As much as I have harped on about the issue of preferred systems, I can’t help but admit that I’m a sucker for pretty much anything PlayStation related. Having owned many of the systems produced by the brand, little can make my gaming experiences feel more comforting than when I sit back with a DualShock in my hands. It was like that when I first played Crash Bandicoot fifteen years ago, and it was like that when I played Bloodborne yesterday.
However, as much as the PlayStation brand holds a place in my heart, I refuse to be a fanboy, one who will defend Sony’s decision-making regarding the console no matter how indefensible those decisions may be. If those decisions are blatantly anti-consumer, you can bet on me calling the bastards out. Thankfully such things are few and far between, but sometimes even the seemingly banal decisions are a bit baffling.
So with that in mind, it appears that recent rumours of a revised PS4 are indeed true. While mid-generation hardware revisions are nothing new for PlayStation (my ownership of a slim PS2 being testament to that), the changes slated for the new PS4 (internally dubbed Project NEO) are focussed on improving graphical output across the board. The new model boasts improvements to the CPU (overclocking the eight Jaguar cores to 2.1GHz from 1.6GHz); memory (8GB GDDR5 at 218GB/s, up from 176GB/s currently); and the GPU (36 “improved” GCN compute units at 911MHz, an improvement of 2.3x in FLOPs). In layman’s terms, this just means more power so your games will look better on your massive TV.
The end goal for the NEO model appears to be not just higher, more stable framerates at a minimum of 1080p resolution (which will certainly assist PlayStation VR), but the potential for 4K output in the near future. The current hardware is just barely capable of 1080p output as it is, and a number of recent releases have really pushed it to its limits—playing the recent Doom open beta made my PS4 sound like a jet airliner taking off. If the current hardware is struggling to keep up with the demands placed on it, then surely a hardware revision will do the trick?
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The issue with this is that almost no other mid-generation revisions have had this much of a focus on improving the graphics. There is already an established consumer base of 37 million units, and such radical changes risk splitting them into ‘old PS4’ and ‘new PS4’ camps, with one missing out on the benefits of the other unless they upgrade. Not everyone will be able to afford purchasing a whole new unit just to make their games look a little bit better, myself included—I had to dip into my overdraft to purchase my PS4 so I could better establish myself into this role as games editor, and I doubt I’ll be allowed to do that again.
Sony have, however, established several guidelines for developers about what they can and cannot do with the NEO, which shows they are aware of the potential for a split to happen and want to prevent it. There won’t be any games that are exclusive to the NEO, for example. The real test will come though when the new units are released to developers, where we will have to wait and see whether they will focus their attention on the new hardware or the original.
Maybe Sony realised that the PS4 simply couldn’t keep up with other hardware, but is this something that PlayStation fans even want? This situation is indeed baffling.