A lot has been written in recent weeks about the “Playstation 4.5” or “Playstation 4K”, an alleged hardware refresh of the PS4 that Sony will supposedly announce at E3 2016. Numerous gaming blogs and news outlets have reported rumors that the updated PS4 SKU will be capable of gaming at 4K resolutions, and that it’s being released because the standard PS4’s graphical capabilities cannot handle more realistic VR titles. Because of this, the same rumors have pegged the machine’s release date to around the same November 2016 time frame as the Playstation VR’s release. Since it seems Sony’s not about to provide any information on the new PS4 SKU until it’s E3 2016 Press briefing, I think it’s time to debunk some of the most ridiculous ones, and to take a look at what Sony can realistically deliver for at the PS4’s price point.
The PS4 basically runs on an APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) manufactured by AMD using a 28nm chip manufacturing process. The APU contains two (2) AMD Jaguar x86-64 quad-core modules running at 1.6MHZ, and an AMD GCN GPU with 18 of AMD’s so-called “Compute Units”. These come to 1152 shaders, 72 texture mapping units, 32 raster operators, for a total theoretical performance of 1.84 Teraflops. Basically, the APU is the equivalent of a Radeon 7870 with two compute units disabled.
While the PS4’s hardware is the “sweet spot” to run games at 1080p, our “True HD” resolution, to run current-generation games at 4K resolution would require computing power well beyond Sony’s ability to price any refreshed PS4 SKU. To give you an idea of the computing horsepower needed, consider that a Radeon R9 295×2, AMD’s dual-GPU monster of a card, whose component GPU’s are vastly superior to the PS4’s GPU, can run Crysis at just 22FPS, and Battlefield 4 at 37 FPS. Dual Nvidia 780TIs in SLI just runn out of video memory outright, meaning Crysis runs at just 3FPS. Newer Nvidia GPUs like the 980Ti or Titan X do playable frame rates, but then you are in $700-$2000 territory, just for a GPU.
Console manufacturers update their console SKUs all the time. They do it in order to cut production costs, and increase profits. Sony has already done this with the PS4 (newer models include physical buttons on the console instead of touch sensors, and streamlined cooling). Any new PS4 SKU’s purpose would be to further reduce the manufacturing costs of the console and increase Sony’s profits. But the main reason for the Playstation 4.5/4K is probably this: 4K Television is finally beginning to take off, with many affordable models available at retail, and with more content arriving daily from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and other dedicated providers, including Sony, who’s about to launch the new BluRay 4K disc format. Sony also wants to shore up its struggling flat-screen TV business, and what better way of surreptitiously getting a BluRay 4K video player into your home that with the Playstation 4 brand?
Finally, and most importantly: Sony has done everything right this console generation. They are the current leader in sales and industry mindshare. The PS4 and their game business is their one success story that is keeping the Sony conglomerate financially afloat as their consumer electronics and movie and music businesses struggle. Sony is not about to shoot themselves in the foot by releasing a more expensive, massively upgraded console SKU that will effectively split their user base. Sony remembers what happened to Sega with the 32X for the Genesis, and will not make that mistake. Therefore, for all of these reasons, I predict the PS4.4/4K will be nothing more than a hardware refresh of the PS4 tweaked for 4K video playback. After all, the PS4’s GPU is more than capable of handling 4K video playback, so the console just needs teh ability to output at this resolution. In other words: if you want a more powerful Playstation, you are going to have to wait for Playstation 5.
One final note: Sony’s marketing team gets an F for not addressing all the ridiculous rumors, since they undoubtedly will impact their console sales until they officially debunk them.