- By Grant Brunner on March 18, 2016 at 5:59 pm
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We’re only three months into 2016, and it’s already turning out to be a very strange year for console gaming. Two of the big platform makers seem to be flirting with the idea of releasing upgrades to their existing devices. Microsoft came out publicly in favor of upgrading the Xbox One, and a new report today says that Sony is planning on doing something very similar.
In a report on Kotaku, numerous unidentified developers have confirmed that an upgraded console is currently under development within Sony. Colloquially called the “PS4.5,” this device will have an upgraded GPU aimed at supporting both higher frame rates for the PlayStation VR and 4K gaming on UHDTVs.
Patrick Klepek, the reporter who broke this story, has a long track record of delivering big stories that turn out to be true (like the Xbox 180 and the Infinity Ward fiasco). Not only does Klepek have multiple sources for this revelation, but Kotaku’s Jason Schreier and Stephen Totilo were able to independently verify this information as well. There’s no doubt in my mind that this machine is being worked on internally — I’m just unsure whether or not it will ever see the light of day.
One of the sources for the original story felt that the PS4.5 was an exploratory device, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Sony should absolutely be researching the possibilities of an upgraded PS4, and getting feedback from trusted developers. That doesn’t necessarily translate directly into a retail product, so I advise coming to this with a fair amount of skepticism. Until we have more information, we shouldn’t expect any new hardware in the immediate future. For all we know, we might never see this come to fruition.
The idea of major hardware revisions for consoles might look compelling on paper, but the reality of the situation is much more problematic. As I pointed out earlier this month when the news hit about the potential Xbox One upgrades, the compatibility issues are nontrivial.
Perfect backwards compatibility is not necessarily guaranteed on newer hardware, and releasing games exclusively for the improved console will fragment the market. After all, most developers want to be able to sell their games to the entire install base — not just a small fraction of early adopters. It’s a tightrope that needs to be walked year after year, and I don’t envy the engineering teams tasked with pushing the hardware forward without breaking anything along the way.
As it stands, I’m tentatively optimistic about a future in which consoles get better internals every year of two, but I want to see the real-world implementations before I can fully get on board. I’ve been bitten by the death of older iOS apps time and time again, so I find it difficult to be blindly enthusiastic here. Unless the Xbox and PlayStation teams have found a clever solution for perfect compatibility three, four, five iterations down the road, expect to see many original releases sacrificed for better hardware.