PS5 is happening… but reports that Sony's next generation console may launch as soon as 2018 (via semiaccurate.com) seem unlikely given a recent flurry of updates. Sony Interactive Entertainment's CEO John Kodera admitted that PS4 was entering 'the final phase of its life cycle' at the company's investor relations day on May 22nd, but claimed that the PlayStation brand's 'next big leap' won't happen until March 2021. It's entirely possible that the brand's big leap isn't PlayStation 5, but the evidence is stacking up.
Sony's new console was the subject of some after-hours chatter at the Games Developers Conference (GDC 2018) in San Francisco during March 2018. "We need to talk about PlayStation 5", joked one industry figure we know (perhaps not that jokingly, in hindsight), before the recent round of leaks and rumours. In the last few months, we've had PS5 processor rumours via SemiAccurate (a $1000 premium tech news site, which has a surprisingly solid track record), and insight on PS5's rumoured imminent release (or not) via Kotaku.
To help you navigate the speculation, we've compiled all the clues so far to try and bring you a clearer view of PS5. We’ll look at the best analyst predictions, examine the state of today’s hardware market to see if current trends can give us hints on where console graphics and CPU tech is headed, then cast an eye over the Ultra HD TV tech that should bring the best out of PS5. A recent article from Digital Foundry even claims that a PlayStation engineer is working on AMD's Ryzen CPU architecture, which is rumoured to power PlayStation 5. We’ve also spoken to a few tech engineer sources (under anonymity) for their take on what PS5 might deliver.
Sony won't reveal PS5 at E3 2018
Sony Interactive America president Shawn Layden confirmed that PS5 wouldn't appear at E3 2018 on a recent PlayStation Blogcast. However, rewinding back a year, Layden confirmed to German publication Golem.de that PlayStation 5 is definitely coming, speaking shortly after E3 2017. High profile industry analyst Michael Pachter also thinks PS4’s successor is a dead cert, going so far as to claim PS5 will be out by 2019, and be backwards compatible. Sony's recent investor relations day update makes that claim look less credible, however.
PS5 will use AMD's cost-effective Navi graphics technology, claims SemiAccurate.com rumour
PS5 will use gaming processor manufacturer AMD's upcoming Navi graphics technology, claims a rumour from SemiAccurate.com. Why should we take this claim seriously? If you can excuse the tech news site's misleading name, they have a good track record – predicting PS4 Pro and an iterative console cycle (including Xbox One X) back in 2013, plus accurate PS4 specs back in 2012.
By itself, this is no guarantee of accuracy, but the unreleased Navi technology is in open development. AMD's CEO Lisa Su referenced its existence back in May 2017 during the JPMorgan Tech, Media and Telecoms conference. Navi is a GPU architecture built on a 7-nanometer manufacturing process, which should lead to faster performing graphics cards and better energy efficiency. For benchmarking purposes, current consoles were built using a 16-nanometer process.
This is the key point: Navi isn't believed to outperform the highest end NVIDIA graphics technology, but will potentially offer a more cost-effective solution: a vital consideration for console hardware, which will likely aim to retail for circa $500, versus the $2000+ price of a top specification PC desktop. Navi might provide the performance of a GTX 1080 at mainstream prices. Currently, Nvidia's GTX 1080 graphics card retails for £529 / $700, so you can see the appeal for PS5.
For a ballpark view of what visuals a GTX 1080 can achieve (as a potentially crude benchmark for PS5), you can watch the video below.
For more detailed analysis of what leap in power PS5 might provide, you can read this analysis from tech experts Digital Foundry, which suggests that PS5 is highly likely to be backward compatible with PS4. One key reason is that Sony are likely to use Intel X86 chip architecture in PS5, as they did with PS4 Pro and PS4. A more compelling reason is that with 60 million PS4 owners – and counting – Sony won't be keen to leave them behind.
SemiAccurate's PS5 rumours also claim the CPU will be custom Zen (an AMD processor microarchitecture), that PS5 dev kits are already in circulation, and that 'VR Goodies' may be baked into PS5's technology – although this was an inference from the SemiAccurate leak, not stated as 'fact'.
PS5 release date to be as soon as 2018? Not so fast, claims Kotaku
The most jaw-dropping rumour from SemiAccurate.com was that PS5 may launch as soon as 2018 – a rumour that Kotaku.com sources were quick to challenge. Kotaku suggested a 2020 release was more likely, based on conversations with two developers who were familiar with Sony's plans for a new console. This falls in line with Sony's recent update about the 'next big leap' due in 2021.
Kotaku's source did leave the door open for a more imminent release date, however: “On a multi-year project, a lot can happen to shift schedules both forward and backward. At some point, Sony’s probably looked at every possible date. It’s all about what they think is the best sweet spot in terms of hardware.” The inference is that Sony could be ready to react if Microsoft (or another rival) moved unexpectedly to announce new hardware.
Kotaku's sources were sceptical of the SemiAccurate.com claims about PS5 dev kits being widely distributed, but clarified that dev kits can take many forms. 'PlayStation 5' may exist more as a hardware outline, shared with a select band of developers, as opposed to the more traditional notion of a dev kit i.e. a physical box containing the relevant PS5 chips. Take a look at some old PS4 Pro dev kits that one canny gamer picked up at an auction when former Sleeping Dogs developer United Front Games closed down in late 2016. This 'PS Neo' dev kit (the original codename for PS4 Pro) contained the correct hardware, but its design was way bulkier than the retail PS4 Pro unit.
The PS5 graphics tech
First, let’s try and constitute what would represent a generational shift in power for PS5. At present, the ultimate in luxury is 4K resolution/60 frames-per-second gameplay, which is referred to as 'True 4K'. On console, true 4K gaming is best served by Xbox One X – and you can learn more about what that means by checking out our list of every enhanced Xbox One X game. PS4 Pro purports to offer 4K gaming at 60 fps, but only 10 games currently hit that benchmark, according to a recent test by Digital Foundry.
However, PC users with insanely beefy rigs (like Alienware’s super expensive Area-51 desktop) can comfortably run games at 4K/60fps, though the costs involved are eye-watering. A top of the range PC can set you back as much as $4000, according to a recent test by windowscentral.com where they attempted to build a PC that would significantly outperform Xbox One X. One of our tech sources explains that developers like Microsoft Studios and Naughty Dog have the budget and means to push for 4K, but most mid-size and smaller creators don’t have the budget or manpower to make it a reality just yet.
If you stump up for an Intel Core i7 CPU, throw 16GB of RAM into your PC, and install Nvidia’s GTX 1080 graphics card, you’ll be left with a powerful rig that can run most 2017 games in true Ultra HD at frame rates far higher than PS4 Pro can manage. Of course, these components cost upwards of £1000/$1300 to assemble – Nvidia’s GPU will set you back the thick end of £500/$600 on its own. In many ways, there's never been a worse time to build a high end PC desktop, due to the surge in graphics cards prices driven by the demand for Cryptocurrency / Bitcoin mining.
However, it’s not as simple as ‘buying better tech for your PC and it’ll make games look nicer by default’. According to one of our tech sources the PC versions of games require more raw horsepower from the graphics card and CPU to get games to run on high settings. Consoles get the same performance more efficiently.
Why? Working with fixed hardware and APIs (on console) makes things more predictable, so you can get better performance from it. PS5 will have consistent hardware specs (as will Xbox One X), meaning developers can be more efficient and effective with what they have.
Our same tech source continues to explain that consoles can do more with less, so the next Playstation won’t need an Nvidia GTX 1080 to deliver 4K/60fps. Speaking of which...
Will PS5 be able to run games at true 4K/60fps?
Some PS4 games struggle to run at 1080p/30 frames-per-second, so 4K/60fps may be a struggle for PS5 unless creators are able to squeeze serious efficiency from the machine (which will require bigger budgets that some won’t be able to afford for years). Right now the likes of Nvidia’s GTX Titan X and 1080 Ti can easily hand in these numbers, but squeezing such an ungodly powerful (crucially, brick-sized) GPU into a console-sized box would be difficult and expensive. Again, though, it’s not about raw horsepower. In reality, 4K/30fps or 1440p/60fps may well be a more realistic target for many PlayStation 5 games, but the big AAA studios should be able to get to 4K/60. PS4 Pro’s (admittedly compromised) push for 4K gaming means true 2160p presentation is likely going to be a priority for PS5. Something backed up by the tech gurus over at Digital Foundry, who reckon Sony could feasibly manufacture a native 4K-capable console as early as late 2018 if it so wished.
Tech site Tweak Town is actually more bullish about PS5’s chances of being able to hand in 4K/60fps performance, citing a conversation it had with an unnamed industry insider. According to this anonymous source, the next PlayStation could well have a dedicated GPU. Views on this are split however, with a recent Digital Foundry article speculating that Sony would continue to house the GPU and CPU on the same chip to retain cost-efficiency. "it's likely that both firms will integrate both CPU and GPU components into a single chip - it keeps costs low and it makes the process of future 'slim' models easier to realise", says Digital Foundry's Richard Leadbetter.
However, if the GPU were to be separate, this would be a bigger deal than it probably sounds, when you consider both PS4 and PS4 Pro are slightly hamstrung by the fact they use an APU: a processor which combines the CPU and GPU into the same single architecture. With a dedicated graphics card at its disposal, that isn’t directly connected to a CPU, the prospects of PS5 nailing down 4K/60fps experiences should definitely look rosier.
Clever rendering techniques currently in used on select PS4 Pro games also bode well for PS5’s 4K future. Thanks to some seriously clever optimisation, the Pro (let alone a hypothetical PS5) can already run games convincingly at 4K/30fps by way of checkerboard rendering. More than any other title, Horizon: Zero Dawn represents a great example of this technique in motion. Thanks to crafty shortcuts, devs only need to render a scene at 50% resolution, before blowing up the resulting picture to 4K; a process that requires a lot less rendering power than a true 2160p image.
When we finally get to PS5, it’s likely studios will be more comfortable deploying checkerboard rendering, meaning the technique should only get more convincing. This should ensure the next PlayStation won’t need a GTX 1080 graphics card under the hood to deliver satisfying 4K experiences.
Will Sony partner with AMD again to make the PS5 GPU?
While Nvidia’s line of Pascal GPUs can now comfortably fit into the best gaming laptops – a stripped down GTX 1080M can run the likes of Hitman and Rise of The Tomb Raider at over 100fps in Full HD on Asus’s recent ROG Zephyrus laptop, the machine currently topping our list of the best, linked above – Sony will again likely partner with AMD (Nvidia’s longtime hardware rival) when it comes time to pick a GPU for PS5.
The PS4 Pro already has elements of AMD’s advanced Vega line of GPUs operating under the hood, so it makes sense Sony will stick with what it knows. AMD’s next line of graphics hardware is due out in 2019, and could potentially be an ideal fit for PS5. Codenamed Navi, this tech promises greater scalability and next-gen memory. Providing AMD can keep the form factor compact, Navi should offer a massive leap over PS4’s current AMD Radeon graphics core.
Will such a cutting edge solution match current top-end PC gear for raw power? Amazingly, probably not. Mark Cerny, PS4’s lead architect, told Digital Foundry last year that the realistic limits for a next-gen console GPU would most likely top out at eight teraflops – there’s that word Microsoft loves so much. In comparison, Nvidia’s recent 1080 TI graphics card can deliver around 11.3 teraflops of performance. Again, though, consistency of hardware is a big deal, so PS5 will likely over-perform relative to its specs. Remember the early days of PS3? Developers found it tough to create games on the system, which was technically more powerful than Xbox 360, yet Microsoft’s games were regularly better in terms of visuals and performance. Looking at you, Bayonetta.
AMD's Ryzen is the leading PS5 CPU candidate
While graphics upgrades are always the most important single factor in any generational console leap, we’re increasingly seeing how vital strong CPU performance is in modern games. After PS4 Pro launched, many gamers rightly wondered why more titles weren’t running at 1080p/60fps on the beefed up console.
The fact is, while PS4 Pro offers a substantial bump over the graphics hardware seen in the launch machine – the Pro’s Radeon GCN graphics core provides a 2.3x performance boost – CPU gains between the two PlayStations are much narrower. Indeed, the Pro’s AMD x86-64 processor runs with only a slightly higher overclock (2.1GHz, compared to base PS4’s 1.6GHz), representing a 1.3x increase in power.
PS4 Pro’s modest processor upgrade means performance in many games is bound by CPU limitations. Though Pro has the graphical grunt to output games at true 4K, hitting 60 frames-per-second requires plenty of CPU muscle, even when running titles at 1080p. It’s why the likes of Destiny 2 run at 4K/30fps on Pro, instead of 1080p/60fps. Quite frankly, unless your engine is particularly well optimised – see Metal Gear Solid 5’s superbly adaptable FOX engine – both the PS4 Pro and normal PS4’s CPUs are going to struggle to hit that golden 60 frames mark.
Thankfully, PS5 should be a lot more capable in the processor department. Digital Foundry theorises the next PlayStation will be powered by AMD’s new Ryzen CPU line. Unlike PS4’s existing AMD X86 architecture, which was initially designed with mobile devices in mind, Ryzen has much better console credentials.
A principal Sony programmer associated with the firm's Advanced Technology Group is working with AMD's Ryzen technology, claims a report on Digital Foundry. The story originated from specialist Linux site Phoronix which says the Sony programmer has been making commits to the LLVM github (the world's leading software development platform) over the last few weeks, related to the 'znver1' architecture, the codename for AMD's first generation Ryzen processors. Digital Foundry notes that it is curious that Sony would work on the 'first generation' Ryzen processor when a newer generation will be available when PS5 is mooted to release circa 2020, but Sony may be taking a snapshot at this point in time to investigate bespoke customisations (common in console hardware).
Why is this significant? It seems odd that a Sony programmer would work on improving the toolchain for the Ryzen processor when no current Sony hardware supports it – unless the processor was intended for a new console.
Digital Foundry's initial argument was that PS5 could run on a CPU that’s built on the much more powerful Zen CCX module. Away from the overly techy terms, PS5’s processor should be capable of handing in 60fps performance much more easily than PS4, while also offering tangible gameplay benefits that don’t directly relate to resolution or frame rates. With more CPU power to play with, developers should be able to, say, make AI behaviour more sophisticated, or create more destructible environments in shooters like Battlefield.
What 4K TVs will make PS5 games look their best?
No matter how much you love that 1080p television currently sat above your PS4, eventually it’s going to ascend to the hardware scrapyard in the sky. Quite simply, 4K TVs are the future, and you’ll definitely want one by the time Sony sees fit to launch PS5. Actually, that last part was a lie: 4K TVs are already the present. As our list of the best 4K TV for gaming shows, you can already pick up a stunning 4K TV for around £500 / $600. While the vast majority of televisions in homes are still 1080p panels, Ultra HD models are quickly clawing out an ever increasing market share.
According to recent sales research, almost three quarters of big screen sets sold in North America in 2016 were 4K. If this trend continues, certain analysts predict that by 2018, 100% of all TVs sold in the US will be 4K-compatible. Take a trip to your local electronics store and you’ll quickly realise these stats are probably going to be spot-on – few large scale retailers sell 1080p displays in 2018.
You’re definitely going to want that 4K screen whenever PS5 launches, too. PS4 Pro has already shown the stupendous results of pairing a respectable jump in processing power with well-tailored 4K presentation – both Horizon: Zero Dawn and Wipeout: The Omega Collection look exceptional played in their Ultra HD modes. Considering PS5 is likely to offer a quantum leap in performance over the base PS4, much of that extra horsepower will be wasted if you’re not playing games in 4K.
So if we settle on the fact Ultra HD sets will be industry standard by the time Sony’s next PlayStation launches, just what sort of displays are we going to be playing on? Right now, LED sets still dominate the TV market, but they’re not always brilliantly suited for fast-paced games – the underlying tech can often be plagued with motion-smearing issues on many sets. Luckily, more advanced screen tech is already available in the here and now to pair with that shiny PS5 you’re currently dreaming about.
LG’s OLED screens are currently the best gaming TVs money can buy. Most of the firm’s models are 4K, they’re all capable of producing the sort of inky blacks LCD/LED could only have moist dreams about, and they’re nowhere near as expensive as they used to be. By the time PS5 rolls around, you’ll most likely to be able to buy second-hand OLEDs from LG’s 2016 range – which are still phenomenal TVs – for well under $1000/£1000. Not exactly cheap, but certainly in the affordability realm for enthusiasts. What’s more, Sony and Panasonic have now entered the OLED space, and as the market gets more competitive, prices are only going to fall that much further.
Samsung has also introduced its new QLED range of sets, which the Korean manufacturer is hoping will be The Next Big Thing in TV tech. These ‘quantum dot light-emitting diode’ panels can display much deeper blacks than regular LED televisions, and with a claimed peak brightness of 1,500-2000 nits, they’re substantially brighter than OLEDs, too.
Those nits are also important for HDR (High Dynamic Range). A healthy handful of PS4 games already sport HDR modes, but few TVs in 2017 are truly capable of delivering bright enough whites to fully take advantage of the expanded contrast range. Going forward, the likes of QLED (as well as increasingly sophisticated OLED screens) should ensure HDR-compatible PS5 games look stunningly vibrant. With more and more devs inserting the feature into their games, don’t be surprised if the majority of PS5 games support HDR.
What PS5 games can we expect to play?
Whenever PS5 is announced, expect its games to offer a substantial visual upgrade on what the PS4 can offer. Just compare Call of Duty 3 (which launched alongside PS3 in 2006) with PS4’s day one hit Killzone: Shadow Fall if you’re in any doubt over how much difference a generation can make. We likely won't see that sort of a drastic jump over contemporary PS4 games at launch, but as developers become more adept with the hardware, things are going to get very impressive.
Will new CPU tech allow developers to create genuinely breakthrough, entirely fresh experiences PS4 hardware simply can’t offer? Or will we ‘merely’ have to settle for playing FIFA 2023 and The Last Of Us Part 3 in glorious 4K? With so many modern-day shooters still stuffed with pea-brained foes, it’d be great if the next PlayStation could utilise what’s likely to be an extremely powerful CPU to substantially improve enemy AI.
Regardless if gameplay experiences truly evolve in the sort of paradigm-shifting style we’d all like to see or not, you can bet your bottom dollar PS5 is going to have some graphics. Hell, it’s likely to have all of them.
We'll be regularly updating this feature with the latest PS5 news, leaks and rumours as they break.