New surrounding the PlayStation 4’s upcoming update (codenamed Neo) continues to surface, and our understanding of what the new platform will offer is rapidly firming up. While these unofficial leaks should be treated as rumors until formally confirmed by Sony itself, the fact that multiple publications are willing to speak firmly on-record suggests that high-level sources are deliberately feeding information to the press (and yes, this is absolutely a thing that happens).
Eurogamer has a full breakdown of the latest details, but here are some of the major highlights:
All games will target 1080p as the minimum resolution: While there are no mainstream televisions that target 1440p as a native resolution, game developers will have the option to render internally at higher resolutions and down-sample the game to 1080p output. Done properly, this provides a visual quality boost that’s quite similar to smooth-screen antialiasing. Both Nvidia and AMD have provided technologies that can perform this task in-driver on PCs; it’s one way to play older titles at 4K levels of fidelity even if you’re stuck on an older monitor.
Game saves and online play are both cross-platform: All applications are supposed to be capable of saving games that can be played on either console, both consoles must be able to play together online, and the operating system will be identical across both platforms. Backup data will be accessible on either console, though you can only have one primary console and one PSN ID logged in at any given time.
No Neo-specific or PS4-specific titles: Older games can be patched for the Neo to offer forward compatibility, new titles must include such support from Day 1. All games will be available in unified binaries; the CPU binary is common to both platforms while the GPU binaries will come in up to three flavors: Neo-specific, PS4-specific, and a shared binary for both GPUs. This suggests that the CPU is a straight port of the earlier Jaguar APU, with a 500MHz clock speed bump.
Presumably developers are allowed some leeway regarding higher resolution assets and textures for the Neo, so long as these changes are not significant and do not alter the experience in ways that would disadvantage the PS4. Apart from the 1080p minimum mandatory resolution, Sony hasn’t given many rendering guidelines. Games must be at least as fast on the Neo as on the PS4 and can offer enhanced versions of PS4 features but not entirely new features. The example Eurogamer gives is that a game that supports two-player split-screen gaming on the PS4 can offer four-player split-screen on Neo. A PS4 game without split-screen at all, however, cannot offer split-screen as a Neo-only feature.
Without knowing more about Polaris, we can’t say for certain what the PlayStation 4’s upper performance boundary is, but we can take a rough guess at what the minimum performance improvement looks like. While the comparison is not exact, the GPU inside the PlayStation 4 closely resembles a trimmed version of AMD’s HD 7870 / R9 270. It so happens that AMD sold a Hawaii-class GPU with exactly 2x the R9 270’s core count — the R9 290. Eyeballing the performance improvement from the R9 270 to the R9 290 should give us a very rough idea of what to expect (Anandtech’s Bench tool is extremely useful for this).
If the minor bump from GCN 1.0 to 1.1 shown above was capable of nearly doubling frame rates, as shown above, the more significant jump from the PS4 to the Neo should offer larger gains. The one exception to this would be if the PS4’s CPU or memory bandwidth prove to be significant bottlenecks, and that’s still possible. Even so, however, we see a number of games running well above the 60 FPS mark in 1080p.
The worst-case improvement for the Neo over the base PS4 would be a 20-30% jump where a game is entirely CPU-bound or memory bandwidth-bound. Best-case improvement could be more than 2x. Hopefully Sony will allow developers to target 1080p/60 on at least some titles, even if the base PS4 game runs at 1080p/30.
The PS4 is expected to remain in-market alongside the Neo, possibly with a price cut or an updated slim model. Microsoft is still remaining mum about its own upgrade plans, but the company must have a solution of its own coming through the pipeline.