Questions We Have About the PlayStation 5 After Mark Cerny’s Technical PS5 Presentation

Mark Cerny’s technical PS5 presentation was not exactly the public PS5 reveal that fans were hoping for, but it did give us a better window into the mindset behind Sony’s development of the next-gen console. Originally intended to be a GDC talk, plans for the PS5 reveal this year have been quite obviously upended by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that has been at the core of canceled and delayed events. Whether or not Sony had originally planned a more “public friendly” announcement is unknown, but for those watching yesterday’s talk, it quickly became clear that the subject matter and delivery method therein had not changed much from its inception as a highly technical GDC talk.

Personally, I loved the technical deep dive, but it left us without a lot of questions. Before the reveal, we put out a bunch of questions we wanted to see answered by Cerny, and as we expected, a large portion of those didn’t get answered (though a few, like improvements to game updates, did). The questions we are posing here are ones that we directly have regarding anything Cerny talked about, so while we’re still wondering how things like family game sharing might work, this isn’t going to cover those aspects of the PlayStation infrastructure. We know that Sony will start marketing those features later. The infamous “how to share a game on PS4” didn’t happen until E3, just five months before the PS4 released (though without an E3 this year and social distancing in place, how will Shu hand Adam Boyes a game now?).

Here are all of the questions we have about the PlayStation 5 after Mark Cerny’s technical PS5 presentation:

How will PS5 backwards compatibility actually work?

UPDATE: Sony clarified that the goal is to have most all of the PS4’s library work on the PS5, but there are still a lot of questions about what that means for the end user. Is it seamless? Do entitlements simply carry over from with our PSN? We know the technical details of how PS5 backwards compatibility will work, but there’s still the simple questions to answer of just what that means for most people.

ORIGINAL: Cerny touched on PS5 backwards compatibility a little bit, but it left a lot of people confused and upset. PS5 will only support “most of the top 100 PS4 games” at launch? Is that in some kind of PS5 boost mode, or natively? Does that mean everything else in my PS4 library, both physically and digitally, won’t be able to be played on the PS5? Will everything else eventually get PS5 support? Apparently what it boils down to is that the PS5 architecture is so blazingly fast, it actually breaks games that were developed for the current-gen consoles.

But, can the PS5 run in some kind of lowered PS4 or PS4 legacy mode? Certain information in the presentation seemed to indicate that yes, this was possible, which led many to believe that the claim up “almost 100 games” was simply accounting for the PS5 boost mode, and that all others would still work fine in the standard PS4 or PS4 Pro legacy modes. While Cerny offered a lot of data here from the technical perspective of the consoles, he didn’t really offer the marketing bullet points that fans want to know.

Another question that needs answered is how those games will carry over. If I have a digital version of Destiny 2 on PS4, and assuming its one of the top 100 games, is the license just there and available for me to download again immediately on PS5 launch? Is it cross-play with people who are playing on PS4 still? Excited as I am for the technical jargon behind backwards compatibility, I want to know simply what it’s going to mean for me and my games. This talk only served to add to the confusion instead of clarify it.

How will older accessories work?

Cerny talked a lot about running the game themselves, but didn’t go much into accessories. He didn’t talk about the controller or headphones or PSVR, and while all of these are promised to work with the PS5, we don’t know exactly how seamless this will be. Will they run into compatibility issues that need testing, like with the games? Or will accessories be as simple as plug-and-play to use our existing headphones, pro controllers, and other items we already have lying around?

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HOW WILL CROSS-GENERATION GAMES WORK ON PS5?

Even with some backwards compatibility questions answered, we still don’t know how cross-gen games will function, especially live-service games like Destiny 2. Will the PS5 essentially simulate the PS4 environment, allowing the game to work seamlessly and connect with those still on the last-gen console? Will games that release across both be wholly different, or essentially the same game? There are still quite a few questions to be answered here.

How are developers utilizing the custom PS5 SSD?

Cerny talks a mean game (and has perhaps the most soothing voice on the planet), and we know he’s an absolutely brilliant mind when it comes to architecting PlayStation consoles to serve developer wants and needs. The PS5 is going to have a custom SSD that’s arguably faster than the Xbox Series X (despite that console being “more powerful” in terms of sheer teraflops). Cerny managed to list a few examples of ways developers game design sensibilities are going to be changing with the new ultra-fast SSD, but we need to see how the tool that some developers are calling Sony’s “secret weapon” will be used in practice.

Game creators will be nearly untethered and not have to utilize traditionally used creative workarounds like limiting sightlines, run speeds, or designing levels specifically around loading times. Games aren’t only going to be developed differently, but are going to actually feel very different to play thanks to it.

How much will the PS5 SSD impact game file sizes?

We know that game file sizes will be getting smaller. Having an SSD reduces what are called “seeks,” or time spent finding an asset on a typical disk-based hard drive. In the past, developers overcame this by including frequently used assets at multiple places in the file so that the seeks could find the shortest path possible to the nearest asset. But that also meant duplicating assets which increased file sizes in an effort to keep those load times low.

Sony obviously thinks that file sizes are going to shrink. It’s only providing an 825GB SSD for internal storage. Thinking about today’s game file sizes, that seems incredibly small. But if an SSD solves problems that were previously solved by adding assets, future game file sizes could actually optimize and shrink quite a bit! But just how much they will shrink is the question. Are we talking about a reduction of a few GBs? Or is this going to drop game file sizes by half, taking a game like Call of Duty Warzone’s 100+ GBs and cutting that down to around 50 GBs instead?

Is there a PS5 Pro?

One of the biggest things Cerny talked about was this ongoing journey of implementing the PS5 tech and then spending time improving it. That will be awesome over the long term, but does this mean that there’s no PS5 Pro? Can all of these integrated updates be offered as either firmware updates, or better yet, completely invisibly to the player as devs learn to utilize the system better?

How much will the PS5 cost?

Cerny specifically says “we have a responsibility to our gaming audience to be cost-effective with what we put in the console.” It’s part of the reason the SSD is only 825GBs. Flash memory is not cheap, and this is the balance point that Sony came to in not overdoing it and overpricing themselves, but also offering what they feel is enough for the majority of players. The redownloads and reinstalls will also technically be faster thanks to the SSD, which also reduces friction for players.

So with that in mind, Sony is approaching the PS4 from a cost-minded angle. Does that mean it’s looking to hit the $400 price point again? Or are we inevitably looking at $500? Would they compromise and offer it for $450? Sony is obviously thinking a lot about this, and the likelihood is that it doesn’t even have a price locked in quite yet. We didn’t learn about the PS4 price until E3 of that year, so don’t expect this question to be reasonably answered until summer or later, especially considering the volatile economic situation right now.

Will Sony make its own proprietary PS5 storage expansions?

We know that the PS5 will support standard USB external drives for older PS4 titles via backwards compatbility and third-party expanded storage options that meet the required specs (which nothing on the market does now), but what about people looking for a simple and easy solution? Will Sony market and sell its own PlayStation-branded storage drives for the PS5’s expansion bay in order to expand storage, or will we have to check compatibility and make sure whatever third-party drive we’re getting is rated and certified to work with the PS5?

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Will physical disc PS5 games still need to be installed?

My guess on this one is yes. Due to the SSD’s capabilities, a blu-ray drive simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with the blindingly fast speeds that the SSD will provide, so even if you get a game physically, you’ll need to install it on the hard drive. The disc will basically act as a form of DRM to ensure that you own the rights to play the game, rather than actively reading off the disc while playing the game. This still needs to be clarified though, especially as people make the decision to go physical or digital next-gen.

How loud will the PS5 be/What is the PS5 cooling solution?

Cerny talked about how the power consumption on the PS5 will be more consistent, so you won’t constantly hear the fan cycling up and down. He also teased that they are saving details on the cooling system for the “teardown” when they actually showcase what’s inside the console with more than just numbers. So while we may know that the answer to this question is coming sometime, it’s still a question we want answered at this point. Remember that a recent rumor pointed to an expensive and “lavish” solution, costing more than traditional console cooling, so we’re eager to see what Sony came up with.

When is the “PS5 Teardown” that Cerny referenced?

Speaking of the aforementioned “PS5 teardown,” when is that coming? Do we have to wait until summer? Is Sony planning to show it off soon? At this point, that’s more or less the “next” P5 reveal we can expect (at least that we know about for certain) and will answer a lot of questions like what the cooling solution is and how they managed to put it all into the box (not to mention what the box looks like!).

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Will there be PS5 Dolby Atmos support?

Cerny talked a lot about the PS5’s audio capabilities, and even mentioned Atmos specifically during this section, but what was unclear was whether or not there would be Dolby Atmos support on the console. The 3D audio engine is designed to bring an “Atmos-esque” experience to any set of speakers for games, but what about proper Atmos support for things like streaming content and Blu-rays? I’d expect, with the focus of the console on the audio experience, it will, but that has yet to be confirmed.

Where can we send the pictures of our ears?

A bit of a joke, but Cerny talked about analyzing pictures of our ears to tune the 3D audio engine. As a huge supporter of great audio, where can I send mine? I’ve already got my camera roll loaded up with them, ready to go.

Of course, we still have plenty of other questions we want answered, but these are the ones that immediately stuck out following Cerny’s technical presentation. The biggest follow up question we have now is wondering when Sony is going to stop talking to us technical geeks and start the marketing push. While I loved Cerny’s talk, and have now watched it at least three times (perhaps more by the time this publishes), it admittedly was a poor “PS5 reveal” for the general public who wants to get down to brass tacks and know what all of those numbers and letters and diagrams mean specifically for them. If we’re estimating a November release, Sony’s still got eight months to really start talking about the console from a more public-facing perspective and not one aimed at developers and nerds who like tech specs. These are the questions they should consider clarifying in that time.