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PS5 release date, price, specs and backward compatibility

It has been 25 years since the original PlayStation launched in Japan, and Sony's gaming line continues to be a roaring success to this day. The PlayStation family of consoles has done outrageously well for Sony, with the PlayStation 4 being no exception. However, the PlayStation 4 is getting on in age, and gamers expect their games to take advantage of developments like 4K resolution and HDR while continuing to hit solid framerates.

To extend their dominance in the gaming marketplace through the next console generation, Sony has been hard at work on the PlayStation 5 and details on the much-awaited console have started to come out. According to Sony's Playstation CEO Jim Ryan, the PlayStation 5 is geared towards providing a seamless transition for gamers. Contrary to what industry rivals Microsoft and Nintendo are doing with their respective gaming brands, Sony seems content on upgrading as opposed to innovating. As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. So what exactly is in the new console? Here's everything you need to know about the PlayStation 5.

PS5 release date

There has yet to be any official word from Sony on the launch date of the PlayStation 5, but all signs are pointing to a launch in 2020 or 2021. Mark Cerny, lead system architect on both the PS4 and the PS5, confirmed in a Wired interview that the console would not be arriving in 2019. In April 2019, Wall Street Journal tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki reported that the PlayStation 5 would not be coming in the next twelve months, ruling out a release until the second half of 2020 at the earliest.

Sony seems to have all hands on deck for the PS5, bolstered by the fact that Sony decided not to host the PlayStation Experience yearly fan event in 2018. According to Shawn Layden, the head of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios, "We wouldn't have enough to bring people all together in some location in North America to have that event." Adding fuel to the speculation fire, Sony also decided to skip the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo, traditionally the biggest gaming event of the year, where companies make big announcements and show off their upcoming catalog of games. Sony seems to be ducking out of the public eye, building up excitement for when they come out and officially announce the PS5, guns blazing.

PS5 specs & rumored pricing

According to Mark Cerny, the PlayStation 5 is not just an upgrade of the PS4 Pro, like the PS4 Pro was for the PlayStation 4. Completely new hardware is being put inside the PS5, including an eight-core CPU based on AMD's third-gen Ryzen line and a custom GPU based on AMD's Radeon Navi hardware. The massive upgrades to both CPU and GPU will provide a lot of tangible benefits to game developers. Ray-tracing graphics — the "next level" in gaming graphics — will come to a game console for the first time, and 8K resolution will be supported. Cerny is also very excited about 3D audio: "With the next console the dream is to show how dramatically different the audio experience can be when we apply significant amounts of hardware horsepower to it." 

All of the computing power of the PS5 sounds great, but technology can get expensive quickly. And nothing can kill console sales faster than the sticker shock of an overpriced system, something Sony found out the hard way with their rocky launch of the PlayStation 3 back in 2006. Learning from that mistake, Sony undercut Microsoft in 2013 when they announced the PS4 would start at $100 less than the Xbox One. Nothing concrete has been revealed from Sony about the PS5's pricing, but Ace Research Institute's Sony analyst Hideki Yasuda revealed in May 2019 that he expects the console to launch at $499.

PS5 backwards compatibility

Considering the PlayStation 4 has sold nearly 100 million units, it makes sense that Sony would want to incentivize players to stay in the PlayStation ecosystem by including backwards compatibility in the upcoming PS5. In his conversation with CNET, Jim Ryan said, "Whether it's backwards compatibility or the possibility of cross-generational play, we'll be able to transition that community to next-gen. It won't be a binary choice about whether you have to be either on PlayStation 4 or next-gen to continue your friendship."

In a move that is reminiscent of how Apple treats iOS applications on their App Store and what Microsoft did with the Xbox One after launch, Sony wants their fans and customers to be able to continue playing the PlayStation 4 games they have bought even after they've upgraded to the new console. This is sure to delight gamers, but it opens up questions about the performance of older games on the PS5. Will games like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and God of War run in higher resolutions and at higher framerates? It is an exciting possibility, to be sure.

What games will be on the PS5?

With a possible 2020 release for the PlayStation 5 looming large, it is not surprising to hear that game makers have had development kits for some time now. In March 2018, rumors started flying that some third-party developers already had them. Next-gen job listings have been popping up on job boards and, knowing Sony wants to position the next PlayStation as the go-to machine for hardcore gamers, it is safe to say production companies are hard at work. 

It's reasonable to assume that early PS5 games will also be available on the PS4. Developing "cross-gen" games is commonplace when a new generation gets introduced. In an interview with Eurogamer about Bethesda's new IP Starfield, Todd Howard said: "We're pushing it; we're thinking very, very far in future so we're building something that will handle next-generation hardware. That's what we're building on right now, that's where our mind is, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't exist on the current systems as well." 

When asked what the power of the next PlayStation console brings to development, Gran Turismo series creator Kazunori Yamauchi mentioned VR: "VR is something that really depends on the evolution of GPU power, and the hardware for it, like display devices even. It's something where you can never have enough computing power." 

Streaming on the PS5

After an Investor Relations event in 2019, Sony uploaded a PDF of the slides from Sony Interactive Entertainment's presentation and provided a thorough preview of their goals for the future of the PlayStation brand. In the segment labelled "Role of Streaming in Next Gen," Sony seems to be highlighting streaming as an avenue for growth. Their vision for PlayStation-based streaming is "a massively enhanced PlayStation community where enriched and shared PlayStation experiences can be seamlessly enjoyed independent of time and place –- with or without a console."

It is that last line — with or without a console — that is particularly striking. With Google attacking the gaming scene with Stadia and Sony announcing a partnership with Microsoft to explore cloud-based streaming, perhaps the future of PlayStation lies outside the console space. Sony may be producing a powerhouse of a console in the PS5, but it is interesting to see them hedging their bets with streaming as well. 

The PS5 should have much faster loading times

As video games become bigger and bigger — including vast open worlds, branching storylines, and outrageously large file sizes — load times have become a nuisance. For example, Days Gone, an action-adventure game set in a zombie-infested Oregon, was released in early 2019 to mediocre reviews. One of the majors issues was its unbelievably long loading times. In an article for Paste Magazine, writer Garrett Martin claimed his PS4 Pro took over three minutes to launch the game. With the PlayStation 5, Sony is looking to not only address the issue of long loading times, but to obliterate it entirely.

Sony is including a solid-state drive (SSD) in the PlayStation 5 in order to get gamers playing more quickly. In his sit-down with Wired, Mark Cerny wanted to highlight just how quickly the new PlayStation can load large files. To do so, he launched Marvel's Spider-Man on a PS4 Pro and initiated the game's fast-travel feature. When Spider-Man reappeared in a totally different spot, 15 seconds had elapsed. After this, Cerny did the exact same thing on a PlayStation 5 dev kit connected to a different TV, and what had taken 15 seconds now took a whopping 0.8 seconds. What is really incredible is the fact that the dev kit was apparently an early "low-speed" version. Imagine a "high-speed" version!

Sony at large

The gaming division of the Sony Corporation is its big money-maker, so rocking the most successful boat in the harbor doesn't seem to be in the cards. However, according to the New York Times, Sony's three separately run entertainment businesses — music, gaming, and motion pictures — have been told by company higher-ups to collaborate more consistently and cohesively. The report also stated that PlayStation Network managers have been hesitant to team up with Sony's movie and music divisions, worrying that gamers would get angry if things like family films were pushed in front of their faces in the PlayStation Store. 

Does this mean that Sony higher-ups want to push the PS5 as an "all-in-one" type of box? Just ask Microsoft how that worked with them one the Xbox One. It is true that we live in a different media landscape than back in 2013, with cord-cutting and streaming becoming more and more common, but it is still a risk. PlayStation is the steadiest gaming brand in the world; if it ain't broke, don't fix it.