Despite being more than a year away, Sony has been rather talkative about its next-gen console, now officially named the PlayStation 5. Between a blog post from Sony and two interviews with Wired magazine, we’re starting to get a good idea of what the next system means for gamers in 2020. Here’s a blow-by-blow comparison between the current-gen PlayStation 4 and its upcoming successor.
IGN’s Top 25 PlayStation 4 Games
An AMD Ryzen CPU Could Provide More Complex Worlds
The PlayStation 4 (and its mid-gen successor, the PlayStation 4 Pro) both run processors using AMD’s Jaguar architecture. They use two four core modules for a total of eight cores (check out our list of next-gen buzzwords for an explanation on these), with the PS4 running at 1.6GHz and the PS4 Pro running at 2.13GHz. Sony has announced that the PS5 will contain a CPU from AMD’s new Zen 2 architecture, and Japanese magazine Famitsu says it will have eight cores with 16 threads. The number of cores and the clock speed reveal a little bit about the performance, but the architecture tells the real story: Jaguar was, frankly, a pretty slow family of chips, even when it was released. AMD wasn’t yet the comeback kid it is today. In the past few years, we’ve seen AMD make huge leaps in CPU power with their Ryzen chips, which is extremely promising for the console variants coming next year.
Here’s what’s exciting about this: most games are designed with the current generation of consoles in mind, so even if you have a PC, much of the game is still built for that lowest common denominator. With a more powerful Ryzen CPU in the PS5, we’ll hopefully see a significant improvement in AI, physics, animations, number of NPCs, and similar characteristics. Digital Foundry describes thisl as “simulation complexity”—the more CPU power the console has to work with, the more complex and detailed worlds your character can inhabit.
A Better GPU Brings Sharper Graphics and More Realistic Lighting
The PlayStation 4 used graphics integrated into the CPU—what AMD calls an “APU”—and the PS5 will likely have a similar chip at its heart, though Sony hasn’t uttered the APU acronym publicly. It also hasn’t told us much about the GPU’s specs, though we do know it’ll come from AMD’s Navi line. Currently, this line only consists of the $350 (USD) RX 5700 and $400 RX 5700 XT, with lower-end 5500 and 5500 XT models coming soon. If If the PS5 targets a similar price point as the PS4, I wouldn’t be surprised to see performance lie somewhere between these two sets of cards, though that’s a pretty wide gap.
We do know, however, that the PS5’s GPU will be capable of hardware-accelerated ray tracing, the super-realistic rendering method currently available on NVIDIA’s RTX GPUs. Ray tracing comes with a big performance hit, though, and since the PS5’s GPU is unlikely to be as powerful as NVIDIA’s RTX cards, we’ll probably see more subtle improvements in lighting effects. EA chief studio officer Laura Miele mentioned more advanced ambient occlusion and ray-traced shadows to Wired, which leads me to believe we’ll see something akin to what Shadow of the Tomb Raider does on PC in terms of more realistic lighting and shadows.
Sony has also mentioned that the PS5 will support 8K graphics, though we expect that’ll come with some serious caveats. Current consoles like the PS4 Pro aren’t even delivering true 4K graphics; instead, they use some clever (and very effective!) tricks to render games at a lower resolution—often somewhere in between 1080p and 4K—and upscale them to 4K. If the PS5 is going to send games to your TV at 8K, I’d bet my imaginary farm that it’ll be using many of the same tricks to achieve that high-resolution output. Some folks are even speculating that Sony was merely referring to the ability to output 8K via HDMI 2.1, which could be a clever way of saying it supports 8K videos rather than 8K gaming. Either way, 8K TVs are just starting to come out, are insanely expensive, and easily hitting the point of diminishing returns in terms of graphical fidelity, so I wouldn’t harp on this too much.
Given these promises, I wouldn’t expect to see every game running at 60 frames per second on the PS5—as much as I wish we would. Developers and console manufacturers often shoot for better-looking graphics over smoother framerates, and if ray tracing and high resolutions are involved, I’m sure that’ll continue with the PS5. (Though I’d love to be proven wrong, Sony.)
Sony hasn’t said much about the PS5’s audio, but one thing did catch our eye in the first Wired interview: its ray tracing capabilities could apply to sound, as well. There is a custom 3D audio unit on the PS5’s chip that is designed to create more accurate, realistically-positioned audio, whether you’re using speakers, surround sound, or headphones. Technically, AMD had something very similar baked into some of its GPUs and APUs a few years ago called TrueAudio—in fact, it was present on the PlayStation 3.
But there’s one area, in particular, I think this chip could be useful today: Dolby Atmos, the object-based audio technology common in 4K movies. This not only allows for more accurate surround sound, since it allows for many different configurations, but it even allows sounds to come from above you, provided you have in-ceiling speakers or certain soundbars. The PS4 doesn’t have any games that support Atmos, but given that the Xbox One does (and the fact that the PS5 will have a 4K Blu-ray player), I’d be shocked if we didn’t start to see Atmos-capable games on the PS5 for super immersive audio.
A Super-Fast SSD Means Snappier Loading Times and More Efficient Space Usage
In the land of PCs, solid-state drives—or SSDs—have become rather commonplace, replacing the slow and dated spinning hard drives of yore. Consoles, unfortunately, still come with traditional hard drives, though you can swap in an SSD yourself, and PC gamers who have made this change know how big a difference it can make.
The biggest benefit comes from faster loading times: Wired says a Spider-Man demo showed fast travel times reduced from 15 seconds to less than one with an SSD. But Sony claims it can affect in-game movement too, in theory: now that developers can create games with SSDs in mind, they could actually make the camera move faster through the game world since they can load assets more quickly.
Sony also notes that with traditional hard drives, developers often duplicate assets across a hard drive to minimize seek times. With SSDs, that’s no longer a concern, which means the PS5 could allow for smaller game downloads. (They also mention they’ll be using that storage in a way that allows you to download certain parts of a game separately—like installing only the multiplayer portion of a first-person shooter if you aren’t interested in the campaign.)
New Controllers Add More Variable Vibration and Trigger Tension
Finally, the PS5 will come with a new controller. Wired noted that the prototype they saw looked an awful lot like the DualShock 4, albeit with a small hole they suspect is a microphone for a suspected voice assistant. Given how many devices have started coming with voice assistants built-in, that seems like a pretty solid guess.
The new triggers will have varying levels of resistance, so pulling the trigger may have different amounts of tension if, say, you’re shooting a bow and arrow vs. firing a gun. The haptic feedback will also be improved from the traditional one-note rumble modern controllers have. Think of how advanced your iPhone’s vibrations are from older phones—that’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about here. Walking through sand will create a more distinct feeling than walking through mud, or jumping into a pool, according to demos shown to Wired.
Finally, the new controller will charge over USB-C rather than microUSB, and have larger batteries than its predecessor—meaning you can play longer on a single charge. (You’ll need a new charging dock or cables for your new controllers, but if they charge faster—which seems likely with USB-C—it’ll be well worth it.)
Be sure to check out this full roundup of PS5 details and features, too.