Sony has teased its upcoming PlayStation 5 console, which is unsurprisingly an upgraded PlayStation 4 based on the same core PC technology, while Microsoft has countered with confirmation of the impending Xbox One S All-Digital Edition and Game Pass Ultimate service.

The launch of the PlayStation 4 back in November 2013 brought with it a shift for the company: Where the PlayStation 3 had relied on unusual Cell Broadband Engine (CBE) processors, the PlayStation 4 was built around a semi-custom x86 processor from AMD. Effectively, it's less a console and more a compact PC running locked-down software - exactly the same approach taken by rival Microsoft for its Xbox One family, launched that same month.

The switch from highly-customised hardware to something much closer to off-the-shelf has allowed Sony - and Microsoft - to be more flexible in how it treats the platform, with a mid-stream refresh introducing the PS4 Pro, a console compatible with all the same games as the original PS4 but with an upgraded processor to offer smoother frame rates, higher resolutions, and better support for the popular PlayStation VR add-on. With the company already proving that simply upgrading the platform internally is an option, it's little surprise then to find that the PlayStation 5 is to be more of the same i.e. a compact PC based, again, on a semi-custom AMD processor.

Speaking to Wired, Sony system architect Mark Cerny confirmed that the PlayStation 5 will be based around a third-generation AMD Ryzen processor and a Radeon 'Navi' graphics processor with support for ray tracing and 8K resolution output (not the same as running games natively at 8K, of course). The processor will also, Cerny claimed during the interview, include 3D spatial audio processing - likely tied in to the PlayStation VR headset or its successor - and solid-state storage by default.

Effectively the difference between a five-year-old and shiny-new gaming PC, there's no surprise to hear Cerny promise that the PlayStation 5 will include full backwards compatibility for PlayStation 4 games in much the same way as the PlayStation 4 Pro does.

What Cerny didn't share, however, was pricing or a launch schedule - but he did confirm that it will not be coming in 2019, making 2020 the absolute earliest the PS5 could launch.

Microsoft, meanwhile, is rather more tight-lipped on its own Xbox One successor - a device that could end up being called the Xbox Two, just to continue the confusing naming convention which has seen the Xbox One launch as the third full generation of the console family and which would make the Xbox Two the fourth Xbox generation - but has confirmed earlier rumours surrounding a cut-down Xbox One missing the optical drive of its full-fat brethren.

Dubbed the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, the driveless console is to launch on May 7th at £199 (inc. VAT) with 1TB of internal storage. While this sees it priced around £50 cheaper than the recommended retail price of a full-fat Xbox One S, it's poor value for money based on actual current pricing: Marketplace sellers on Amazon currently list the Xbox One S, with the same 1TB of storage but a built-in Blu-ray drive, at around £192 including delivery; £213, meanwhile, gets an Xbox One S with bundled copy of Forza Horizon 4, or £215 one with a bundled copy of Battlefield V. In an apparent admission that the pricing isn't quite competitive, Microsoft has confirmed that the console will come with three bundled games pre-loaded on the hard drive: Forza Horizon 3, Minecraft, and Sea of Thieves.

To better support the drive-free Xbox One, Microsoft has also announced the impending launch of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription service. Combining the features of both Xbox Live Gold, which provides access to multiplayer services and a small selection of freely downloadable games each month, and Xbox Game Pass, which provides access to a growing library of all-you-can-eat downloadable games, for $15 a month (UK pricing to be confirmed). This, the company has announced, is available in alpha preview form now with a full launch scheduled for later this year.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04