Yesterday we reported on the rumours going around that a new kind of Playstation 4, dubbed the PS4K or PS4.5, is on the way. The reports have been multiplying over the past few weeks, to the point where many outlets are saying the new console’s existence is pretty much an absolute certainty, and presenting games and media at 4K resolutions (3840×2160) will be a major feature.
It is from this point everything becomes less certain. For starters, as LoadScreen’s James Orr notes in his original article, there is no way for Sony to make a system that can run games in native 4K while still maintaining a console price point. The only way around this would be to run the games at 1080p and use a hardware boost to upscale the image to 4K, an imperfect solution but one that would certainly be an improvement. But will the hardware boosts stop there? Perhaps not, as the rumour-mill is also saying that games are already being designed to take advantage of extra power offered by the PS4K. The new games will also run on original PS4s, but at lower graphical quality compared to the new hardware.
And herein lies the problem: releasing a new model with significant internal upgrades mid-generation defeats the whole purpose of console gaming and is terrible news for anyone who already owns a PS4.
Now before we get ahead of ourselves, yes PC gamers essentially deal with this situation all the time. Within a year or two, PC parts get upgraded and games run better on the newer parts than they do on previous hardware. Yadda yadda PC Master Race. But here’s the thing: the best thing about consoles is that they aren’t PCs. They can play all the games released for them and only need a $500-600 upgrade every six or so years (providing your original unit never fails) instead of annually like with graphics cards (if you want to stay on top of course).
We on the same page? Excellent.
So, if games are going to be playable on both the PS4K and the PS4, and the former does indeed provide better frame rate performance than the latter, then you can be sure that soon the majority of games will be designed to run on the newer unit with compatibility on the older one considered an afterthought.
We’ve seen evidence of this kind of thing before, such as when the PS4 first launched and its games were also being released on the older PS3. Sure, all the sports games worked fine, but they’re hardly technical powerhouses. The more technical major releases were conceptualised, designed and developed for the newer hardware’s capabilities, then stripped back to the bone to get it working on the previous tech. Look at something like 2014’s Shadow of Mordor as an example, whose previous generation version was a frame dropping mess with excruciating load times.
But hey, it still technically ran on the PS3 right? But the PS3 was seven years older than the PS4, whereas the PS4 will only be around three years older than the PS4K. That’s too soon to render it the inferior option, especially for anyone who got one at Christmas or sooner.
Another hypothesis is that since the PS4K is said to be releasing around October, it might be designed to provide extra grunt for Playstation VR, which releases at the same time. Since VR is very reliant on high frame rates, around 90 frames per second, the extra power would allow higher quality games to run at that level. If this is true, that’s just a huge spit in the face of everyone who has been excited for PSVR, myself included, since all we were told we needed to run it was a PS4, rather than a $2000 plus PC like the Rift or Vive.
If it turns out what they really meant was you need a better, newer PS4 to run PSVR properly, and the original unit is the just a passable alternative, then that is one heck of a misleading hype campaign.
Regardless, it is probably a bit too soon to be freaking out about this new PS4 model until Sony officially confirms what the heck it is. But the idea of a mid-generation hardware upgrade is still an interesting prospect to discuss, and one that for the reasons I’ve outlined above I feel is a terrible idea.
I have no qualms with a slim-line model that improves the power efficiency and cooling (like what the last PS4 upgrade already does) or even one that runs the games at the exact same quality as the original model but can upscale it to higher resolution. But a console that is more powerful and runs the games at a higher quality and than previous models defeats the whole purpose of console gaming: where the machine you buy will play all the games released for it, in the way it was intended to be played.
My PS4 is only two and a half years old, don’t render it inferior just yet Sony.