Kotaku caused quite a stir late last week when it reported via unnamed development sources that Sony is preparing to roll-out an enhanced “PlayStation 4.5” capable of displaying games at 4K resolutions. Those rumors got a boost in credibility today, as Digital Foundry has “independently established that it’s real and that Sony’s R&D labs have prototype devices.”
The updated console, which is being referred to as the PlayStation 4K by multiple Digital Foundry sources, should be able to play non-interactive Ultra HD media in a variety of forms and offer features like high-dynamic range and expanded color depth that are part of industry-set Ultra HD specification standards. But Digital Foundry is skeptical that a near-term tweak to the PlayStation 4 hardware will be able to output fully 4K games at the same graphical quality as the system’s current 1080p titles.
That informed speculation comes from looking at the pipeline for AMD GPU technology. The chip maker, which provides the integrated CPU and GPU inside the PS4, is currently transitioning from a 28nm transistor process introduced in 2011 to a new 3D FinFET process with 14 to 16nm transistors. That move could bring about a processor that’s twice as powerful as what’s currently inside the PS4 (at the same size and power consumption), but such a chip would struggle to push out highly detailed 4K gaming. (Remember, 4K TVs have four times as many pixels to fill as standard 1080p sets.) A new chip architecture could also cause compatibility headaches for games built for an entirely different type of chip.
There are other hardware options Sony might be pursuing. A design based on the AMD’s Radeon 7970 Tahiti processor, rather than the slightly downgraded Radeon HD 7870 inside the PS4 now, could improve the PS4’s graphics processing power by roughly 60 percent, according to Digital Foundry’s estimates. Or the new system could simply sport a slightly touched-up version of the PS4’s current processor, slimmed down with a new 14/16nm production process and with support for some new 4K and HDMI 2 output features.
Past consoles valued performance above all else; the PS4 is different.
We’re all still guessing at what such a mid-generation hardware refresh would look like at this point, even as more and more insider sources seem to confirm that such a refresh is coming. In fact, some observant industry watchers have dug up an interview with Sony Computer Entertainment Vice President Masayasu Ito from back in October where the executive seems to hint at many of the features being discussed for an enhanced PS4 today, such as high-dynamic range support and new chip design processes. Ito also suggested that existing games made for the “original” PS4 could be enhanced through a downloadable patch that improved their performance on the higher-end version of the system.
“For example, to provide a standard performance version of PS4 and a high-performance version of PS4, the possibility of such variations deployment, it is the idea that can be considered,” Ito said, according to a machine translation of the Japanese interview. “When [there is a] performance enhanced version of ‘PS4.1’ specific machine, what was 30fps in the current PS4 might be able to play at 60fps. In terms of ‘PS4.1’ specific machine has been enhanced performance, it might be to be able to play in 4K native if corresponding to the HDMI 2.0.”