Update: It's official, the 4K PlayStation 4.5 is coming. The news was confirmed by Sony executive Andrew House who also said that Sony will not be revealing the new console at E3 2016. House confirmed that the console will play both games and video in 4K resolution, and that it will be supported by "all or a very large majority of games."
Seven years passed between the release of the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and while the last generation ran a bit longer than usual, buying a game console typically means you're set for at least a good few years. So why would Sony release an upgraded PS4 after just three years?
That's the question that has a lot of PlayStation fans scratching their heads right now, but it's a rumor that keeps growing stronger and stronger. Sony plans to launch a more powerful version of the console that can run games at 4K resolution and amp up the immersion for PlayStation VR experiences. Depending on which report you read, it's being called the PlayStation 4.5 or PlayStation 4K, and Sony may be using "Neo" as a codename.
However, there's some good news: this upgrade isn't a replacement, but rather another option for gamers who want to spend extra cash for an enhanced experience. Sony executive Andrew House has confirmed that the PlayStation 4.5 will exist alongside the common PS4, and all games going forward will work across both versions.
Sound appealing? Here's what we know so far.
Why another PS4?
The PlayStation 4 is the most powerful game console on the market today, but after two and a half years on the market, it's handily beaten by a capable gaming PC. As tech advances at an increasingly rapid rate, Sony is reportedly eager to offer an enhanced version of the PlayStation 4 that will offer a bit more processing power and speed to enable even grander and better-looking experiences.
One reason is to support 4K Ultra HD resolution for gaming. While the PS4 can run 4K video footage, it's not able to handle interactive games at that incredibly crisp resolution. Supposedly, the PlayStation 4.5 will be built to allow games to run at 4K – for people who have a 4K television, of course. That might be a small number now, but it's growing steadily; and an upgraded PS4 might help sell Sony's 4K sets like the Sony XBR-X930D/KD-XD9305, to boot.
Another reason Sony wants to put a little more power on the table is for the PlayStation VR headset, which will release this October. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets require a high-end PC to operate, but the PS4 does VR with comparably less power. However, in a VR world, silky-smooth performance is crucial to ensure full immersion. With the PS4.5, developers should be able to tap into the newer hardware to enhance their VR experiences.
These suspicions were further fuelled when in an interview with EDGE magazine an industry insider said that PlayStation VR was going to be "terrible" on launch PS4s, creating the need for an enhanced console to offer a better VR experience.
According to a report from Giant Bomb, sources indicate that the PlayStation 4.5 will sport some speeder components. The CPU is said to utilize 8 Jaguar Cores running at 2.1 Ghz apiece (as opposed to 1.6 Ghz in the original PS4), while an upgraded AMD GPU should offer extra graphical muscle with 36 compute units at 911 MHz compared to 18 CU at 800 MHz in the earlier model.
The transfer speed on the 8GB GDDR5 RAM will also bump up to 218 GB/sec from 176 GB/sec. Don't know what that all means? Don't worry: more processing power and faster speeds mean the PlayStation 4.5 will be able to handle higher-resolution output, manage more textures and details onscreen, and generally provide a smoother play experience overall.
The report says that while the PlayStation 4.5 will allow for 4K gaming output, Sony won't require it to be natively supported. In other words, if a developer opts to stick with 1080p and put that processing power into other graphical or performance areas rather than resolution, that's fine: the image will be upscaled for anyone with a 4K set anyway.
Frame rate is apparently a larger concern for Sony, with a mandate that games on the PlayStation 4.5 must have an equal or higher frame rate than the standard PS4 version. That way, developers don't sacrifice visual fluidity in favor of a sharper resolution.
How will games work?
Here's the reportedly good news: while there's no word of any sort of upgrade kit for the current PlayStation 4, at least existing owners don't have to worry about exclusive games that are only designed for the PlayStation 4.5. It's not happening.
That's according to the Giant Bomb report, which claims that Sony has mandated that all games for the PlayStation 4 platform must work on both the new and old consoles. Games for the new hardware can feature enhanced graphics, of course, as well as some expanded functionality, but they cannot feature exclusive play modes or split the online servers between consoles. Furthermore, the system's interface should look and act exactly the same on the new box.
The report notes that Sony will require games to feature a "Base Mode" for the original PS4 console and a "Neo Mode" for the PS4.5, both of which you'll find in the same release. You'll get the same core play experience on either console, although with the Neo Mode on the new hardware, you'll see enhanced graphics and perhaps other perks as well.
Andrew House further elaborated on this functionality by saying that "all or a very large majority of games will also support the high-end PS4." This suggests that while all PS4 games will run on the Neo, a smaller number will support the additional 4K functionality.
When's it coming?
Supposedly, Sony will require that all games released from October 2016 forward offer support for both console versions out of the box, and that games shipping in late September must have a day-one patch to add in the functionality. That's according to Giant Bomb's report, but it doesn't mean that the PlayStation 4.5 will necessarily release at the start of October: Sony has reportedly given the OK for games to ship with Neo support before the console itself does.
Still, that estimate lines up pretty well with what we've heard previously: a Wall Street Journal report in March suggested that Sony would announce the PlayStation 4.5 in advance of the PlayStation VR's release in October, so that buyers would have the option of grabbing the higher-end console alongside the headset.
A pairing of the PlayStation VR and PS4.5 would make Sony's VR offering seem a lot more capable compared to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, as well, even if those are PC-based options. Maybe we'll even see a super-sized bundle with everything tossed into one pricey box.
Given E3's status as the annual hotspot for massive video game industry announcements in June, we initially thought we'd be most likely hear about the PlayStation 4.5 then and see a release pretty close to the PlayStation VR in October, but an E3 announcement was specifically denied by House.
Kotaku's original report on the system suggested that a price point could fall around $400, although the site's sources didn't have any consensus on that. If true, we imagine the older model will drop further in price to better differentiate the two.
Releasing an upgraded PlayStation 4 so soon after the original might rub some fans the wrong way, but at least the rumors suggest that Sony isn't abandoning the original buyers – just tempting them with something even better.
Will it be worth the extra cash? We may find out pretty soon if the rumors pan out.