Sony finally lifted the hood on the PlayStation 5 during its first official PS5 reveal event, giving us a better idea of the specs the next-gen console will offer. But what do we think?
What’s interesting so far is Sony’s commitment to custom silicon, with a full focus on raising gaming capabilities to the next level, without alienating developers now comfortable with developing on the PS4. Custom hardware in the PS3 proved to be a difficult element for devs to get their heads around, but the PS5 aims to be as developer-friendly as possible.
- CPU: AMD Zen 2-based CPU with 8 cores at 3.5GHz (variable frequency)
- GPU: 10.28 TFLOPs, 36 CUs at 2.23GHz (variable frequency)
- GPU architecture: Custom RDNA 2
- Memory interface: 16GB GDDR6 / 256-bit
- Memory bandwidth: 448GB/s
- Internal storage: Custom 825GB SSD
- IO throughput: 5.5GB/s (raw), typical 8-9GB/s (compressed)
- Expandable storage: NVMe SSD slot
- External storage: USB HDD support (PS4 games only)
- Optical drive: 4K UHD Blu-ray drive
The importance of the SSD
As has already been explored, the SSD is key to the PlayStation 5 experience. Internal storage will be built in at 825GB for the custom SSD – that’s less than you’ll find in the Xbox Series X, but with just as clever an implementation of the technology.
SSDs don’t just load faster, but allow for bigger open worlds, theoretically. Developers don’t need to make games with smaller worlds due to the limitations of mechanical hard drives, while SSDs will also allow system memory to be used more effectively.
SSDs have more bandwidth, so data can be loaded from the SSD when it’s needed, rather than heaps of potentially needless data being loaded into RAM. In pure gameplay terms that means that games will suffer less from texture pop-in, while load times will be hugely reduced when using a game’s fast-travel option. Booting up from standby should be generally much faster, too.
You’ll also have more control over how you install and remove games, meaning you could just install a game’s multiplayer mode rather than the full block of data. This will allow for the launch of direct gameplay, allowing players to jump straight into aspects of different games (such as match-making, continue to save game, etc) without having to boot up the full game.
This means you could be able to jump into Overwatch match-making, for example, straight from your home screen and would prevent the need to take steps such as booting up an entire game and selecting particular games modes. It would also make it easier for players to quickly jump between the games they have installed.
As for expandable storage, Sony appears to be allowing for off-the-shelf NVMe PC drives, rather than proprietary storage systems that Xbox will primarily be relying on. However, there aren’t many drives on the market right now that use the PCIe 4.0 interface required – they need to be capable of at least a 5.5GB/s transfer speed.
“NVMe PC drives will work in PlayStation 5,” said Cerny. “The only problem is that PC technology is significantly behind PS5. It’ll take some time for the newer, PCIe 4.0-based drives with the bandwidth required to match Sony’s spec to hit the market.”
PS4 games on the PS5 will work just fine if saved to a regular HDD, however, so you won’t need to tap into that precious SSD space unnecessarily.
A custom processor and GPU – what that means for backward compatibility
We were already aware that Sony will be using AMD’s Zen 2 CPU processor tech, with eight cores and 16 threads. The reveal stream, however, also revealed that the PS5 will be delivering 3.5GHz frequencies – so, the PlayStation 5 would be running 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz (at variable frequencies) over the PS4’s 8x Jaguar Cores at 1.6GHz. That’s a huge jump in performance.
Move over to the GPU, and you’re looking at the AMD RDNA 2 GPU, itself customized. It makes use of 36 compute units capped at 2.23GHz. A compute performance peak of 10.28TF was stated.
What’s smart is that the combination makes it simple for the PS5 to easily handle PS4 backward compatibility – through GPU architecture rather than hours of coding. Almost all of the top 100 PS4 games will be fully compatible at launch.
PS4 games will be supported natively on the GPU silicon, but here the GPU seems to be emulating PS4 and PS4 Pro graphics chips, which is a strange solution, and not as interesting as Xbox Series X’s method, which will also be capable of upscaling previous Xbox generation games and adding HDR to previously HDR-less titles.
Tempest 3D audio tech
Perhaps the biggest reveal of the day was the 3D audio support, thanks to the new Tempest Engine. It’s an incredibly powerful system: if the PSVR can support “50 pretty decent sound sources,” according to Cerny – with the PSVR’s distinct audio system being one of the more complex audio systems in gaming at the moment – the PS5’s Tempest Engine can support hundreds.
The example Cerny used described it in terms of rainfall. Today, the sound of rain in a game is a single audio track, but the PS5 would theoretically be capable of letting you hear individual raindrops, in relation to where the player character is.
“Where we ended up is a unit with roughly the same SIMD (single instruction, multiple data) power and bandwidth as all eight Jaguar cores in the PS4 combined,” said Cerny.
“If we were to use the same algorithms as PSVR, that’s enough for something like five thousand sound sources – but of course we want to use more complex algorithms, and we don’t need anything like that number of sounds.”
Perhaps best of all is the way you’ll get to experience this – even a lowly pair of headphones at launch will be able to take advantage of the sense of presence and directionality Sony is promising here, with the company also committing to later support multi-speaker surround systems with the tech.
But this is an ongoing project for Sony. To accurately model surround data positioning, Sony needs to create a Head-related Transfer Function, or HRFT, map. Essentially, that’s a distinct algorithm that works best if the system knows the precise shape of your ears.
“Maybe you’ll be sending us a photo of your ear, and we’ll use a neural network to pick the closest HRTF in our library,” Cerny teased. “Maybe you’ll be sending us a video of your ears and your head, and we’ll make a 3D model of them and synthesize the HRTF. Maybe you’ll play an audio game to tune your HRTF, we’ll be subtly changing it as you play, and home in on the HRTF that gives you the highest score, meaning that it matches you the best.
“This is a journey we’ll all be taken together over the next few years. Ultimately, we’re committed to enabling everyone to experience that next level of realism.”