Gamers have been curious about what Sony might have up its sleeve for months. The PlayStation 4 era is drawing to an end, with a new console expected by the fall of next year. Questions about what the PS5 might look like, or what kind of capabilities it would have, however, have remained uncertain. As he did with the PS4 generation, Mark Cerny is making the rounds to talk about the new platform. Some of what he’s disclosed so far sounds like a doozy.
The as-yet-unnamed console (referred to here as the PS5 for simplicity’s sake) is built on third-generation Ryzen with Zen 2 architecture and is built on 7nm CPU technology. This isn’t surprising — the sharp improvement in power consumption that AMD CEO Lisa Su described at CES is going to be very interesting to console manufacturers, who want to save every milliwatt of power they can.
The GPU, which is listed as a custom variant of the Navi family, will support ray tracing. Cerny notes that ray tracing can also be checked to see if the player can hear audio in a specialized variant of the technology. Like the PS4, the PS5 will contain an audio chip intended to improve spatial audio and immersiveness. These sorts of technologies tend to be underused due to the lack of immersive audio options and 5.1 – 7.1 speakers in actual user homes.
We now know the PSVR will be useful with the PS5.
A few weeks ago, we speculated that Sony might maintain PSVR compatibility across product families. We now know that it will be doing this. “I won’t go into the details of our VR strategy today,” Cerny says, “beyond saying that VR is very important to us and that the current PSVR headset is compatible with the new console.”
A Faster Hard Drive?
According to Cerny, one critical component of the PS5 is its support for much faster storage. What’s confusing about this pitch is that Cerny seems to be implying that the PS5 has a special kind of SSD — one with much faster access times and raw performance than is typical.
Part of what’s confusing about this is that the Wired story begins with a nonsensical quote attributed to Cerny. “I have an SSD in my laptop, and when I want to change from Excel to Word I can wait 15 seconds.” Wired writes: “What’s built into Sony’s next-gen console is something a little more specialized.”
That’s a rather unusual problem to have. It implies that these files are absolutely enormous, being pulled over a network share or handled in some way that isn’t the direct result of local storage performance. Cerny showed Wired a demo in which his character moved from one location to another in 15s on a standard PS4 before showing the entire transition taking just 0.8 seconds on a PS5 devkit.
Sony could go one of two ways to deliver absolute peak storage performance on the PS5. It could directly connect the storage cluster using NVMe and, say, PCIe 4.0 — x4 lanes of PCIe 4.0 would be worth a PCIe x8 connection, for example. Alternately, it could have implemented some kind of software caching solution in which part of a local NAND cluster is kept in SLC mode, and the OS uses prefetching to keep the data there that it thinks it’s most likely to need. New levels could be loaded as you approach the end of one area to minimize streaming time.
Consumer SSDs already use this trick to accelerate writes on slower NAND devices, so there’s nothing stopping Sony from using something similar. Cerny noted that the PS5 will be designed to take better advantage of the faster storage speeds available on the market, which also makes sense — upgrading consoles to faster storage has always been extremely hit-and-miss, depending on the specific characteristics of the game in question.
Of course, the company could have something else entirely different in mind. The above are two potential approaches, not the sum total of the capability. A few other tidbits: Physical media will still be supported, and the PS5 will be fully backward compatible with the PS4.
One last thing. Despite the mention of 8K support, the baseline version of the PS5 will no more be an 8K console than the 2013 Xbox One/PS4 was a 4K console. 8K content isn’t expected in-market until near the end of the next decade. It is unlikely that even a refreshed version of the PS5 debuting in 2022-2023 would be capable of driving 8K gaming in 2027-2028.