Sneak peek at PlayStation’s next-generation plans


Wired Exclusive: What to Expect From Sony's Next-Gen PlayStation

Mark Cerny would like to get one thing out of the way right now: The videogame console that Sony has spent the past four years building is no mere upgrade.

We’re sitting here, secreted away in a conference room at Sony’s headquarters in Foster City, California, where Cerny is finally detailing the inner workings of the as-yet-unnamed console that will replace the PS4.

If history is any guide, it will eventually be dubbed the PlayStation 5. For now, Cerny responds to that question—and many others—with an enigmatic smile. The “next-gen console,“ as he refers to it repeatedly, won’t be landing in stores anytime in 2019. A number of studios have been working with it, though, and Sony recently accelerated its deployment of devkits so that game creators will have the time they need to adjust to its capabilities.

As he did with the PS4, Cerny acted as lead system architect for the coming system, integrating developers’ wishes and his own gaming hopes into something that’s much more revolution than evolution.

A true generational shift tends to include a few foundational adjustments. A console’s CPU and GPU become more powerful, able to deliver previously unattainable graphical fidelity and visual effects; system memory increases in size and speed; and game files grow to match, necessitating larger downloads or higher-capacity physical media like discs.

PlayStation’s next-generation console ticks all those boxes, starting with an AMD chip at the heart of the device. (Warning: some alphabet soup follows.) The CPU is based on the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line and contains eight cores of the company’s new 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture. The GPU, a custom variant of Radeon’s Navi family, will support ray tracing, a technique that models the travel of light to simulate complex interactions in 3D environments.

The AMD chip also includes a custom unit for 3D audio that Cerny thinks will redefine what sound can do in a videogame. “As a gamer,” he says, “it's been a little bit of a frustration that audio did not change too much between PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. With the next console the dream is to show how dramatically different the audio experience can be when we apply significant amounts of hardware horsepower to it.”

The result, Cerny says, will make you feel more immersed in the game as sounds come at you from above, from behind, and from the side. While the effect will require no external hardware—it will work through TV speakers and visual surround sound—he allows that the “gold standard” will be headphone audio.

I ask if there will be a next-gen PSVR to go alongside this next console. “I won't go into the details of our VR strategy today,” he says, “beyond saying that VR is very important to us and that the current PSVR headset is compatible with the new console.”

So. New CPU, new GPU, the ability to deliver unprecedented visual and audio effects in a game (and maybe a PSVR sequel at some point). That’s all great, but there’s something else that excites Cerny even more. Something that he calls “a true game changer,” something that more than anything else is “the key to the next generation.” It’s a hard drive.

Solid-state drives have been available in budget laptops for more than a decade, and the Xbox One and PS4 both offer external SSDs that claim to improve load times. But not all SSDs are created alike. As Cerny points out, “I have an SSD in my laptop, and when I want to change from Excel to Word I can wait 15 seconds.” What’s built into Sony’s next-gen console is something a little more specialized.

To demonstrate, Cerny fires up a PS4 Pro playing Spider-Man, a 2018 PS4 exclusive that he worked on alongside Insomniac Games. (He’s not just an systems architect; Cerny created arcade classic Marble Madness when he was all of 19 and was heavily involved with PlayStation and PS2 franchises like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and Ratchet and Clank.) On the TV, Spidey stands in a small plaza. Cerny presses a button on the controller, initiating a fast-travel interstitial screen. When Spidey reappears in a totally different spot in Manhattan, 15 seconds have elapsed. Then Cerny does the same thing on a next-gen devkit connected to a different TV. (The devkit, an early “low-speed” version, is concealed in a big silver tower, with no visible componentry.) What took 15 seconds now takes less than one: 0.8 seconds, to be exact.

Cerny isn’t ready to chat about services or other features, let alone games and price, and neither is anyone at Sony. Nor will you hear much about the console at E3 in June—for the first time, Sony won’t be holding a keynote at the annual games show. But a few more things come out during the course of our conversation. For example, the next-gen console will still accept physical media; it won’t be a download-only machine. Because it’s based in part on the PS4’s architecture, it will also be backward-compatible with games for that console.

Read more at Wired