The PlayStation 4 is so 2013. It's been years since Sony's current console launched across the globe, and fans are already hungry for the next Big Thing. But with a hypothetical PS5 more than likely years away, what can fill the void? Enter the PS4.5, a whispered-of mid-generation update to Sony's popular device.
Confirmed by several sources to various outlets, the PS4.5 seems to be real. But what is it, and what is it capable of? Based on the rumors and gossip currently circulating, plus a bit of our own speculative analysis, we've come up with several key things you should know or expect about this console refresh.
It'll have 4K support, but not the way you might expect
The buzzword of the 2010s, at least when it comes to television, is "4K." While 1080p has been the gold standard for HDTV content for years, customers are hungry for ever-sharper picture. Outputting four times the number of pixels as a 1080p set, 4K TVs have grown in popularity while shrinking in price, making them an increasingly tempting proposition. Sports events are being broadcast in this "Ultra High Definition" format, several streaming video services likewise offer the increased resolution, and the first 4K Blu-ray movies are now on shelves.
Yet the PlayStation 4, one of the most popular technological devices of the past several years, does not support 4K gaming. To emphasize, that's 4K gaming; the system can output 4K video and photo content just fine. Naturally, it would make sense that a PS4.5 would make the jump to supporting 4K video games, right? Not so fast.
The technology powering 4K graphics is still far too high-end and expensive to put in a console - all but the most powerful desktop PCs struggle with UHD. Unless you want a PS4.5 that costs $2,000, 4k games are pretty unlikely. Even if Sony had access to tech that would make a mass-market 4K system possible, developers would need the extra power as well. Again, this is simply unrealistic to expect.
That being said, multiple sources say that a 4K compatible machine is in development. How is that possible? Well, 4K isn't just about resolution; it also means a wider color range, and high-dynamic range imaging for better contrast throughout the picture being displayed. Those technologies could be incorporated relatively easily, at minor cost.
It'll almost certainly have a new processor
AMD hasn't hidden its plans for the APU processors that the PS4 currently uses. Like many hardware advancements, these devices have become smaller and more efficient over time. The company is right now in the process of shifting to 14 nanometer-sized modules, down from 28nm (which is what the PS4 currently features). Theoretically speaking, Sony could utilize these new, smaller processors and build a chipset that's the same size as the current model, but with twice the computational power.
Note that's twice the power of CPU, not twice the power of the system. More upgrades, such as an improved graphics processor and more, faster RAM would be needed for the PS4.5 to be twice as powerful overall when compared to the standard PS4. Totally new graphics architecture is particularly unlikely, as it could introduce incompatibilities with current PS4 titles. The headache for consumers and developers would be too high. That said, a better graphics processor based on the current architecture is at least feasible.
It could be the PS4 Slim
Ever since the early days of PlayStation, Sony has been happy to re-release systems with newer, sleeker designs. Just look at how much the PS2 changed, going from base model to Slim, or the many, many iterations of the PS3. The PS3 is a particularly good example, because it launched with a 90nm processor, but the latest models feature a 45nm processor. Notice the parallel between these measurements and the current trend from 28nm to 14nm mentioned above.
Much hubbub has been made about a console that can support 4K, but remember that PS4 already does that. All Sony would need to do is introduce the new model at an attractive price point with a visually-appealing redesign while touting improved 4K playback (such as supporting 4K Blu-Ray discs) and boom, you have a "PS4.5" that matches the rumors currently circulating.
By tweaking existing structure rather than reworking the entire PS4, this would also mean a hassle-free experience for users. And considering the PS4 has sold more than 40 million units worldwide, that's a lot of happy customers - or at least, happier than they would be if they were told that a significantly more powerful console was incoming, and the $300-$400 investment early adopters made was a mistake. Chants of "The PS4 is dead, long live the PS4.5" echoing through the streets would be unlikely to say the least.
Although mounting evidence suggests the PS4.5 is very real and very likely to reach consumers (remember, not every project in a company's Research & Development lab makes it to the shelf), we still don't have confirmation from Sony. With E3 just around the corner though, don't be surprised if that changes soon.