Giant Bomb recently got their hands on a set of leaked documents that supposedly detail the specifications of the rumored upgrade to the PlayStation 4, referred to up until now to as the PS4.5 or PS4K. Sources close to the project have confirmed the existence of the hardware, known internally as the PS4 NEO. The new console contains an upgraded CPU, an improved GPU, and faster memory.
Here are the detailed specs, courtesy of Giant Bomb:
What this means in layperson’s terms is that games will run more smoothly on the NEO than they will on the PS4. That’s pretty much it. While the NEO contains the capacity to run games in 4K resolution, optimizing games for the format isn’t required. And “require” really is the key word here: the documents indicate that, starting in October, “every PS4 game is required to ship with both a ‘Base Mode’ which will run on the currently available PS4 and a ‘NEO Mode’ for use on the new console.”
To avoid alienating current owners, Sony seems steadfast in their resolve to maintain parity between the current PS4 and the NEO. Both will have the same library, use the same storefront, run on the same network, and use the exact same peripherals. Many have speculated that this new PS4 would allow players to use PlayStation VR without the clunky “Breakout Box” the goggles are supposed to ship with, but the leaked documents indicate nothing of the sort.
This reveal leaves me with a few questions. Though it is natural that leaked documents wouldn’t be able to answer all of our questions — we’re dealing with internal information that assumes quite a bit instead of a neatly-packaged party-line for popular consumption — if everything here is true, you really can’t help but question Sony’s intentions with the NEO.
On first blush, it seems Sony is targeting the high-end videophiles of the world, people with 4K TVs and optimized entertainment systems who have the disposable income necessary to shell out another $400 — the speculated price point — for another console. That said, if developers aren’t required to upscale new games to 4K, it’s hard to figure out what exactly Sony sees in this machine. By hedging their bets to maintain parity with their existing console, Sony seems to be robbing the NEO of the kind of perks that would make upgrading attractive for PS4 owners.
The NEO, so far, has the peculiar stink of internal conflict at Sony. It seems like a compromise between higher ups at the company interested in establishing an ecosystem that supports 4K — an emerging media format the company has invested heavily in — and the PlayStation team, which is principally concerned with continuing to grow the console’s user base. With consoles already struggling to justify themselves against PC and mobile, I can’t help but feel like this apparent half-measure — which seems likely to mystify consumers — is a harmful step in the wrong direction.
Sony is also taking a risk with third-party publishers. If developers are required to essentially produce two versions of the same game, there is a slight but notable chance that publishers could feel discouraged to release games on the PS4. Sony is trying to sell the NEO by promising optimized versions of every PS4 game. Aren’t publishers going to feel remiss about releasing games for the NEO until the user base is large enough to justify the costs? I sense a catch-22. Maybe developing two “modes” of the same game won’t be too much of a hassle — after all, modern day engines make upscaling to 4K relatively painless. This nonetheless brings us back around to the original question: if the NEO only promises engine-upscaled assets and smoother frame rates, where’s the incentive for consumers?
Based on the leak, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Sony to position the NEO. Let’s hope they don’t undermine their existing fanbase in the process.