We have already made it clear that there’s consensus among market analysts along with strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that the PlayStation 5 is looming heavy on the horizon. Each modern console generation, on an average, has been separated by six years. Considering the fact that the PS4 was launched in 2013, it’s due for replacement in 2019, which is also most analysts agree upon as well in their PS5 predictions.
In fact, 2019 is also the year when 4K TV adoption is going to reach optimal levels and give Sony the right opening to launch a new PlayStation console engineered to deliver an optimal 4K gaming experience. Assuming that the PS5 is slated to release around that time, let’s make an educated guess at what we can expect from Sony’s impending answer to the Xbox One X based on the current market forces and standards.
Cloud Gaming Seems Unlikely
The underlying hardware of a console dictates the form factor, or how the console looks in terms of design, size, and other aesthetic aspects. Industry pundits have been projecting a radical change in the form factors of the next generation consoles, with their main bone of contention being videogame streaming services. Videogame streaming or cloud gaming services, for the uninitiated, is a cloud computing solution that promises to turn the actual consoles into dumb terminals with minimal hardware muscle by the virtue of offloading the actual processing onto large clusters of server farms. Doing so could radically change console design by rendering them ultra-compact and power efficient as well.
However, this is a long shot because everyone from NVIDIA (GeForce Now) to even Sony (PlayStation Now) and host of other PC-based players have offering for a long time. Apart from the many catastrophic failures witnessed cloud gaming services, the underlying latency and overall bandwidth issues prevent it from being optimal and widely adopted by consumers. A 4K game requires at least 25Mbps of bandwidth to deliver an acceptable streaming performance. The tragic reality is that the most of the civilised world doesn’t enjoy the sort of internet connectivity or even data caps to sustain these speeds.
After all, this concept has been around circa 2010 and, frankly playing high end games on an expensive system sounds too good to be true and continues to be the case. It’s unlikely that Sony will take a gamble with its multibillion dollar console business for a concept that hasn’t showed any iota of success.
Bespoke Hardware or Established x86 Architecture?
Now that we have established the rationale for the next PlayStation console to adopt a more traditional approach to hardware, the next question is whether Sony would be willing to ditch the x86 PC architecture for the PlayStation 5. This seems unlikely for a number of reasons. Here’s one where you have Gabe Newell himself giving two cents on why it is difficult to develop games for bespoke hardware such as the PS3.
While the past PlayStation consoles (with the exception of PS4) incorporate bespoke hardware with custom processors, the situation came to a head with the PS3 which was powerful but too complicated for its own good. This made the PS3 SDK too convoluted for the game developers to fully exploit until the later stages of the console’s life cycle. And that meant, games for the most part looked better and played smoother on the Xbox 360, which was orders of magnitudes slower than the PS3.
Both Sony and Microsoft realised the underlying futility of complicated custom hardware and embraced nearly identical x86 based hardware from AMD for their subsequent consoles. It would be fair to assume that both Microsoft and Sony will continue to stick to the tried and tested x86 platform, which makes it easier for the developers to code games for the consoles as well. And that, after all, is what dictates the success of any console.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on Sony to opt for the same x86 architecture, albeit with more beefed up custom processor and GPU solutions to beat the Xbox One X in the 4K gaming stakes.
Form Factor: Will it Be Slimmer and Sexier?
As always, the first iteration of any console generation tries to strike a balance between processor die size and cost. Larger the die, the more transistors it can hold – and that, in turn, is proportional to the processor’s computational power. This needs more power and generates greater amount of heat. That’s why the first iterations of any console generation are large and bulky compared to the die shrunk versions that incorporate smaller fabrication processes, which in turn reduces die size, thermal ceiling, and power consumption.
In other words, don’t expect the PS5 to be too slim and compact, because that’s something Sony will save for the mid-generation die shrunk update to the upcoming console. Apart from the rather unlikely cloud gaming option, the exclusion of optical drives is another factor that could affect the design of the PS5. Analysts have long predicted consoles ditching the optical drive ever since the last generation, but the idea hasn’t really been implemented. The current generation of consoles employ optical media despite both Microsoft and Sony possessing their own solid digital videogame distribution networks.
However, the real reason for the inclusion of optical media is two-fold. A major chunk of console games is still distributed through optical media and internet connectivity as well as data caps aren’t conducive for digital distribution in some regions. The other important reason is the fact that consoles are still used as an integral part of the living room entertainment and home theatre applications, so it makes sense for them to include the prevailing optical media standard used for home video. This was amply evident when Sony received a lot of flak for releasing the PS4 without a UHD Blu-ray drive, while Microsoft did so with the Xbox One S.
It only makes sense to surmise that Sony is most likely waiting for better 4K TV adoption across the globe, which is slated to happen around 2019. The time then will be rife to introduce a true blue 4K gaming console replete with the UHD Blu-ray drive to allow gamers and home cinema enthusiasts to play UHD Blu-ray discs, which will have proliferated in the market by then.