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PS5: New console war begins as first details of PlayStation's next generation console are revealed

Tom Hoggins
Sony has revealed the first details on its upcoming PS5 console - Getty Images North America

It was the most low-key of reveals for the next-generation PlayStation console. In an interview with Wired magazine, PlayStation’s chief system architect Mark Cerny unveiled the first details and specs of what will likely be called the PS5.

Not that Sony have officially committed to the name, of course, nor what the box will look like or any release date beyond the fact that we shouldn’t expect the console in 2019. Instead the news was heavily technology-focussed, diving into the nitty-gritty of the PS5’s inner workings.

It was a rather unusual way to reveal a console. It was both far from the glitz of the PS4’s New York event reveal or the amplification of the E3 trade show; the setting where Microsoft are expected to reveal the next generation Xbox in June. But whether it was to combat a leak or just PlayStation taking a different tack, the details gave a fascinating glimpse into the future of home consoles.

While Google and Microsoft are looking to server-based cloud gaming with its Stadia and XCloud projects respectively --and Sony likely to have plans for its own expansion of its PlayStation Now service-- PlayStation and Xbox are also preparing to provide the premium technological performance that only a native console can. This seems to be reflected in the specs that Cerny revealed.

PS5 specs: SSD, 8k and ray-tracing

The PS5’s main processing power will be provided by an eight-core CPU based on the third-generation of AMD’s Ryzen microprocessors. As you might expect, this is a significant generational leap over the PS4’s AMD Jaguar chip-set which should lead to more stable framerates and higher detail.

Perhaps more intriguingly is the introduction of a customised variant of AMD’s upcoming ‘Navi’ line of GPUs. This will support ray-tracing, an emerging technology within video game graphics that, at its core, better renders shadows, reflections and light in real-time.

Ray-tracing has come to PC games like Battlefield V via Nvidia's new RTX graphics card range. The reflection of the fire in the car door is done in real time

That might not sound like such a big deal on paper, but as Nvidia’s demonstrations of its new RTX graphic cards has shown, ray-tracing is a considerable leap for visuals in practice. It is a technique used by Hollywood for blockbuster computer-generated-imagery (CGI), but is only now beginning to be possible in video games.

The PS5 will support 8k displays, even if that TV technology is some time away from being mainstream, and offers 3D audio for richer soundscapes no matter your setup.

Generally speaking, nicer graphics and better sound is about the base level you would expect from a next-generation console. Cerny is much more excited about the solid-state-drive (SSD) that is replacing the traditional hard drive within the PS5.

SSDs are flash-based and have no mechanical moving parts. The drives are featured in many laptops now and can, generally speaking, retrieve information much faster than traditional hard drives. The PS5’s SSD is customised for video games and Cerny hails it a ‘game-changer’. While it all sounds rather nitty-gritty, the potential advantages are clear: faster downloads, shorter loading times within games and quicker rendering of digital worlds while in play.

Loading times and the speed at which the world is rendered in games like Spider-Man will be greatly improved with the new PS5 architecture

To demonstrate Cerny showed Wired the PS4 game Spider-Man running on the next-generation PlayStation dev kit. According to the report when Cerny initiated fast-travel around Manhattan, Spider-Man teleported to his new location in 0.8 seconds compared to waiting 15 seconds on PS4. Spider-Man could also move through the world at a much faster rate as the environment was drawn much quicker.

The latter suggests that the SSD could have greater ramifications than just the welcome reduction of loading screens, so long as developers can utilise the technology. And while the SSD is one of the main features, Cerny also confirmed that the PS5 will have a disk drive for physical media. While Microsoft has announced it will be releasing a discless version of the Xbox One; Sony are not quite ready to go for digital only console despite the considerable increase in downloaded games. Of the £3.86bn video game sales in the UK in 2018, 80pc was digital.

PS5 features: PS4 backwards compatibility and VR to feature

This initial reveal was largely technology based, though Cerny did briefly speak to broader features. The most significant of which is likely to be backwards compatibility. Due to the PS5’s architectural similarities to its 90m selling predecessor, it will be able to run PS4 games natively.

Backwards compatibility has become something of a hot topic in the games industry over the past few years, with players initially disappointed that neither the PS4 or Xbox One allowed you to play older games. Sony dismissed the feature almost entirely, but Microsoft earned back some lost kudos by implementing a robust backwards-compatibility catalogue for certain Xbox and Xbox 360 games. With the PS5, backwards-compatibility is back on the table; probably a smart move given the PS4’s roaring success.

Sony would not be drawn on its 'VR strategy' but the existing PSVR headset will be compatible with the PS5

Elsewhere Cerny would not be drawn on Sony’s virtual reality strategy for PS5, but did say that “VR is very important to us”. The current PSVR headset, which has sold 4m units, will also be compatible with the new console.

Nor would Cerny talk about Sony’s surely in-progress plan to take on cloud-gaming, other than to say: “we are cloud-gaming pioneers, and our vision should become clear as we head toward launch”.

Nonetheless, despite the industry seeming to be looking beyond fixed-platforms, Sony are certainly putting faith that the traditional console will remain the primary way to play for at least the next few years.

PS5 release date and cost

The Wired article said that the next-generation PlayStation will not be coming any time in 2019. That is the closest we have got to either of the big platform holders showing their hand in terms of release date. That means that the PS5 will almost certainly release in 2020.

What part of 2020, however, remains to be seen. The last two PlayStations have released in November in time for the Christmas rush, which makes a lot of sense. However, Nintendo found success releasing its own Switch console in March 2017 and the timing of the announcements suggest that a similar strategy might not be too much of a reach.

In terms of pricing, and with the components already listed, it would likely take some technical and financial wizardry for the PS5 to cost less than the £450 RRP of Microsoft’s premium Xbox One X. Though Sony managed an impressive pricing strategy with the £349 PS4 which afforded Sony considerable goodwill at the start of the last generation. Achieving that balance again will be key to both Microsoft and Sony as they position their technologically advanced next-generation consoles.

PS5 games

Naturally Sony aren’t talking about any specific games for the PS5 yet, particularly from its own first-party studios (although a ‘smile and pregnant pause’ when asked about Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding suggested the game might be a cross-release on both PS4 and PS5).

Bethesda however, have already announced they are working on two games for ‘next-gen’ in the form of sci-fi RPG Starfield and fantasy epic The Elder Scrolls VI. Rumours abound that CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 may also be looking at next-gen, or at least cross-generation, when the game finally arrives.

There is the chance that Hideo Kojima's enigmatic Death Stranding may be a cross-platform title on both PS4 and PS5

PS5: What’s next?

The unusual nature of the small-scale reveal means that it’s hard to guess when we may hear more about the PS5. We know that Sony will not have a press conference or major presence at E3 this year so that is likely to rule out much news in June.

The most likely scenario seems to be a full scale reveal later this year, particularly if Microsoft do as they promise and ‘go big’ at E3 with their own next-gen console. Sony will not want its big rival to dominate the conversation for too long. Unless, of course, the Japanese company pull a fast one and unveil more PS5 details next month as an E3 spoiler. That seems unlikely, but who knows? One thing is for sure, the first shots of the next-gen console war have been fired.

What are your hopes for the PS5? And how do you think Microsoft's Next Xbox will stack up. Do you think we even need a new console generation with the oncoming advent of cloud gaming? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. To join the conversation log in to your Telegraph account or register for free, here.