Sony remained strangely quiet about its upcoming hardware plans at E3 in June, using convention to focus on PS4 software instead. That lull looks set to end tomorrow, though, as Sony prepares some major hardware announcements ahead of its PlayStation Meeting event in New York City.
We’ll be there live, ready to live blog all the news about Sony’s upcoming game plans. But for now, here’s what we expect to hear (and what we don’t expect to hear) when we sit down in the PlayStation Theater tomorrow.
At this point, the PlayStation 4 Slim has got to be one of the worst kept secrets in the history of the video game industry. It’s been weeks now since the system first leaked through UK auction sites; the info was then quickly confirmed by a Eurogamer reporter who actually saw one in person. Since then, it has been extensively confirmed that the new, slimmed-down system is genuine. That includes an in-depth review and video from Let’s Play Video Games and even a full teardown showing off the system’s redesigned innards.
The fact that Sony is currently refusing to officially recognize the PS4 Slim (other than some mild legal threats to some outlets that have written about it) is approaching farce. The most likely reason for the official silence is a desire to make a big splash with an announcement at the PlayStation Meeting, but that’s going to be hard to pull off at this point as anyone paying even cursory attention to gaming news knows everything about the system.
There are plenty of reports that many retailers already have PS4 Slim stock in their backrooms and warehouses, leading to speculation that Sony might be planning a Sega Saturn-style “it’s available” straight awayreveal tomorrow. Even if that doesn’t happen, the PS4 Slim should definitely hit stores by the end of the month.
It’s also interesting to note that the PS4 Slim box has no branding that differentiates it from a standard PS4. This suggests that the redesign is intended to completely replace the current, larger PS4, rather than sell it as an additional option alongside it. We suspect the new system will match the now standard $350 bundle price, while the older units are officially reduced to $300 to clear out remaining inventory.
Contrary to its vocal response to the PS4 Slim leaks, Sony already confirmed reports of a “high-end PS4” via an email back in June. Financial times interview just before E3. The official line is that the system (reportedly codenamed “Neo”) will “sit alongside and complement the standard PS4” and that “all games will support the standard PS4, and we expect all or a very large majority of games also the advanced PS4.” In other words, this isn’t the start of a new console generation, but instead the beginning of a tiered hardware model, where the same games can run on different hardware with different fidelity.
How powerful will that new, higher level of PS4 hardware be? Sony might give us official word tomorrow, but extensive developer leaks from earlier this year suggest a significant increase in CPU clock speed (from 1.6 GHz to 2.1 GHz), a more powerful AMD GPU with twice the compute units ( 36 vs. 18), and a slightly faster RAM memory bus (218 GB/s vs. 176 GB/s).
In practice, if that gets out of balance, games running in “Neo mode” on the upgraded hardware can have better frame rates, higher resolutions (maybe even 4K for some games), and more detailed textures than the exact same game those on a “basic” PS4. That could be very useful for a higher quality experience on the upcoming PlayStation VR, although the headset has been confirmed to work on both versions of the console.
There’s a lot of speculation that the PS4 Neo will release before the end of the year, possibly along with the PlayStation VR launch in October. However, an August Vice report suggests that developers are only now getting final development kits, which could make releasing Neo-compatible games before early 2017 a bit of a rush.
With Microsoft’s Xbox Scorpio due next year, there isn’t much pressure for Sony to release this new hardware before it’s ready. On the other hand, it would also be a chance for Sony to get ahead of Microsoft’s upgraded hardware efforts and maintain its lead as the most powerful console around.
We’re not convinced Sony will reveal the price of the PS4 Neo tomorrow, but if and when it does, you can expect a hefty premium over the base model. At least an extra $100 seems reasonable.
And the rest
With just a month to go before the launch of PlayStation VR, we can expect a reminder of the huge software suite Sony has planned for its new plug-and-play hardware. In March, Sony promised that 50 PSVR-compatible games would be available by the end of 2016. We’ve seen quite a few at E3 (and even before), but the PlayStation Meeting will be a good opportunity to remind the world of what’s to come and maybe a few last-minute software surprises (let’s dream of Jumping Flash VR?).
PlayStation Vita owners hoping for a little more attention for their favorite portable device should probably hold their hopes for something else. Sure, there are still some good games coming to the Vita, but Sony has long shown almost no interest in promoting the hardware or associated software as a major part of its ongoing business.
We don’t expect a huge focus on standard PS4 software at this meeting, but it’s possible that Sony is still holding onto some cards that didn’t flop on the table at E3. We’re still hoping for a big, smashing premiere of The Last of Us 2: The Last of Us (or maybe a prequel: There are only a few of us). If that doesn’t work, we’ll gladly take a new one The escape of primatesplease and thank you.