A PlayStation Meeting is always a pretty big deal. Sony have, for the past half decade, used these special events to publicly announce and talk about upcoming console hardware, and tomorrow’s meeting is no different.
The only problem is that a lot of what they’ll be talking about seems to have already leaked. The more powerful “Neo” hardware update was first leaked back in January, with detailed spec sheets coming out not long afterward, and the slimmed down version of the original PlayStation 4 hardware has very surprisingly ended up being flogged on the internet by opportunistic grey/black market sellers.
The PlayStation Meeting is set to kick off at 8PM UK time tomorrow, 7th September, and Sony will be live streaming the presentation. Given what we all already know, here’s what to expect.
A Slimmer PlayStation 4
Well, it’s a PlayStation 4 that’s been shrunk down quite drastically. It retains the same flattened rhombus shape, but has been compressed even further, so that the groove that runs all the way round the case is no longer centred. From above, it’s squarer but with rounded corners and lacking the distinctive split and removable glossy panel. Underneath, there’s PlayStation symbols that act as feet when placed flat, and you’ll need a stand that screws into the bottom to have it in a vertical orientation.
As is often the case, capacitative touch buttons have been replaced with actual buttons for power and disc eject, but this is just a minor tweak alongside revised internals. A new wireless chipset has been employed, which allows the PS4 to use the 5Ghz spectrum, in addition to 2.4Ghz,
and Sony have finally relented and put a third USB port on the rear of the machine, with the usual two at the front. This makes sense, given that the PlayStation VR requires a USB connection, and will ideally be a permanent attachment to the console.
Update: it’s been pointed out that the rear port is an AUX port that’s specifically for the PS Camera. Apologies for the error, but it makes the loss of optical out even harder to justify!
However, the extra USB port has come at the expense of an optical audio output, which will need high end wireless headset manufacturers to react. Without the same system level access as Sony’s own headsets, these have relied on having optical out for game audio and then used USB for chat audio. Wireless headset makers will either have to putter along with PS4 controlled combined audio, pay the licensing fee for PlayStation Gold Headset-like system access or switch to using HDMI for audio.
Oh, it comes with an updated DualShock 4, as well.
All the rumours point to this being announced with an almost immediate release date – hence how it’s already in the retail supply chain and has leaked as a working product – and with a lowered price point.
The PlayStation 4 “Neo”
There’s a few real questions hanging over the Neo at the moment, but first the things that we know to a degree of certainty. This console will take the solid foundations of the PS4 and built on them.
The APU at the heart of the machine takes the same 8-core Jaguar processor, but clocks them almost a third higher, which will help to alleviate times when the PS4 has been CPU limited – which is quite often. The GPU, meanwhile, uses AMD’s latest ‘Polaris 10’ technology, with the closest analogue being the recently released RX 480. This is more than twice as powerful as the GPU in the PS4, and in line with hardware requirements for VR on PC. However, it’s not seen as a 4K gaming GPU.
Unlike with the slimmer PS4, there’s no photos of this out in the wild, so we don’t know what it will look like. A vastly more powerful GPU like the RX 480 does suggest that it will be larger than the current PS4. We also don’t know the name, for example, which will certainly avoid referencing a Matrix character, but there’s also a question mark over the price. The hardware in the Neo is worth much more than the PS4’s hardware was at launch, so it will demand a premium price point.
Then there’s the release date, and this is where things get tricky. Microsoft’s Scorpio announcement at E3 painted a picture of a console quite significantly more capable than the Neo, using AMD’s ‘Vega’ chipset which will release next year. Rumours after that had Sony going back to tweak Neo’s design, potentially trying to clock certain parts of the APU higher or adding more RAM. More significant changes than that would put a serious delay on the Neo’s release, and would surely have delayed the PlayStation Meeting, so as not to ruin the busy holiday shopping season.
Games, Old and New
Sony will have to take the opportunity to show what the Neo can add to the PlayStation experience. While the PlayStation 4 has been the most powerful console on the market since launch, even in 2013 it was only equivalent to a mid-ranged PC. What developers can get out of that is remarkable, but the notion of 1080p60 across the board went out of the window almost immediately.
This is an opportunity for developers to revisit already released titles and spruce them up. Could we see Driveclub patched to run at 60 frames per second on Neo? Battlefield 1 with 1080p60 instead of 900p60? Uncharted 4 at 1080p60 across the board would be an incredible spectacle as well. Even without too much additional work, the increased CPU and GPU power will be able to smooth out the kinks in games like Bloodborne or Fallout 4, which struggled to hold a steady 30 frames per second.
A major hardware announcement needs to look to the future, though. Sony announced several new games at E3, and being able to check in on those, as well as demonstrate a tangible improvement in graphics and not just resolution and frame rate will be important. Not only that, but also showing off a few entirely new games that can deliver the best of both world on both the base PS4 and the Neo.
The question is how far the Neo hardware can go. 1080p is to be the mandatory minimum display resolution here, but the RX480 is not a GPU that can reliably target 4K resolutions across the board. Just as Battlefield 1 runs at 900p60 on PS4, we might see developers target an intermediary resolution for those on Neo and with 4K TVs.
One thing’s for sure, and that’s that these consoles are both to be treated equally for in-game features and multiplayer, so there’s no divides between these. Save games will happily hop back and forth, trophies will be the same, DLC will be cross-platform, and so on. While older games can be patched to make use of Neo, new games will have to have Neo support built in at launch.
Of course, one compelling reason for the Neo is the impact it can have on the PlayStation VR – lest we forget, the PS VR was codenamed after another Matrix character for quite some time.
With PS VR just over a month away from release, it’s important not to make those buying it feel like they’re getting a second rate experience when combined with a base PS4, but at the same time, the PS4 is only just about able to keep up with the demands on VR. Where Vive and Oculus rift target 90 frames per second, PS VR only aims for 60 and does so at a slightly lower resolution. Neo will let developers aim for higher, and with more detailed graphics.
Again, this is a case of “no gamer left behind”, and so developers will have to cater to both the original PS4 and not just the Neo. It’s added work, but given that early adopters of the PS VR are also those who are most likely to upgrade to a Neo, it makes sense to aim for them.
To sum this up very quickly, while we know a lot about the actual hardware that Sony will be announcing, there’s a lot of the finer details that they’ve managed to keep under wraps. Tune in tomorrow night at 8PM UK time or simply pop back to TheSixthAxis later on and scoop up all the news once it’s happened.