PlayStation 5 gets a coming out party

You certainly don’t need to hear it from me, but we clearly live in interesting times. Along with all the other stress and issues facing the world today, particularly here in the US, and particularly in cities such as Los Angeles, many of us are still under some sort of Covid-19 lockdown, or, to put it more genteelly, “Safer at Home” restrictions.

Things are still a bit cautious and slightly amiss. Who would have thought that getting a haircut – for the first time in four months – would be a life changing event. And, of course, wearing a mask during the haircut! Those who have seen my presentations at CEDIA or ISE will be comforted to know that while I didn’t wear my test pattern suit, I actually was wearing a test pattern mask!

In more normal times, I’d be writing this after having been to the annual E3 event and the attendant press conferences. Suffice to say, not this year. The event is cancelled, and with it the yearly announcements from the major game console and software brands. Indeed, this was to be a big year for new game consoles with both Sony PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox introducing powerful new generation consoles that they began to start talking about this time last year. Perhaps to compensate for that many events have gone virtual, Sony and Microsoft have been gradually showing some of the technical aspects of their new products, albeit in a drip-by-drip manner that seemed worse than a leaky faucet that needs a new washer.

Sony in particular, has detailed the major hardware architecture of the PS5, but has not shown the final product appearance, listed the new games and most importantly, said anything about the price or told us when it will be available other than “this holiday season”.

PS5 Horiz
PS5 shows off its sleek design regardless of vertical or horizontal placement. The PS5's DualSense controller also matches the console's appearance and has a built-in speaker along with haptic feedback and a headphone jack. Image source: Sony Interactive Entertainment

That is, until yesterday, June 11th, a week or so after the scheduled date due to a postponement due to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent events. Through a prerecorded presentation available to the public via YouTube and Twitch, literally millions of game fans got their first real look at PS5. As is always the case regardless of whether these game-centric events are live or virtual, the event, which ran a bit over an hour, was very heavy on forthcoming games. They included the usual mix of sports, fantasy, racing, children’s games and the other genres. Despite the fact that the presentation was 1080p video even though many of the games will undoubtedly be released in 4K, watching the presentation on a 4K TCL TV (disclosure, provided by Roku and TCL), clearly showed the vivid colors, lifelike action and smooth motion. Using headphones rather than speakers, as suggested by Sony/SIE, the sound quality and spatial imaging were perfect and directional, though there was no mention of whether the clips were encoded with Sony’s 3D Audio technology.

But then again, I’m a hardware guy, and I was there to see what new details would be revealed. As we’ll talk about later, there are still some unknowns, but we now have a much better picture of PS5 than we had previously. 

The biggest news was finally getting a view of what PS5 production models will look like, with the caveat that what was shown was renderings, not physical models. When standing vertically straight up, the console has a shape that reminds one of those curvy new mega skyscraper buildings. Laid horizontally flat it made me think of the latest convention centre buildings or a new airport terminal. The white exterior surrounds a black middle section with subtle blue lights separating the two masses. While beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, I personally liked the non-boxy appearance.

Also shown for the first time was the fact that there will be two versions of PS5, one with an optical disc player, and a Digital Edition that is similar to what Xbox offers in its current product line. The appearance was similar, with the disc-less version obviously a bit thinner. 

PS5 Cam
PS5's HD Camera. Image source: Sony Interactive Entertainment

While the DualSense controller has been shown before, its colour scheme and overall design now make sense as it matches the look of the console. New at the presentation was a companion charging station that can handle two controllers at one.

Emphasising the functionality of the console’s version with UltraHD Blu-ray capability, also unveiled as a Media Remote. Slim, gloss white, and almost looking as if it was designed at Apple, not Sony, as with similar remotes for previous PlayStation generations, it avoids the complexity of a game controller when navigating discs and streaming content. A built-in mic enables voice search and control. 

Completing the video side of gaming, Sony showed a new HD Camera. A major step up from past PlayStation models, this will be a 1080p design with dual lenses that seems to be more intended for broadcasting games over Twitch than for use in actual game play. Until we get more details it is hard to say if it will also be used for game play. While we did see the camera, there has been no mention of an updated PlayStation VR headset that would take advantage of the powerful hardware.

Sony has its roots as an audio company, and at the last two CE events Sony highlighted its “3D Audio” solutions. Given that, it was no surprise to see the announcement of PlayStation’s PULSE 3D wireless headset. Not having heard them I can’t comment on its audio quality, but in both the professional and consumer markets, offerings such as the highly regarded WH-100 series models show that Sony headphones are a force to be reckoned with. Included in this model are dual noise cancelling microphones and 3D audio support packed into a stylish industrial design. 

Announced previously was the technical inner workings of the PS5’s hardware. It is based on an AMD Zen 2-based CPU with eight cores at 3.5Ghz in combination with high end graphics processor engine. Together with 16GB of 256-bit memory and sporting an 825GB SSD for considerably faster access than the hard drives in current models you have a total package capable of ray tracing and other sophisticated graphics techniques. 

With all of this we now have a much better picture of what PS5 will look like, what accessories will accompany it, and, of course, some sneak peaks at the top games for the platform. However, for all that we now know, there are still more than a few things that we don’t know.

Pulse 3D
The optional Pulse3D headphones are a major step up from what was supplied with previous PlayStation products. Image source: Sony Interactive Entertainment

For example, there was no mention of the extent of 8K capability, though that feature is all but assured. In parallel, 8K would require HDMI 2.1, but that spec was not talked about, either. Elsewhere on the video front one would also assure support for HDR, Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and perhaps even HLG for possible streaming of live sporting events in HDR. The Media Remote’s description mentions “navigating streaming services”, but we don’t yet know which ones will be available in the global markets where PS5 will be sold. 

“Sold”? But when and at what price? That is a very good question and it is one that was not addressed at all during the PS5 reveal presentation. How much will the two versions cost? What accessories will be packed with the console in bundles?

The trailers for the games showed a mix of “2020” and “2021” with no firm date. More importantly, there was no hint as to when you will actually be able to buy one, whatever the price will be. “Holiday Season 2020” gives PlayStation quite a bit of wiggle room, and we not only learned nothing more than that, you still don’t even know when we’ll know. The possible impact of production for component parts due to Covid-19 may be a factor that perhaps even Sony can’t factor in at this time. All we can do is wait.

There you have it, in past years we’d probably know more about the introduction of a major, marquee product at this time. Then again, we DO live in interesting times. More is known; more is still yet to be known. HiddenWires will keep on the lookout for the latest news as both PS5 and Xbox X make their way towards introduction and we’ll keep you posted.

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group, follow him on Twitter @captnvid, or comment on his article, below.

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