The year 2020 is shaping up to be massive for video games. Not just because of the huge list of titles slated for release, but also because of the host of new cloud streaming and game subscription services set to significantly expand our options for play. And there's also the little matter of brand new consoles coming from Sony and Microsoft.
Early details paint a picture of significantly more powerful machines that can launch into the middle of a game in an instant, and work with all the games you've amassed over the past six years. Specifically, here's what we know so far about the next generation of consoles.
The PS5 has been confirmed for launch in "holiday 2020", but we still don't know what it will look like or how much it will cost. Most of what we do know comes from details dropped by system architect Mark Cerny to WIRED Magazine over the course of two exclusive interviews:
- The console will run on a central processor and graphics unit based on AMD's Ryzen and Navi lines respectively. The GPU will include hardware for ray tracing acceleration (for advanced lighting, among other things), in step with upcoming PC gear.
- There will be a solid state drive in place of a traditional hard disk, meaning dramatically faster loading and booting. It also potentially means larger open areas that can be traversed faster.
- The PS5 will support 3D audio and 8K video, and will be backwards compatible with PS4 games and the existing PlayStation VR headset.
- There will still be an optical drive, with retail games coming on 100GB Blu-rays, but the contents will need to be transferred to the internal solid state drive to play. The optical drive will also play 4K Blu-ray movie discs.
- Games can be installed in chunks, for example you could have just the campaign or just the multiplayer portion installed, saving you storage space. Content will also be indexed so you can jump to a specific mission or multiplayer event directly from the PS5 home screen rather than having to boot the game first.
Sony's official video comparing performance of PS4 Pro vs next-gen PlayStation pic.twitter.com/2eUROxKFLq
— Takashi Mochizuki (@mochi_wsj) May 21, 2019
Separately, Sony has announced that the PS5 will have an optional standby mode that uses far less energy than usual, but still keeps active games suspended. The feature was developed as part of the United Nation's "Playing for the Planet" initiative to get gamers to reduce their carbon footprint.
The company has also indicated that its PlayStation Now and Remote Play services are set to be expanded, and the PS5 will be optimised for talking to the cloud, so you could end up streaming your new games to your phone or playing PS3 games on your PS5 over the internet.
We also have an idea of some changes to the PS5 controller, again via WIRED. The new pad will mostly resemble the existing one, but will charge by USB-C. Inside it features an improved speaker and advanced haptic feedback thanks to voice actuators in the handle, which sounds a lot like the "HD Rumble" in Nintendo's Switch controllers. It will also have "adaptive triggers", meaning the game can determine how much force you need to apply. Pulling back a bow might offer more resistance than squeezing a machine gun trigger for example.
Patents indicate the controller may include a microphone, with the PS5 running some kind of smart voice assistant, but this has not been officially confirmed.
"Project Scarlett" is Microsoft's codename for its next-gen Xbox machine. Though the company has confirmed the console for release in "holiday 2020", we don't know what it looks like, what it will be called or what it looks like. Most of what we know comes from official videos and statements from Xbox around the time of E3 2019, including:
- The machine will run on a custom AMD processor with Zen 2 and Navi graphics architecture and high bandwidth GDDR6 memory, apparently making the console four times more powerful than the Xbox One X. The next-gen Xbox is confirmed to support real-time ray tracing, and comments from developers indicate it will be hardware accelerated.
- There will be a "new generation" solid state drive for improved loading and streaming, which apparently offers 40 times the performance of the current machine and can be used as virtual RAM.
- The goal is for games to run in 4K and at 60 frames per second, but the machine will be able to output 8K and 120fps. It will support variable refresh rates with a compatible monitor or TV.
- Scarlett will be backwards compatible with Xbox One games and controllers, and the existing catalogue of Xbox 360 and original Xbox games will be expanded. Microsoft promises "thousands of games across four console generations" optimised to work best on Scarlett.
- The machine will feature an optical disc drive.
- Scarlett will launch alongside Halo Infinite, the next in Microsoft's celebrated sci-fi shooter series.
In 2016 Xbox head Phil Spencer indicated that Microsoft wanted to do away with console generations, and have the Xbox you buy today be able to play all future games just like a PC. He's seemed to walk that back since, indicating that certain (but not all) games will be available across generations. It may be up to the developer as to whether new games are also playable on Xbox One. In those cases, there are also indications that multiplayer will work across different generations of Xbox machines.
Microsoft's "Project xCloud" streaming service will be in full swing by the time Scarlett launches, so expect enhanced abilities when it comes to accessing your console on the go from your smartphone (though Spencer says the focus on xCloud is more on playing Xbox games on your mobile device than streaming games to your Scarlett console). Game Pass, Microsoft's successful subscription gaming service, is also sure to be on Scarlett.
No official details have been given on the Scarlett controller, but Microsoft is next year launching the Elite Wireless Controller Series 2, which will work with Xbox One as well as the new console. It finally adds an internal battery and USB-C charging, so hopefully the Scarlett pad will follow suit.