The latest news in the video games industry this week is the suggestion that Sony is currently working on a new PlayStation unit, which some analysts are describing as the PlayStation 4.5. This new machine stops short of being a next generation PlayStation 5 console, but it could bridge the gap to the next major release from Sony.
PlayStation 4.5 – 4K powerhouse
Reports suggest that the console in question will provide support for the increasingly mainstream 4K resolution, while more processing power will be included to ensure that virtual reality can be implemented satisfactorily. Development sources close to Sony have apparently linked the news, with an anonymous source claiming that discussions were overheard between programmers about this new PlayStation 4.5 during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
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Very little is known about this machine at the time of writing, but numerous major media outlets have picked up on the news. Sony has declined to comment on the existence or otherwise of the mooted PlayStation 4.5, and thus it is not entirely clear whether this will be an upgrade or an entirely new standalone console.
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It seems that the PlayStation 4.5 could be a response to a video games industry that is becoming more complex, diverse and competitive. While console manufacturers have previously relied on releasing a machine and it then enjoying a lifespan of a decade, or in some cases more, the days of this concept may be numbered. Smartphone manufacturers are now targeting the gaming marketplace, and these devices are, of course, updated on an annual basis, and can even be upgraded very regularly vis updates.
This is proving challenging for both Sony and Microsoft, with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 falling significantly their PC competition. It seems that the PlayStation 4.5 could be a response to this, with Sony hoping to produce a machine that narrows the goulf between its console range and the PC marketplace.
Sony’s great rival Microsoft has already indicated that it is considering a significant change to the ethos of his video games operation. At the Xbox Spring Showcase, Xbox chief Phil Spencer suggested that Microsoft could concentrate on upgrading its machines in the future, and that PC gaming could be a major focus of its gaming output. In particular, the emerging Universal Windows Platform will enable Windows 10 PCs to cross-play with the Xbox One.
With the ethos of the video games marketplace evolving rapidly, Sony may decide against developing a PlayStation 5 quite as quickly as was perhaps predicted. Nonetheless, it would be extremely surprising if the corporation even remotely considered ditching the project completely, as it has build up such a significant lead over Microsoft in the existing console generation that a PlayStation 5 must be considered an utter certainty.
The question that many analysts will pose, and indeed people who have purchased the PlayStation 4 in its relatively short life cycle, is why it didn’t Sony address the 4K and virtual reality issues when the PlayStation 4 was initially released?
Perhaps the most obvious explanation for this is sheer expense. At the time that the PlayStation 4 was released, virtual reality technology was not readily available in a form that was compatible with the PS4, and 4K resolution was very much a niche technology, and indeed has not entirely established itself as a mainstream medium yet. Sony was probably of the opinion that there was no need to significantly inflate the manufacturing cost, and ultimately price point, of the PlayStation 4 in order to include technology that would not necessarily be critical to the success of the machine.
Meanwhile, there was financial, industry and consumer pressure on both Sony and Microsoft to replace the ageing PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, particularly with developers struggling to get enough power out of the systems in order to satisfy their creative visions. It did seem a necessity for Sony to release is next generation console, and on the whole the PlayStation 4 has been a success for the corporation, and certainly in comparison to the Xbox One.
But with Sony having invested a significant amount of money in its PlayStation VR project, it is clear that the Japanese corporation needs to ensure that it lives up to the standard required and expected of the PlayStation hardware. This may not be the case initially, as reports have suggested that due to processing restrictions with the existing Sony console that so-called ‘asynchronous reprojection’ will need to be utilized in order to deliver similar quality visuals to those delivered by Oculus Rift on the PC.
It is thought that a more powerful PlayStation 4.5 console may be needed in order to make this process more convenient. And if Sony was to significantly improve the processing power of the PlayStation 4.5, it could be possible for the video games manufacturer to deliver native 120Hz visuals.
While some analysts have suggested that Sony is unlikely to splinter its core audience by releasing a new machine at this point in time, some of the justification for the PlayStation 4.5 has nonetheless been acknowledged almost universally. Improving 4K video support, and ensuring that the Sony console can be optimized to support PlayStation VR, are both the essential in the future of the PlayStation branding.
What is certain though is that Sony and Microsoft are working on some nifty hardware internally, and that the future of the video games industry should have been resolved to a great extent by the end of the calendar year.