Sony is now officially the first at the starting gate for the next generation of video game hardware. The company unveiled the first details for its next-generation console in a Wired interview with PlayStation 4 lead system architect Mark Cerny. While Cerny was cautious not to name the new console, the naming conventions so far make it likely to be called the PlayStation 5. Though many details are still unknown, this was our first glimpse into the next generation of consoles.
The PlayStation 5 will be based in part on PS4 architecture, which has the added benefit of making it backwards compatible, allowing it to play games made for PS4. This is said to be a "gentle" transition to the next generation, to the point that some games are expected to be released across both platforms. It will also use physical media, amid speculation that the next generation would rely exclusively on downloaded games, not unlike a mobile phone. Sony's chief competitor, Microsoft, appears to be testing the waters with its recent announcement of the Xbox One S All Digital Edition.
Despite those similarities, however, this next console will have one big departure from prior ones: a solid-state drive (SSD), customized to take advantage of the hardware specs. This takes the place of a traditional hard-disk drive, which is slower, louder, and less power-efficient than SSDs. To showcase the advantages of this, Cerny demonstrated a loading screen from the 2018 video game Marvel's Spider-Man. A PS4 Pro loaded a particular section in roughly 15 seconds, while a development kit used by PS5 game developers performed the same task in under one second. Cerny added that this can also impact how quickly the world can be rendered, which developers could then use to their advantage. As Cerny noted, building the hardware around the SSD results in much better performance than simply inserting a stock SSD into an existing hardware framework like the PlayStation 4.
The hardware also houses an AMD chip with a CPU based on the third-generation Ryzen, and eight cores of the seven-nanometer Zen 2 microchip. The GPU is based on the Radeon's Navi line. All this hardware power is said to be capable of supporting 8K resolution and specialized features like ray tracing. The AMD chip will also enable 3D audio. While Cerny was quiet on Sony's next-generation VR plans, he did note that "VR is very important to us and that the current PSVR headset is compatible with the new console."
These hardware plans seem far along, but it's unclear when the console would be ready for launch. In 2018, head of PlayStation John Kodera said the next PlayStation was roughly three years away, putting it sometime in 2021. Opening up about hardware plans now may suggest that timeline has shifted. The PS5's price point is also a mystery right now, though Cerny has reportedly described it as "appealing to gamers in light of its advanced feature set."
Meanwhile, Sony's competition appears to be heating up, with every major console manufacturer announcing or rumored to announce plans soon. Microsoft is planning to "go big" at E3, the gaming industry's major annual convention, and may begin detailing its plans for the next Xbox. Nintendo is reportedly planning to launch hardware revisions of its popular console-handheld hybrid Nintendo Switch. And all of them will face a new competitor as with its cloud-based streaming service, called Google Stadia, which will begin public testing later this year.