At Sony’s Road to PS5 presentation last month, they did a deep dive into the technical specs of the upcoming PlayStation 5 console. Needless to say, this is exciting stuff. But let’s look at this technical information through a VR lens.
Before we start, we highly recommend that you give the presentation a watch on Sony’s official channel, and not just because the PS5 lead system architect Mark Cerny has a voice like Bob Ross of high-end tech design. It is a great talk and a nice insight into how Sony wants to influence the industry.
The specs speak for themselves
They really do. Before we break this down, have a glance over how the PS5 shapes up to the previous generation:
In so many ways the PS5 improves on the previous tech by multitudes, and each of the above means great things for VR. We’re going to break them down in a moment, but first…
The elephant in the room: PSVR 2?
Unfortunately, information on PSVR 2 is slim on the ground but there are hints about it here and there. Nothing is confirmed, but Sony’s own patents suggest features that would be huge game-changers for these headsets.
Based on Sony’s apparent 2019 patents titled “Data processing” and “Information Processing Device”, the internet is rife with rumours about PSVR 2 featuring (among other things):
- Full wireless functionality.
- Built-in speakers with 3D audio.
- A built-in microphone.
- Head position tracking.
- A transparency mode.
- Improved wands that include advanced haptics and actual joysticks.
This is all unconfirmed and, before anyone gets excited, we have no expectation for PSVR 2 to release alongside the PS5 itself.
But what we do have are the cold hard facts from “The Road to PS5” that your current PSVR headset will work on the PS5, and they’re planning to make as many PS4 games as possible backwards compatible.
Cerny himself said that running PS4 titles at the boosted specs of the PS5 creates problems. “The boost is truly massive this time around and some game code just can’t handle it. Testing has to be done on a title by title basis.”
We’re hoping that means current PSVR titles running at a much higher quality than we already have.
Strangely, we’re starting with the PS5’s storage first
That might seem like an odd choice, and might be an unusual place to go from dreaming of visually beautiful games, but a built-in SSD could be a game changer.
The below image from Cerny’s presentation shows how quickly each console is able to read data from storage, and – as you can see – the PS4 is almost 100 times faster.
In theory, the PS5’s 16GB of system memory could be filled in just 2 seconds. That means blindingly fast load speeds for larger and more detailed game environments than ever – Cerny even joked that developers may have to slow down transitions between areas!
And the best bit? The complicated, unique solution that the PS5 uses to integrate an SDD requires little extra work from devs. All part of Sony’s aim to make developing on the PS5 take less than a month to learn.
Making those worlds with the GPU and CPU
From the table above, you can see that the PS5’s GPU is almost six times as powerful as the PS4. This is a significant increase, and puts console VR on par with PC for at least some time to come. Currently, PC ports to PSVR often need their graphics scaled down, but the PS5 should be able to handle heavy textures and then some right out of the box.
We personally hope this means that backwards compatible PS4 VR games will get a graphical bump up too.
On top of this big raw GPU power boost, the PS5 is also boasting an almost doubled CPU clock speed. Along with the variable clock system – a process to let the CPU and GPU allocate frequency based on workload – this could mean greater physics simulations, AI, and sheer world size than PSVR has ever dreamed of thus far.
The variable clock system is a bit of a double edged sword though. While it means some incredible flexibility for both the GPU and CPU, it does mean that developers won’t be able to max out the performance on both at once.
Before we move on from graphics, it’s also worth mentioning the PS5’s new hardware-accelerated ray tracing. While Cerny didn’t promise much in his talk on this front, this might be a nice boost to lighting and reflections in VR worlds.
And finally, the Tempest Engine and HRTF
Cerny said himself that he was disappointed with the lack of audio innovation with current gen machines, and this support of 3D audio from the ground up is a big step towards fixing that. But what actually is the Tempest Engine anyway?
The Tempest Engine is, in short, a hardware chip that the PS5 will use to take in a player’s position and simulate audio in incredibly realistic ways. Better still, the Head-related Transfer Function (HRTF) maps that sound to your own ear so that the game audio is experienced just as the developer intended – no matter the ear.
We’ve had tastes of this in other PC VR headsets, but integrating a chip out of the box does show that Sony is looking around and appreciating where it needs to compete in this field.
This upgrade is a biggie in VR especially because immersion is the number one name of the game. If you’re trying to fool a player’s eyes, don’t let their ears betray your vision.
Wrapping it up
The PS5 is shaping up to be a remarkable bit of kit, especially in the home VR space.
Between the GPU, CPU, and RAM, bigger and more complex console VR experiences are likely just a year or so away and that is truly exciting. A beefy SSD means those experiences are fast to load and fast to enjoy, and it seems that Sony is keen on being competitive in the home VR game for the years to come.
Now all we can do is sit patiently and wait for official news on PSVR 2…
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