Predicting the Features Of the PlayStation 5
In my article "Top 5 Reasons Next Gen Gaming is Taking So Long", I mentioned that the rapidly evolving technology landscape was a big reason for extended console cycle seen in the Xbox360/PS3 generation. Now in 2017 we are more than 3 years into the 8th generation console cycle (PS4/Xbox One/Wii U) and there is an increasingly clear picture on where the future of gaming is heading.Tech like 4K, Virtual Reality, and cloud computing/streaming are all going to be a huge part of the future of gaming. While PS4 will introduce many of these capabilities, they won't be full fleshed out during the console's life cycle and we will not see the full realization of these technologies until the PS5. We also have the new wrinkle of console refreshes in PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio that are promising higher resolution versions of existing PS4/XB1 games with a focus on 4K. The reality is that neither platform will likely make 4K the standard for console games but will instead serve as more of an introduction to 4K gaming in the living room. Will pushing more pixels be the primary foucs for next gen? This article will go over my top predictions of what features a PlayStation 5 device will have based on current trends and current HW limitations.
Native 4K Resolution
Whether you believe there is an advantage with 4K resolution or not, there is no stopping that the consumer electronics and computing industries are moving toward a 4K future. Television manufacturers are making 4K HDTVs in mass with prices dropping rapidly each year. 4K Blu-ray standard is on the verge of being finalized and should be available by end of 2015. Most Hollywood films are filmed and mastered in 4K and 4K gaming on the PC is slowly reaching a point of general consumption with more powerful HW being made available for cheaper prices. It is not a stretch to say that by 2020 4K will be as ubiquitous as 1080p is today across film, computing, and gaming (TV may take longer). With gaming in particular, 4K is currently supported in a large number of major PC game releases and represents the state of the art for visuals.
It also becoming clear on how the current consoles are limited and may not be able to take us to that realized future. While the raw technical/graphical leap hasn't been as large as previous generations, we are seeing a lot of innovation and new capabilities that enhance the gaming experience in the home. Features like integrated voice commands, remote play, game broadcast, enhanced sharing features, full game streaming (i.e. PlayStation Now) are just some of the new features introduced in this new generation of game consoles. However, there is a great sense that this generation is just getting started and that the true legacy of these systems won't be established for another few years. In addition, there are several huge game-changing technologies (literally!) that are either set to be introduced or will evolve significantly in the new few years leading to the inevitable generation 9 console cycle.
In 2017, both Sony and Microsoft will have 4K capable machines on the market each with a different market purpose. Sony's PS4 Pro was released in late 2016 and is a modest upgrade over the existing PS4 that does introduce some 4K titles. However, most titles are not native 4K as the raw horsepower is not nearly enough to render most current AAA games in 4K resolution. Microsoft meanwhile is planning to release Xbox Scorpio in fall of 2017, with specs that are noticeably higher than the PS4 Pro. With it, Microsoft is promising "true 4K" while being fully backwards compatible with Xbox One and having no exclusives of its own. This means that every Scorpio game will also be an Xbox One game and what we will essentially get is a higher resolution version of Xbox One games. All games will still be deigned for the base PS4 and Xbox One hardware with PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio essentially being the equivalent of running your game on a higher spec PC. This is clearly not what consumers are used to in a true "next gen" console and the majority of games will not run at native 4K this generation. PS5 will likely bring the "baseline" up to 4K native resolution for most games.
Integrated Virtual Reality
While 2015 brought modern high end virtual reality to the consumer level space with the release of Occulus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR the one thing that is obvious is that there is still plenty of room to grow the VR space. The aforementioned platforms were a great introduction to the potential of virtual reality, but i think its safe to say that neither platform set the world ablaze in terms of sales. In fact, each platform has underpowered well below expectation and targets. The questions is why?
The most obvious answer is that current VR simply isn't compelling enough nor cheap enough to appeal to the mainstream market. The cheapest VR solution is Playstation VR at $399 base which is more than a new PS4 system. The PC solutions are even more expensive and require a relatively powerful PC on top of that. On top of the high price, the actual VR hardware requires a mess of cables, breakout boxes, cameras/senors, motion controllers, and bulky headsets to even get working. The experience is far from user friendly or simple and the general user will be completely turned off from trying to configure a VR system on their own. Remember how nearly all the VR demos at trade shows and retail markets before released required a trained person to provide instructions and manage the cables?
With that said, the potential for VR is evident and most that have actually tried it are impressed by the one of kind experiences it can bring. I think with Playstation 5, we will see a new and improved VR solution that represents a much evolved platform over the current Playstation VR. Expect higher resolution headsets (4K?), wireless configurations, more elegant tracking solutions (smaller more advanced cameras), and more ergonomic motion control solutions (smaller or the removal of controllers?). Perhaps the promise of Kinect may be realized for completely natural user input and full body tracking or maybe (more realistically) we'll get some kind of wearable on the fingers/hands and head to provide accurate tracking of the user. Either way, it'll be improved to the point where these current first generation solutions will be something we'll laugh at looking back.
Digital And Streaming Become The Norm?
The power of the cloud was something that was promised as being a huge difference maker in the PS4/Xbox One generation. Sony bought Gaiki prior to the PS4 launch and Microsoft invested a ton of resources in their Azure cloud platform. Needlessly to say, the fruits of that labor has been minimal at best. Sony did have a cloud based game streaming platform called "Playstation Now" that has had very limited success. In fact, while they initially attempted to expand the platform into a variety of non Playstation devices including Sony and Samsung TVs, they have recently announced a scaling back of the platform to just being present on PS4 and PC only (PS NOW Only on PS4 and PC starting mid-August 2017 ). Microsoft meanwhile have still not released much of anything related to cloud-based gaming and have been moving more towards software emulation with both the Xbox One and the upcoming Project Scorpio to provide Xbox 360 backwards compatibility for example. In addition, the digital only future originally promised by Microsoft for Xbox One had to quickly be abandoned due to consumer backlash indicating that neither the consumer nor the retail markets were ready for a digital only future.
Ultimately, I don't think we will see the death of retail disc based games by the time a PS5 is released in 2019/2020 time frame. Digital distribution is very prevalent on virtually all gaming platforms today including mobile, console, and PC and has continued to become more popular. Yet, there is still a sizable market that prefers to go to a store and buy a retail package that they actually own. There are several reasons for this:
- Some consumers will just prefer having a physical product when they purchase a game
- Digital purchases still do not have a resell infrastructure that is prevalent with retail games
- Digital games are not "fully" owned by the user and own become disabled after a certain amount of time (for example, many of my PS3 downloads are no longer functional today)
With that said, there have been reports that the brick and mortar retailers like Best Buy and Gamestop are bleeding money and may be in real danger with slowing sales due to the continued rise of digital distribution (gamestop closing 150 stores). Will they be able to hold on? Maybe not. It may be the case that digital distribution becomes the norm and represent a comfortable majority of game sales. However, I'm not sure the market at large will completely abandon physical media by the next generation.
While there was an overwhelming amount of technologies in flux at the time the PS4 and Xbox One first released in 2013 (as I have highlighted in previous blog posts), here in 2017 the dust has settled quite a bit. 3D is no longer a "thing, VR has not been the runaway success some predicated, cloud and digital distribution have been reserved to more complimentary roles, and 4K has started to reach the mainstream along with capability hardware in both graphics processors and display technology.
Will we see games evolve with just more pixels and more advanced effects? Will VR rev2 be enough to really push VR to the forefront? Or is there some unknown revolution yet to come in gaming? What are your thoughts?