Sony PlayStation 5 Arriving in 2019, Linked to 4K TV Adoption: Analyst
— July 11, 2017
The recent PS4 Pro debut and upcoming Xbox One X launch have led some to speculate we’re seeing the wholesale retirement of the traditional console launch cycle. It’s possible Sony and Microsoft have transitioned to something like the iPhone model, as new products launch with backwards compatibility, and older models work with the latest software and receive OS updates for a substantial period of time (typically 3-4 years for Apple, markedly less for Android devices depending on the manufacturer). Sony has made some recent comments indicating there will be a PlayStation 5, however — and longtime video game industry analyst Michael Pachter, of Wedbush Securities, thinks he knows when it’ll hit.
The benefits of 4K resolution are largely a function of screen size and how far you sit from it.
The PS5 will likely be tied directly to 4K penetration and sales, with an estimated 2019 date, Pachter said in an interview with GamingBolt. He expects 4K TVs will reach 50 percent of the US market and 35 percent of worldwide sales by then. Earlier this summer, Shawn Layden, the CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment America, confirmed Sony would be building a PlayStation 5 that would be a significant achievement over and above the PS4 Pro. Pachter upheld that view in his comments, and added some predictions of his own:
I really like Shawn and I don’t think he is attempting to mislead anybody. The PlayStation 4 Pro is better [from a technical perspective] than the PS4, so I think that’s a half step towards the PlayStation 5. I think the PS5 will be another half step. So he is being honest when he said he is not doing a half step but the PlayStation 5…how much faster can it be? It will surely support 4K. Will it support 240 frames per second? Great. Will it play games that were made for the PlayStation 4 Pro? That’s the question. I think it will. So I think they will build a console that will backwards compatible with the PS4 Pro. So I think it will be perceived by the consumers to be a half step and I think Shawn is telling the truth when he says it will be a full fledged[sic] console.
A few thoughts on this prediction, in no particular order:
There’s no way in hell the PlayStation 5 will support 240fps at 4K. Consoles can incorporate impressive technology at their price points, particularly if the company building them foregoes any profit margin in the short term, but they aren’t magic. The GTX 1080 Ti, which I personally view as the first 4K GPU that can generally balance reasonable frame rates, detail levels, and a 4K resolution target is an extremely expensive piece of silicon. Sony and MS are unlikely to launch on a cutting-edge process node. This means the hardware we’ll see from them come 2019 will either be a further iteration of 14nm or a 10nm-effective part. Either way, we’ll be looking at an iterative improvement, not a fundamental revolution.
Furthermore, we’ve seen zero interest to-date from Sony or MS in pushing developers to prioritize frame rate over visual effects. Many games from the PS3/Xbox 360 as well as the PS4/Xbox One generations that supposedly targeted a 30fps frame rate can best be described as “30fps-ish,” with dips and droops that depart from that standard on a fairly regular basis (though this varies significantly depending on the particular title). If, as Pachter theorizes, the launch is tied to 4K adoption, we’re not going to see Sony and MS talking up 60 or 120fps @ 1080p, but a further emphasis on higher visual quality at 4K resolutions, possibly with additional features like VR/AR support.
That said, I agree with Pachter that backwards compatibility should basically be a non-issue going forward. There’s no sign that Sony has any intent to return to its own CPU engineering the way it did with Cell, and Cell wasn’t a great gaming chip in the first place. Even if Sony decided to go with an Nvidia + ARM solution as opposed to an AMD CPU + GPU, the PS5 would have far more in common with the architecture of the PS4 than the PS3 shared with its successor. Sony has made some recent comments suggesting that it doesn’t really prioritize backwards compatibility, but the easier the feature is to support, the more likely the company is to include it.
As for tying the launch to 2019 and 4K television in general, I think Pachter has a point, but I’d add one additional qualification. To some extent, the PlayStation 5’s launch window will be impacted by what Microsoft is doing, how aggressive Sony wants to be about its performance and price targets, and how much of a perceived improvement over the PS4 Pro it can deliver. If the PS4 Pro continues to sell well and maintains the current roughly 2:1 lifetime console sales lead in favor of Sony, the company will be under less pressure to deliver a quick turnaround on the PlayStation 5.
If, on the other hand, the Xbox One X starts eating into Sony’s market share, the company could feel compelled to move more quickly. But it might also need to position itself more aggressively on price/performance to deliver a more compelling experience than Microsoft’s platform. 2019 or 2020 is a reasonable time frame to expect the PS5 in. By launching a new platform rather than a further rolling update, Sony is indicating that it’s only going to take the iPhone model just so far — at least, this time around.
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