There’s not going to be a PlayStation 5 release in 2019. When it does show up, it might not even be called “PlayStation 5.”
But Sony’s next-generation gaming console is definitely coming. With the company skipping its usual E3 showcase at the June 2019 show, PlayStation 4 lead architect Mark Cerny — who is also, unsurprisingly, deeply involved in the next-gen PlayStation — delivered some of the first details on the until-now secret project.
It’s too early for a fully detailed specs rundown, but Cerny laid out the broad strokes in an interview with Wired. As you might expect, the next PlayStation — I’m just going to call it PS5 from here on out, and we’ll all just agree that the final product may have a different name — will sport a number of common sense hardware upgrades.
There’s a beefier CPU and GPU, of course. In technical terms: the CPU is an eight-core AMD Ryzen chip, with each of those cores built on the company’s new 7nm Zen 2 architecture. The GPU is a custom Radeon Navi board which will notably support the high-end graphics feature called ray tracing.
Let’s talk about what all of that means. The more powerful CPU is just that: added processing power to make games run better and more smoothly. That means the potential for everything from higher frame rates to shorter load times to a more stable experience overall, particularly in more resource-intensive blockbuster games.
The improved CPU is also key to having a GPU that supports for ray tracing. Without getting into all the fancy technical explanation, ray tracing basically boils down to significantly improved lighting effects.
That’s a very simple explanation for a far-reaching shift, but it’s easier to understand when you can actually see it. If you’re curious, take a look at this video from an Nvidia presentation on ray tracing, which the company’s latest line of PC graphics cards support.
Digging deeper, the console will feature native support for 3D audio, which means a more accurate spatial representation of the soundscape in the games that you play. If you’re familiar with Dolby Atmos or headsets featuring built-in virtual surround sound, it’s a similar principle here.
The capabilities of 3D audio will be most evident when you’re using a headset, but Cerny confirmed that even TV speakers will benefit from the hardware-level sound upgrade.
The last major piece of Sony’s early look at PS5 hardware is confirmation that all consoles will ship with a built-in solid-state drive (SSD). You’re probably familiar with these if you’ve purchased a new laptop in the past five or so years.
What are the benefits, though? For starters, SSDs are more durable than their disc-based predecessors. That’s because they’re basically souped up flash drives; unlike more traditional hard drives, there are no moving parts. All of your data is stored on microchips. Jostling an older hard drive while it’s in use can corrupt your data, but that’s not a risk with an SSD.
More important for gaming, SSDs are faster. A lot faster. Here’s a recent example from my own experiences: when Anthem came out, I installed it on my now-several-years-old gaming PC and quickly realized the game’s load times were unbearable. I would wait upwards of two minutes to jump between loading zones most of the time.
I’d always known SSDs offered better performance, but a caring friend bullied me into pulling the trigger and getting one. Because of my current setup, it made more sense to opt for an external SSD connected via USB 3.0 — not quite as good as having an internal SSD (like the PS5), but still an upgrade.
With this reveal, Sony set the bar for the next-gen console race.
All of a sudden, my load times went from two minutes-plus to under a minute. Not just that, but performance improved. The SSD allowed my computer to process Anthem‘s data more quickly, and the result wasn’t just speedier load times; the overall experience was smoother.
It fully converted me. I don’t install any games on my older hard drives anymore, and my next PC upgrade will definitely include at least one or two internal SSDs dedicated to gaming. The games of 2019 and beyond are simply outgrowing the capabilities of older hard drives. There’s some suggestion that the PS5’s SSD is better than what’s out there right now, but we’ll have to wait and see how it performs in actuality to really get a sense.
Cerny didn’t confirm much beyond that. He did promise a slow transition from PS4 to PS5, meaning there will be a period of time after the new hardware drops that games will come to both consoles. He also said that the PS5 would have backward compatible support for PS4-era games at the very least, as well as continuing support for the current PlayStation VR hardware (though that will likely see a next-gen upgrade at some point as well).
What can we take from all of this? On a certain level, most of these upgrades are no-brainer additions that will likely be the standard for next-gen hardware from Microsoft and Sony both (Nintendo is always more of a wild card).
Ray tracing, 3D audio, SSDs being the standard rather than an upgrade — the march of gaming tech is already moving in those directions. For anyone who pays attention to PC gaming tech, it’s not surprising that a next-gen console will support them all.
But with this reveal, Sony set the bar for the next-gen console race. We likely won’t get a fuller picture of how it all bakes together until 2020, but we have a better sense now of how the traditional console space is thinking about what’s next.