The biggest news to arrive from the recent GDC Event was expected to be the announcement details of the PlayStation VR however, another Sony rumor which surfaced may have stolen the show. Our friends over at Kotaku reported an extraordinary claim about a possible successor to the PlayStation 4 being discussed which in turn, piqued the gaming world’s curiosity.
Dubbed the PlayStation 4.5 or PS4K, few details are known about the device other than the system aims to include “increased graphical power and games running at 4K resolution”. Sony was said to have been briefing developers about the PlayStation 4.5 which could be an upgrade for the current model or a standalone system.
Sources at Kotaku state that a developer jokingly referred to the system as the ‘PS4K’ and that it would include an improved GPU which would enable games to run at a higher resolution and also enhance games that would be compatible with the PSVR.
When Sony was asked to respond to the claims, they responded in standard fashion by stating “We can’t comment on rumors or speculation”. Multiple sources have now confirmed these hearsay rumors with the Wall Street Journal mirroring Kotaku’s claims be stating that “The new console would be announced before the planned October release of the PlayStation VR”. The PSVR was expected to launch in the second quarter of 2016 so could the delayed October launch date coincide with the announcement of the new system?
Is Sony just testing the water to see if the idea would be warmly received? The discussions look legitimate but are they good for the console industry or could this be an unwelcome trend that could harm the console market?
We first need to understand what the PlayStation 4.5 or PS4K (which I will refer to it as) is. There are a number of possibilities as to what this device could be but the given has to be the 4K resolution output. What is 4K I hear you ask? You may have heard it referred to as Ultra High Definition (UHD) but in very, very simple terms, it is essentially four times the resolution of the standard 1080p we are accustomed to. For a more technical definition, 4K resolution is 4096 x 2160 whereas 1080p is 1920×1080. This means that there is a huge increase in pixels which results in clearer, more vibrant images with a faster refresh rate. Have you seen those crystal clear images on the gigantic TV’s at your local electronic store and wondered how they look so good? Chances are the footage is 4K.
How could a console benefit from being able to output UHD content? Games, Movies, and TV shows could look unbelievable. There are many expensive PC’s that are already capable of running at this boosted resolution and they look phenomenal. GTA V is a perfect example of a game that looks and performs wonderfully on a powerful PC and I implore you to check it out and compare the difference between the console counterparts. Gaming is just one area where 4K can be harnessed. As we all use our devices for more than just shooting zombies in Call of Duty, there are other benefits. Netflix is the leader in streaming 4K content and a number of their produced shows can be watch at a native UHD resolution. Finally, UHD Blu-Ray players are already emerging in the market and filming of the upcoming, big Hollywood movies are utilizing this exciting tech.
4K technology is not as simple as a graphics enhancement though and achieving this higher resolution, particularly with games, will not be cheap to produce. You would need equally improved CPU’s and memory components to support this increase in power. This would make the PS4K extremely expensive to purchase. Perhaps the PS4K has been misconceived as a substantial upgrade and maybe it could be simpler than that?
When speaking to the Huffington Post in 2015, Netflix CEO Neil Hunt cited that “Sony had “promised,” a hardware rev for the PS4 that will include a 4K video capability”. This could mean that the PS4K will be less of an overhaul to its predecessor but simply output 4K video content from streaming services. This in turn would require a far smaller overhaul of the console specs. Further evidence of this could be gathered from the recent post on Buzzfeed in regards to an announcement by Sony stating rental prices of 4K resolution movies.
Regardless of what exactly the new PS4K could consist of, the real question is why should it exist? Why is Sony doing this? They have a clear lead in this console generation market by not only selling more units than the Xbox One consistently month after month but being one of the most successful consoles of all time. The PS4 currently sits at 38.8 million units sold after just over 2 years on the market. The PlayStation 2 is the best-selling console of all time sitting at 157 million units sold however the PS4 is ahead of its predecessor at this point in its life.
Perhaps the PS4 is simply not powerful enough to survive as long as the previous iterations? The last generation survived for nearly 10 years and perhaps the PS4 has a shorter life cycle. We are already seeing console games being dwarfed by the superior PC specifications and Sony may be trying to narrow that gap and compete on a whole new level.
Are third party publishers pressuring Sony, just as Netflix allegedly did, to give them more power to work with? I cannot help but feel that the true potential of these devices has not yet been harnessed. Look at launch titles such as Heavenly Sword or Motorstorm on the PlayStation 3 and compare them to The Last of Us; the difference is staggering on an AI, graphical and production level. Sadly Sony is yet to deliver a first party juggernaut on the PS4 with Killzone, Infamous and The Order 1886 all falling short of expectations. If the huge publishers such as Activision, Ubisoft, and EA demand better specs, can Sony refuse?
What does the introduction of a new piece of hardware so quickly mean for the console market? We see it with mobile phones every year with iPhones releasing annually. They are fundamentally the same yet the new versions will perform better and contain features the previous models lack. As time passes, the older generations are fazed out and Apple makes a healthy profit year after year. The PC market has a similar structure with new graphics cards and processors arriving far too often and upgrading can cost thousands of dollars. The beauty of possessing a console was the liberating fact that it did not need to be upgraded. Buying a PS3 in 2006 was an investment and one that ultimately paid off.
As shocking as this news is, we have seen previous forays into this line of thinking. Think back to the days of the Nintendo 64 with the expansion pack. Originally launching with just 4MB of ram (This was 1996) the expansion pack doubled the size of the memory to a whopping 8MB. What did this expansion pack do? Games such as Donkey Kong Country and Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask required this attachment to play the game. Additionally, other titles actually performed better when the expansion pack was active with improved draw distances and higher resolution textures.
Microsoft has also altered their hardware to adjust to the ever-changing electronic climate. When the Xbox 360 launched, HD was still an acronym for Hard Disk yet High Definition was about to change the way we watch content on our TV’s. The 360 could output HD content but only in 1080i as it launched without an HDMI port. The difference between 1080i and 1080p is very small (frame rate speed) but this was still a graphical output that was amended in new models of the console 2 years later when they shipped with HDMI ports.
Graphical fidelity aside, the Xbox One currently has an Elite version which differs from the standard model. It costs more, plays the same games but has a Hybrid Hard Drive (HHD) which allows for up to 20% faster loading times.
Why then is there such an uproar about the alleged PS4K when there have been similar scenarios across other platform and manufacturers? Well, there have been a couple or recent cases which lend weight to this concern.
Returning once more to Nintendo with their latest version of the ever evolving 3DS, we now have the New 3DS. This system shares previous traits with all the aforementioned releases. It has a faster processor, contains additional features and can play games that are only compatible with the newer model. This, however, is where a possible concern could arise though as what are Sony’s intentions with the future of their software lineup? Will games simply perform better on the new model or will they begin to release games that only play on the PS4K? An even worse outcome would be games releasing for both iterations but essentially being a dumbed down port of the true game. Look at games such as Call of Duty Black Ops 3 where a significant portion (the entire campaign) was missing from last gen ports. Recent reviews for Hyrule Warriors Legends which released on the 2DS, 3DS, and New 3DS show a clear contradiction to the ethos of games performing ‘better’ on new models. The game is near impossible to play on the 2DS or 3DS so instead of playing an improved version of the game on the New 3DS we are simply being handed an inferior and broken game on the current model.
So these are the benefits and concerns of the PS4K but annalists aside, who will really be affected by this proposal?
Is the release of a new, upgraded model offensive to first-time buyers? Possibly yes, but let’s be honest, do the early adopters ever really get a good deal? We pay extortionate prices to be the first to take theses devices home, only to then realize that the launch games are usually mediocre at best. A couple of years down the line, the systems pick up momentum with huge, exciting titles; a substantial price drop and a system update that elevates the machines to the potential we were promised at launch.
So why do I, like many others, continue to repeat this farcical trend? Because I love it.
I buy the new iPhone every year to utilize the camera I really do not need. I buy the peripherals for my PS4 because I cannot bear the thought of someone else having it besides me. So I am who the PS4K is aimed at. The consumer who does not have enough money to spend on gadgets but does anyway.
This is where the PS4K could be a huge success or a major concern to the console market. Rumors aside, if the new model is a more powerful machine capable of matching PC quality games rendering at a 4K resolution, Sony needs to be careful about how they approach it. If it is indeed a luxury item, just as a 4K TV currently is and will be for the foreseeable future, it could be a huge success both for company and players alike. I would absolutely buy one to be able to brag that my PlayStation is better than yours. However, they need to appreciate not only their customers but console consumers. If you are reading this article you probably know enough about the industry to make an informative buying choice but we only represent a portion of the market. The parents who buy their children a machine for Christmas essentially keep the gaming industry alive and they need to be catered for. If we isolate that demographic, then this issue could evolve into something far worse.
How do you feel about the possible release of a new PS4? Do you think it is good or bad news for the console market? Let us know in the comments below.
An Englishman living in Australia. I edit and provide video/written reviews for all of the latest games.