The folks over at Wired have been blessed with an exclusive look at the next-generation PlayStation, courtesy of an interview with Mark Cerny, the lead system architect for the system. As befits the mag's audience, Wired's article is a little fluffy, but we can gin the seeds of information and break it down, gerbil-style.
Here are the big reveals: the as-yet-officially-untitled fifth PlayStation will once again be based on a semi-custom chip from AMD, just like the PS4. Wired revealed that the new chip will use eight 7 nm Zen 2 cores mated to a GPU based on AMD's Radeon Navi family. The new system will also use a solid-state drive as its primary storage—as any computer released nowadays should.
The article makes much of the benefits of using an SSD in the next PlayStation. I don't have explain the benefits of flash storage to an audience of gerbils, but Wired doesn't touch on the real reason the next-gen system's I/O performance is so superior to that of its predecessor. The PlayStation 4 (and its Pro variant) use a USB-to-SATA bridge for their primary storage drive. Cerny claims that the next-gen system will use an SSD with "raw bandwidth higher than any SSD available for PCs" which is an interesting claim, but the 19-fold speedup he demonstrated to Wired could easily be achieved by simply hooking a SATA SSD up to the SoC using a direct SATA link.
A big part of that massive performance uplift probably also comes from the leap forward in CPU hardware. The PS4 family's "Liverpool" SoC uses eight CPU cores based on AMD's Jaguar design. Jaguar, for those unfamiliar, was a low-power CPU core designed for use in net-tops, thin laptops, and even tablets. It has some surprising chops for what it was, but it was never really meant for hardcore gaming. The fact that the current-generation consoles have produced what they do using these chips is nothing short of impressive. We obviously haven't had a chance to see Zen 2 in action, but even moving up to extant Zen+ cores would be a gigantic step up from the old "cat" cores.
Another interesting tidbit about the hardware is that Cerny claims the Navi-based Radeon GPU will have some form of support for ray-tracing. That isn't completely surprising, as any modern graphics processor is in theory capable of that feat. As Nvidia recently showed when it added DXR support to Pascal GPUs, though, doing ray-traced graphics on GPUs is not especially practical without dedicated hardware to speed up the calculations. Everyone's waiting with bated breath to hear any announcement on that topic from AMD, but mum's the word so far.
Aside from graphics, Cerny talks about using ray-tracing for positional audio or line-of-sight tests in games. You could take that statement in one of two ways: either the next PlayStation has enough ray-tracing grunt to do graphics as well as ancillary functions; or he means to imply the new PlayStation will use ray-tracing for things other than graphics, since without serious hardware acceleration, ray-traced visuals are unlikely to be a big part of the upcoming system's appeal. Whatever the case, this point will become clearer when we learn more about Navi later this year.
On the topic of audio, Cerny says the upcoming system will include a dedicated 3D audio processor, an idea that recalls AMD's largely-ignored TrueAudio feature. The mention of specialized hardware is curious, given that AMD re-implemented TrueAudio in software as TrueAudio Next last year. Sony says that headphones will be the "gold standard" for the effect, which is also odd to us—surely a 5.1 setup would be the "gold standard" for positional audio? Still, as a bit of an audiophile myself, it's nice to see sound getting more attention, given that it is typically neglected in games in favor of visual presentation.
Besides the hardware details, Wired also ferreted out that the new system will accept physical media. Perhaps Sony is still shook by the utter failure of the PSP Go. Lots of people continue to prefer physical media, and not every market has high-speed internet access, so the feature makes enough sense. Perhaps the more exciting news that the next PlayStation will run PS4 games. That shouldn't come as a surprise to readers, but sadly that functionality wasn't official despite the apparent similarity between both systems' hardware. If you own a PSVR headset, it'll work with the new system too—although there's likely to be a new headset released eventually.
Cerny apparently insisted to Wired that this system is a revolution and not an evolution, but to us PC folks, it looks like a regular old system upgrade. Of course, just as new hardware allows PC gamers to pump up graphics settings, this new hardware should still alter the PlayStation gamers' experience pretty drastically when it launches next year.