The next-generation of the video game console wars has a start date. Sony has confirmed that the Playstation 5 will release in “Holiday 2020”, pitting it directly against main gaming hardware rival Microsoft as it releases its next Xbox – currently known as Project Scarlett – in the same period.
The release date news comes as Sony revealed yet more technical detail on its next-generation console in an interview with Wired. The PS5 will have a controller equipped with haptic feedback on its triggers and grips, aimed at replicating the “feel” of environments in your hands. When walking across different surfaces in an action-adventure or platform game, for example, or driving between racetrack and dirt on a racer.
There was also more information on the difference that the “solid-state drive” (SSD) – which both the PS5 and Project Scarlett will feature – can make to modern gaming.
It has been a rather unusual way to reveal a console thus far for Sony; far from the glitz of the PS4’s New York event reveal or the amplification of the E3 trade show; the setting where Microsoft revealed Project Scarlett in June.
Instead, Sony has drip-fed technical details via two Wired articles and offered the odd nugget of information at investor meetings. Nevertheless, it has given us a fascinating glimpse into the future that the next-generation consoles will offer. Here is everything we know so far.
PS5 UK release date and cost
Sony has confirmed that the PS5 will release worldwide “Holiday 202”, which means between October and December next year.
In terms of pricing, and based on 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.
Sony did manage 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.
But not everything will be in the console manufacturer’s hands, with even the eventual outcome of Brexit likely to affect the final price in the UK.
The newest reveal in Wired was largely focussed on the PS5 controller -likely to be dubbed the Dualshock 5. The prototype reportedly looks very similar to the current PS4 controller, albeit one with an improved speaker and a small hole believed to be a microphone.
“We’ll talk about it at another time,” Cerny said when questioned by Wired about the rumoured voice-activated AI assistant for the PS5.
The most notable improvement, however, comes in the form of haptic feedback across the device. The “adaptive triggers” can offer different levels of resistance depending on the action (firing a bow, shooting a gun, revving a car’s accelerator).
Voice-coil actuators (a type of motor used in loudspeakers) are placed in the controller’s grips, which offers more feedback than the rumble present in the Dualshock 4. This includes a different ‘feel’ for walking through sludge, on solid ground or swimming through water.
It is an intriguing feature, though isn’t the first time this kind of thing has been attempted. The Xbox One controller has rumble placed directly into the triggers, while the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons have the precise “HD rumble” feature.
Neither has seen many games utilising the features, however, so it will be interesting to see if the PS5’s haptics are more impactful and widely-used by developers.
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.
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.
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.
This demonstration was later shown in an internal Sony meeting where it was recorded and later published on Twitter by Wall Street Journal writer Takashi Mochizuki.
The SSD will reportedly have greater ramifications than just the welcome reduction of loading screens, so long as developers can utilise the technology. Cerny said that users will have more control over what they install.
Just the multiplayer mode for a game, for example, or give you the option to delete the single-player campaign of a game once you are done.
Laura Miele of EA said that the GPU will be able to power “machine learning” for potential gameplay innovations.
“We’re stepping into the generation of immediacy,” she said. “In mobile games, we expect a game to download in moments and to be just a few taps from jumping right in. Now we’re able to tackle that in a big way.”
And while the SSD is one of the main features, Cerny also confirmed that the PS5 will have a disk drive for physical media.
PS5 features: PS4 backwards compatibility and VR to feature
What we know so far about the PS5 is largely technology-based, though Sony has spoken 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 gave the PS4’s roaring success.
Sony has hinted that as well as letting players fire up PS4 games on the new console, the PS5’s backwards compatibility feature will allow “cross-generation” play online. This means that PS4 and PS5 players will be able to play against each other online in supported games.
“Backwards compatibility, in a networked era, becomes something that is incredibly powerful,” said PlayStation boss Jim Ryan.
“Because the gaming community is somewhat tribal in its nature, backwards compatibility gives us the opportunity to migrate that community from PlayStation 4 to next-gen using the ability to play the PS4 games they have on their next-generation console.”
“Having compatibility is a positive thing,” SIE deputy president John Kodera added. “And not only for titles that can be played on the next-generation console, cross-generation the community can enjoy the games together, so from that standpoint compatibility has a very important role to play.”
Cerny also revealed that the user interface for the PS5 will be completely revamped, offering players the chance to jump into multiplayer matches and single-player missions directly from the console’s home screen.
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 is certainly putting faith that the traditional console will remain the primary way to play for at least the next few years.
Naturally, Sony isn’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).
However, Marco Thrush of Bluepoint Studios, which developed the recent remaster of Shadow of the Colossus said: “We’re working on a big one right now. I’ll let you figure out the rest.”
Bethesda has 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.