If you tuned into the technical reveal of the PS5 hoping for some hype-building trailers and cutting-edge gameplay, you were likely among the thousands of disappointed viewers spamming “zzzzzzz” in Youtube chat.
Indeed, Mark Cerny’s presentation was extremely technical, though there were some general methodologies around the construction of the PS5 that we were able to take away from the presentation.
Cerny began by sharing the three elements that were constantly kept in mind during PS5’s development – listening to developers, balancing evolution and revolution, and finding new dreams.
Listening to Developers
Cerny shared that he likes to “survey the field” of developers every couple of years to get an idea of where they’re struggling or getting held up when it comes to making games on Sony’s consoles. Of course, it’s important to design hardware that developers want to work on, and taking their feedback into account is important.
With that in mind, Cerny dove into discussion around the first piece of hardware – PS5’s SSD solution.
A problem that has plagued gamers in the modern generation, Cerny went into quite a bit of detail on how data is retrieved from the HDD currently, and how that translates into loading times. On average, he explained, a GB of assets could take approximately 20 seconds to load. He laid out how gamers are having to “Wait for the game to boot up, wait for the game to load, wait for the world to re-load when they die, and even when they use the euphemistic ‘fast-travel’ in games.”
These load times are always at the forefront of developers minds, since the load times translate to poor reception by players who find themselves staring at a loading screen more than engaging in whatever immersive world the developers sought to create.
Now, imagine a world where loading times are no longer an issue. Where the average read speed of data goes from 100 mb/s to over 5 GB/s, effectively reducing loading times by over 100 times. This is the reality of PS5’s internal SSD.
The drive will be approximately 825 GB in size, with the ability to add additional M2 internal SSD’s at launch. Compatible SSDs will be announced by Sony later this year, prior to launch.
Balancing Evolution & Revolution
Bringing the spotlight to the new GPU, Cerny discussed the importance of having updated hardware while avoiding increasing heat and stress on the new system.
Cerny spent quite some time laying out the importance of avoiding teraflops as the “absolute unit of measurement” when it comes to console performance, since it can fail to give consumers the broader picture of what the console is capable of. He also said that in working closely with AMD, they should be able to release a product that is in line with the latest GPUs on the PC market at launch – this was not to say that they simply incorporated the PC part in the PS5, but instead work closely with AMD so that the innovation and performance within the PS5 matches the products on the broader market.
All of this conversation came around to backwards compatibility. Cerny revisited the problem with building in backwards compatibility on the PS3 – which was by essentially building in the PS2 chipset, lending to the increased cost of the machine that soured so many fans at the time. In an attempt to make the console more accessible, removing that chipset was what led to some models of the PS3 having full backwards compatibility while others did not.
With the PS5, Cerny explained that there would be differing modes that would support the PS4 library. They are working on testing the games individually right now, but he did share that the top 100 PS4 games based on playtime are all “largely” compatible – a promising start!
Cerny also introduced the new Geometry engine and primitive shaders, which allows games to create detailed assets as they’re being rendered. Cerny says that he’s already seeing some PS5 games in development taking advantage of the advanced ray-tracing technology while only taking on a “modest” cost.
Cerny then discussed power consumption and heat generation. On previous consoles they would assume a “worst-case” scenario to provide a plan on cooling the console – a miscalculation would result in a very loud console, potentially even shutting down due to overheat.
The direction for cooling was very different on the PS5 – running the GPU and CPU in boost mode until they reach the limits of the cooling system. By setting the limits in this way, the system can determine the frequency at which the game requires more power, and provide cooling more efficiently (and quietly!)
Finding New Dreams
In exploring the final design motivation for PS5, finding new dreams meant finding a different area of gaming to enhance. On this front, Cerny landed on making 3D audio a reality for the PS5.
Cerny spent some time discussing the goals around making great audio on the PS5, the first one being that everyone deserved great sound without the need of peripherals like a Dolby Atmos soundbar, or high-quality headphones.
Presence and locality also came to the forefront – helping gamers immerse themselves in the game and enhance the experience. Cerny utilized Dead Space as an example of audio being used to determine where a remaining enemy could potentially be lurking. The experience is heightened as one moves from standard TV speakers, to headphones, to the 3D audio experience that the PS5 is attempting to create.
In what was certainly the part of the presentation where everyone got lost, Cerny dove into the science behind how sounds are deciphered, and how that was used in creating 3D audio for everyone through the PS5.
Lacking the proper schooling to boil this segment down, I can tell you that a lot of work went into making the audio on PS5 the best it could be.
As I mentioned at the start, this presentation was not your usual hype-building showcase. It was originally meant as a GDC conference talk, aimed specifically at techies who would have provided their own takes on the hardware advancements. Instead, here we all are, quarantined and self-isolated, wondering where the latest Godfall trailer is.
It will come in time, friends. Until then, you can trust that the new generation will indeed be a brave new world of gaming: load times will hopefully be a thing of the past, and with elevated graphical and audio capabilities, we’ll step into a new phase of home entertainment.
Now to see where they land on the price…