Not many analysts expected to see a major new console released in 2016, but it seems that the Sony PlayStation 4.5 is inching ever closer to reality. The Wall Street Journal has reported that this new PlayStation variant could be released as early as Q3 2016, with the machine very much intended to serve the forthcoming virtual reality unit, the PlayStation VR.

PlayStation 4.5 Will Be Serious Competition For Xbox One

PlayStation 4.5 – 4K plus VR

It is believed that the updated PlayStation 4.5 will be focused on two primary improvements, with the first of these being increased processing power to support virtual reality. The second suggestion is that the PlayStation 4.5 will be able to support 4K gaming out of the box, with titles then able to run on both major Sony machines in different screen resolutions.

This would seem to be an entirely logical move from the Japanese electronics giant, as 4K resolution is becoming an increasingly prominent part of mainstream technology. We have now probably reached the point where 4K is a viable consumer product, much as HD eventually became part of people’s living rooms some years ago. Numerous broadcasters across Europe and the United States have already announced 4K resolution services, and big names in streaming such as Netflix also support the technology.

PlayStation 4 role unclear

It is not yet clear what influence the PlayStation 4.5 will have on the virtual reality remit of the PlayStation 4. Analysts have already opined that the older Sony console will perhaps struggle to deal with delivering a proficient virtual reality experience, and Sony has indeed admitted publicly that its PlayStation VR system will be inferior to Oculus Rift on the PlayStation 4 at least.

Considering that the PlayStation 4 will remain very much the mainstream console of the Sony brand for quite some time, with an absolutely massive installed user base, it is quite clear that Sony will embrace VR for its 2013 hardware release. But there is no guarantee that the console will be able to deliver the sort of absorbing virtual reality experience that Sony evidently wants to popularize with its PlayStation brand, so the long-term VR future of the PlayStation 4 is not entirely clear, particularly as the PlayStation 4.5 gains momentum.

Watered-down VR

It is suggested by some industry observers that the PlayStation 4 could be imbued with effectively watered-down virtual reality features, which will obviously not include ultra high definition, but it could also mean that a fully 360-degree experience is not available. Sony evidently wants to deliver the most powerful VR experience possible with the PlayStation 4.5, as it recognises that virtual reality could be a major growth area for the industry as a whole.

VR is considered particularly important, as it is generally believed that existing two-dimensional gaming, featuring interaction via the relatively crude interface of a gamepad, is delivering diminishing returns. Gaming is absolutely massive business, and has never been a more significant part of the mainstream culture than it is today, but it is increasingly difficult to shock the gaming public with something out of the ordinary.

It is believed that virtual reality can help to change this perception, and thus Sony is evidently investing in the technology with great enthusiasm. What remains to be seen is whether Microsoft will respond to the PlayStation 4.5 with a similar release, considering that the existing Xbox One is already inferior to the PlayStation 4 in pure spec terms.

Shelf-life rethink

If Sony does indeed release a PlayStation 4.5, it will be a major revelation in the gaming industry. The typical shelf-life for a console is 10 years, and there is usually around six to seven years between individual console releases. Although Sony may be branding this new console release as a PlayStation 4.5, and thus not dubbing it a next generation PlayStation 5 yet, nonetheless this is an entirely new technological entity that is being suggested. The three-year gap between the release of the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4.5 would be the smallest of any major consoles in the history of the industry.

What this could mean for the future of console gaming is that manufacturers such as Sony and Microsoft will need to be considerably more diligent with device releases, and assess the long-term trends of the industry before putting hardware into the public domain. It would be wrong to describe the existing console generation as completely underwhelming, but the hardware is patently unable to deliver some of the functionality that Sony considers to be extremely important for the future of the industry.

And considering that Sony is nowhere near ready to release a PlayStation 5 yet, this does suggest that future console hardware will need to be thought out far more assiduously than the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One evidently have been.

Wall Street Journal report

The Wall Street Journal suggests that the new console will be extremely similar to the PlayStation 4, but will feature souped-up internal components which will enable games to be paid in 4K resolution. This is effectively an admission of failure, as Sony intended the PlayStation 4 to be 4K compatible from day one, and indeed the console is theoretically 4K-enabled. But the Xbox One has struggled to even deliver full HD gaming, suggesting that the two major manufacturers underestimated the pace of change in the video game industry.

This is unquestionably massive and exciting news for console gamers, and it will be interesting to see the price point that the PlayStation 4.5 launches at. Many gamers may be perfectly happy with the existing PlayStation 4, and Sony will need to ensure that the PlayStation 4.5 retails at a competitive level if it is to attract people to what is effectively merely a beefed-up PlayStation 4.

Is virtual reality really enough to attract people to the PlayStation 4.5, allied with 4K resolution? And will people be willing to shell out the money for a new console, and then purchase a VR headset on top of it, which isn’t even guaranteed to be a success? These are the sort of questions that Sony will need to answer with the PlayStation 4.5, but the corporation seems to be plowing ahead with the next generation hardware.