As with almost everything currently, the corona virus also plays a major role in Sony’s first public presentation on Playstation 5. The company actually wanted to talk about the upcoming game console at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. The event was canceled because of the pandemic, so the talk by Sony’s lead developer for Playstation 5, Mark Cerny, will only take place online.
And although social distancing is the order of the day, the company apparently did not miss out on inviting real people to the presentation. It is unclear whether the five shadowy shoulders and back of the head are journalists, Sony employees or just an animation. At least it is striking that none of the heads allows themselves even a brief inattention during the entire 52-minute video. Cerny does not make it easy for the average Playstation player to follow his instructions.
Cerny talks about how distributing data to a hard drive slows down the computing process. It’s about how parts of Playstation 4’s memory go unused while calculating the next 30 seconds of the game. And he calculates that the 36 compute units (CUs) in Playstation 5 are about as powerful in terms of the number of transistors as 58 CUs in Playstation 4. In fact, there are 18 CUs in the PS4 (36 in the PS4 Pro). Translated, this means that the PS5 can call up a multiple of the graphics performance of the previous console. Exactly how much depends on other factors.
No more loading screens
Overall, the developer says, the graphics chip of the Playstation 5 has a computing power of 10.3 teraflops. The unit measures how many trillion commands the chip can execute per second. It is often used to compare the computing power of the game consoles with one another. Accordingly, the new Xbox Series X would be a bit faster, according to Microsoft it produces around 12 teraflops. The Playstation 4 comes to 1.8 teraflops.
As previously confirmed by Sony, the Playstation 5 has a solid-state drive (SSD). Many game developers would have liked that, says Cerny. Thanks to the SSD, the game console should only need 0.27 seconds to load 2 gigabytes of data. For comparison: the hard drive of the PS4 takes around 20 seconds for half. “There will be no more loading screens. The fast travel in games like Spider-Man will be so fast that we have to artificially slow down the transition,” says Cerny. The SSD is a “game changer” for gamers and game developers.
Realistic textures, reflections and shadows
The Playstation 5 should offer 825 gigabytes of storage space. In addition, customers can expand the storage if it is insufficient. Sony still has to test which SSDs are compatible with the console, says Cerny. However, this will only happen after the planned start of sales in late 2020.
The new Playstation will be backwards compatible with the PS4 games. A new technology, called “Geometry Engine”, should make surface structures in games appear even more realistic in the future. So-called ray tracing is said to have a similar effect. This enables the graphics chip to calculate the incidence of light rays in real time and thus represent reflections and shadows more realistically.
Again and again during his lecture developer Cerny comes across as a teacher. Of course, the game developers would not necessarily have to consider the geometry engine or ray tracing when programming. “But they are an opportunity for developers,” he says, smiling so that it sounds more like a threat. If you don’t go along, you lose.
The sound settings should be customizable
He dedicates the last part of his presentation to the vision Sony is pursuing with the Playstation 5. His goal and that of the development team was to give gaming a new depth. This is how they came up with the concept that Sony calls “Tempest 3D Audiotech”. According to Cerny, the games on Playstation 5 should sound great for all players – whether they play the sound through headphones, a sound bar or the speakers on the TV. In addition, every sound should sound as if the player was standing in the middle of the computer game.
No numbers of CUs or Teraflops are available to Cerny to explain these flowery promises. Instead, he uses the jargon of acoustics: HRTF – the abbreviation stands for “Head-Related Transfer Function” and describes in a very simplified way that every person perceives sounds differently due to their ear, head and trunk shape. With the help of 22 speakers, Sony can measure a player’s ears and ear canals in the laboratory and promises to find the optimal sound settings for them.
Because this is impossible to reproduce in practice for millions of players worldwide, there should initially be five HRTF profiles for the new Playstation to choose from. In the future, says Cerny, he hopes that the PS5 can adapt to each ear individually, for example thanks to videos or photos of the ears and machine learning. If this dream of an absolute listening experience prevails, it could also be interesting for other branches of the entertainment industry.