On a number of occasions, news has come out about Sony filing patents for technology related to backwards compatibility in the upcoming PlayStation 5. Whether backwards compatibility is integrated into the next generation or not could show a movement toward the preservation of video game history. Film, art, and literature are documented, stored, and saved to keep the history of what they tell alive, and the same should be done for games.
For example, the PlayStation 2 is notable for having a massive game library that holds a wide variety of titles, some of which have gone down in history as influential or industry changing. While many of those games have been updated and ported to new consoles, most are being left to the ages to be forgotten. As time goes by, older systems will age and begin to fail, leaving people with no way to play those gems of yore. Consumers have bought these products with hopes of being able to play them for as long as they have them. The discs may last for decades before they deteriorate, but not the systems used to play them. Having new, updated hardware that can play older games will help keep the history of them alive and give people a chance to rediscover titles or dig up new ones. These rumors may seem as though they will compete with the successful PlayStation Now, but not everyone is going to be looking for old physical games except collectors or nostalgia chasers. Additionally, for collectors, PlayStation Now is a way to try older games and decide if they would want to go on the search for a physical copy.
Getting hopes up for backwards compatibility on the PlayStation 5 because of recent patents might make sense, but businesses often file claims just to protect their technology and ideas. Filing patents is a way for companies to protect what they are working on in case of an information leak or to stop a competitor who may have coincidentally come up with a similar idea. If the patent does not work or the end product is too expensive to manufacture, the plans could be scrapped.
Game consoles are becoming more comparable to computer architecture, too, and porting games across multiple platforms and generations is becoming easier. With consoles growing more akin to PCs, companies should be able to port games to new hardware or find ways to improve forward compatibility. With consoles changing their structure, studios should also be able to take franchises and put them into one disc or download. Hopefully, collections and remasters of old games can become more prevalent, as preserving the history of the medium is important to build the future.
Microsoft has its own forward-thinking style of backwards compatibility, which focuses on a digital porting methodology. The titles are hand-picked by the company as digital download ports where the disc is needed to start a game. This method is due to testing and making sure that the title works with modern hardware. Improvements to the source game are also available, but whether these ports will continue working in the next generation is a big question.
In contrast, Sony is looking to have a traditional style of backwards compatibility that works without downloading, as any disc can be inserted into the system and played. This approach gives people another way to discover old games compared to the titles hand-picked by Microsoft. Sony is offering the ability to play all titles at launch, while Microsoft is offering fans the best selection at a slow release pattern. Both styles have their own pros and cons, but finding a mix of the two may be the best choice.
Sony can still release games as digital downloads, especially for those that are rare or expensive, such as the PlayStation’s Rival Schools (as of writing USD $80–$120) or the PlayStation 2’s Rule of Rose (USD $300–$400). Doing so would give the company the opportunity to help people explore hidden gems and niche titles that would normally be unheard of. With better backwards compatibility options built into the system, issues such as the PSOne Classics not working on the PlayStation 4 would become non-existent, as transferring those titles across generations would become easier; this flaw from the transition to the PlayStation 4 may have affected sales of the PS2 Classics as people learned what happens from the past.
These patents may show that home consoles are slowly moving toward a cell phone-style update structure. Every so often, a newly updated system is released that can play both previous and new games, while more are made exclusive to the new systems. This method would best be shown by Nintendo with its Nintendo 3DS and the New Nintendo 3DS. The latter is able to play all previous titles, yet still had a few that could only be played on that version of the hardware. Hopefully, with this process, multiplayer games would have cross-generation online play because ultimately it would still be the same game. This method would also help sell consoles early on, as many people wait for a library to grow or the console to drop in price. Backwards compatibility would give consoles an ever-expanding library that can be played while people wait for new titles to come out.
Having backwards compatibility is important to the history of the gaming industry, especially as franchises and stories span over multiple generations. The true problem is emulation, as the stronger an older generation is, the harder building a modern system to run older games becomes. Luckily, these patents show that Sony may be aiming to give players what they want, but Sony is a business first and getting backwards compatibility to work properly may be some time out. Akin to film, art, and literature, games are an interactive art form and deserve preservation and documentation—not only for the medium, but to see how far humans have come with technology and the advancement of art across many forms of media. More than ever, Sony has an opportunity to help.
The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary
Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.
For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.
Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.
For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.
From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.
Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.
Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.
The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).
Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.
In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.
Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.
My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.
Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.
I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.
While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.
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