as soon as 2018 but the most likely outcome is 2019. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, analyst Damian Thong (who previously predicted the PS4 Pro and Slim) suggested that the console would arrive in the latter half of 2018.
Another analyst, however, believes we’ll have to wait a little longer. Speaking to GamingBolt, Michael Pachter said that though he thinks the PS5 will be a half step and will be backwards compatible with the PS4 Pro he doesn’t think we’ll see it until “2019 or 2020 but probably 2019.”
This slightly later release, he says, would make more sense as it would fall in line with predictions for when the 4K TV market in the US will reach 50%. “I think Sony has probably got the next console cycle lined up already”, he says, “I think they already know what they’ve got to do.”
More recently Pachter reiterated this claim, saying that Sony would most likely release the new console in 2020. He added that at this time he thinks the PS4 Pro will become the base model PlayStation and will see a reduction in price.
We’ve got the TVs: can we have proper 4K gaming?
The PS4 Pro offers a tantalising hint of what 4K gaming could be like. But the stark fact remains: it still doesn’t have the grunt to do native 4K consistently.
Its “checkerboard” technique of taking single pixels and using each to render four pixels in 4K resolution is clever and it can do native 4K output but it often has to sacrifice resolution to keep performance consistent.
Chris Kingsley, CTO and co-founder of developer Rebellion, dangles an even more ambitious technological carrot in front of a putative PS5: “Obviously new hardware should be able to support 4K TVs and possibly even 8K TVs at a push!”
Native 4K support, surely, will be a basic requirement of the PlayStation 5. And if Sony cracks that particular problem with alacrity, it could even mean that a PlayStation 5 will arrive sooner than anticipated.
The VR effect
Sony recently became the first console manufacturer to embrace virtual reality, thanks to the , but if you examine PlayStation VR closely – and observe how it operates on the PS4 Pro – it invites speculation about how a PS5 might take VR to a new level.
Currently, PlayStation VR operates at lower resolution than the and – but, as it stands, even its current incarnation almost pushes the base PlayStation 4 beyond its limits. Running a PlayStation VR on a PS4 Pro brings improved frame-rates, which are very handy indeed in terms of the overall VR experience, but even the PS4 Pro can’t overcome the resolution constraints set by the PlayStation VR headset.
So it’s a good bet that, presuming PlayStation VR is successful (and it already appears to be catching on) Sony will want to return to the market with a second, markedly higher-tech iteration: which would provide an obvious selling point for the PlayStation 5.
And if a PlayStation VR 2 headset could be sold without an external black box, it should be markedly cheaper, further accelerating VR’s march into the mainstream.
Rebellion’s Kingsley makes another good point about second-generation VR. “Anything that reduces the leads has to be a good thing,” he says.
The umbilical cord which currently attaches VR headset-wearers to their consoles or PCs obviously goes against VR’s entire immersive nature, and we’re already beginning to see, for example, a third-party implementation for the HTC Vive that renders it wireless. It’s a safe bet that the capacity for running a wireless PlayStation VR 2 will be built into the PS5.
But Kingsley’s PlayStation VR 2 wish-list goes further: “Wide vertical and horizontal field-of-view would be top of my list, and of course, that would require 4K resolution per eye, and high dynamic range would be great too.”
HDR and wider fields of view should be achievable but sadly, we don’t reckon full 4K VR is likely to be a possibility even for the PS5. As Kingsley points out, that would require 4K rendering per eye, which equates to 8K rendering overall, which we expect to be beyond the PS5’s capabilities.
That said, perhaps Sony will find some clever technological bodge to get around that before it releases its fifth PlayStation console.
What form will the PS5 take?
It has been suggested that future consoles could take radically different forms to current ones, thanks to advances in cloud computing bringing about the ability to stream games, thereby doing away with the components that make consoles so bulky. But we don’t reckon Sony will take a more Nintendo-like approach and put the PS5 in a tiny box.
One reason for that is that with the PS4, Sony has only just committed to using what are basically the innards of a PC – the first three PlayStation variants used proprietary components which, in the PS3, were so esoteric that the console flopped. Developers, certainly, are massively relieved that the PS4 took the PC route.
“Developers want the ability to make the best games using the minimum amount of effort. We want to focus on being creative and getting things to just work,” Kingsley says. “So the hardware should be based around current console hardware, which is in turn based on PC hardware. We always want fast CPUs and GPUs, but lots of fast RAM is also very important – it’s no use having fast processors if they are starved of data.”
All the above are achievable, but will the PS5 still have a hard disk?
Sony Computer Entertainment President and CEO Andrew House spoke at the PS4’s launch about how deciding to put hard disks and 8Gb of RAM in the PS4 were both “Billion-dollar decisions”. The fact that Sony has now made external hard drive support possible for the PS4 and Pro is a step in the right direction and this is something that could be carried over the the PS5, which will undoubtedly have to deal with even larger 4K assets.
Of course, if games were just streamed to the PS5 that problem would disappear entirely, and Sony already has a game-streaming service in the form of PlayStation Now.
So why isn’t this more of a definite feature rather than something on our wishlist? Well, Sony is remaining tight-lipped about PlayStation Now uptake figures, but we suspect they are pretty unimpressive. It has certainly had issues with setting the right subscription charges, given that PlayStation Now effectively gives backwards compatibility – a “luxury” that was previously free for owners of PlayStation 2s and 3s.
But the biggest issue is broadband speeds. Even 4K TV requires a minimum of 25Mbps broadband in order to provide satisfactory streaming, and it’s doubtful whether 4K game streaming – with extra information on top of the visual side – would even work reliably at such speeds. There would be nothing to stop Sony launching a small form-factor cloud-based version of the console for those with mega-fast broadband, perhaps with a mobile phone-style subscription model that has an upfront hardware costs.
But for the PS5 to sell anything like its predecessors, there would have to be a conventional version with similar innards to the PS4.
In his recent autumn statement, chancellor Philip Hammond announced an infrastructure investment aimed at bringing fast broadband and 5G mobile data to the UK. But the earliest that would have an impact would be 2021, and the PS5 will almost certainly arrive before then. Perhaps its first mid-cycle update, though, will be a streaming version which takes advantage of burgeoning 5G networks?
Optical discs or not?
The rise of download games, which continue to eat into the physical disc market, means that pundits have been predicting that consoles will go discless for about a decade now. However, our guess is that the PS5 won’t be the first system to risk venturing down that road, at least not until it catches wind of Microsoft doing the same thing.
Sony has taken a lot of (justifiable) flak for not putting a 4K Blu-ray drive in the PS4 Pro – making it a less attractive purchase for film and TV buffs than the Xbox One S.
Surveys continue to show that gamers are still attached to the possibility of buying games on physical discs – not least because they can then sell them (a practice that the games industry hates), and due to their persistent hard disk space issues, although it’s only the current generation of consoles which has insisted on installing entire contents of Blu-ray discs onto hard disks.
If Sony were to axe the Blu-ray drive from the PS5, gamers would expect several terabytes of storage in compensation.
Kingsley gives a developer’s view on the topic: “I think the days of delivering films and games via disc are on the decline, as most people are going digital; however, some people like physical discs, so who knows whether that decline will level out and remain present but at a lower level than now?”
Download figures have been on the rise over the last year but EA CFO Blake Jorgensen has said that he thinks consoles and disc drives will continue to stick around.
“Consoles and disc drives probably stay around for a long period of time […] I think it’s the consumer deciding what’s the easiest way for them to buy a game.
“And it may mean they no longer have a store down the street from them so they decide to buy it [digitally] maybe it’s easier for them to do.”
So when can we expect the PS5?
Given that the PlayStation 4 was launched in 2013 and Sony’s previous consoles arrived in six-year intervals, it would be easy to project that it will launch the PlayStation 5 in 2019. The sort of technology available then should easily allow full native 4K games without saddling the PS5 with a massive price-tag and, by 2019, 4K TVs will be the norm, rather than the exception, in the average household.
So it would be a surprise if Sony doesn’t want to capitalise on that at the earliest possible juncture. However, Kingsley points at the PS4 Pro, and reckons that could have an effect on the length of the current console cycle: “It’s a difficult one to judge, but overall I think it’s fair to say that the overall cycle will lengthen slightly.”
Especially if the PS4 Pro wildly outsells the base PS4, which admittedly isn’t something we anticipate happening once it has reached a critical mass of households with 4K TVs.
So perhaps 2020 might be the year in which Sony unleashes the PS5 on the world, as the first native 4K console with wireless VR … as long as Microsoft doesn’t get there first.