With the PS4 Pro and Slim now officially confirmed after months of leaks and speculation, it's time to turn our attention to the next big milestone in Sony's technological arsenal – the PlayStation 5.
It might seem a little premature to even be thinking about the fifth PlayStation. However, assuming Sony sticks to the unwritten rule that every console enjoys about five to six years before being replaced, the PS4 is now around halfway through its lifespan.
Sony's recently updated its range by introducing the PS4 Slim – which effectively replaces the original model and offers predominantly aesthetic improvements – and the PS4 Pro, which boasts additional power to display games in 4K resolution. This mid-cycle power upgrade shows that Sony is adopting a different tactic to previous generations, boosting the tech inside an existing system to prolong its lifespan. Ironically, though, it could mean that we see the PS4's successor sooner than expected.
PlayStation 5 release date: Coming sooner rather than later?
Some have argued that Sony and Microsoft – which has released the updated Xbox One S and has plans to challenge the PS4 Pro next year with the more powerful Xbox Scorpio – will seek to extend the shelf life of this current console generation with stop-gap releases.
But this approach could have the opposite effect – once these firms realise that consumers are happy to upgrade their systems every two to three years, it could result in both the PS5 and the next Xbox coming sooner rather than later.
Related: PS4 Pro vs Xbox Scorpio
The PS4 Pro is a more powerful PS4, but not intended to blur the line between console generations, according to lead system architect Mark Cerny
After all, people are quite happy to upgrade their phones every 12 to 24 months (albeit via a monthly contract rather than a one-off fee), so it's not a massive stretch to assume that console makers might adopt the same strategy.
PlayStation 5 specs: How powerful will it be?
With PS4 Pro, Sony's focus has primarily been about offering 4K visuals, but the company has stressed that developers have to ensure that games will run on both the new variant and the older PS4 models. That means that while "Pro" versions of a particular game will get performance boosts when played on newer hardware, there won't be any titles exclusive to the PS4 Pro. So we may not see the full potential of 4K gaming until the PS5 arrives.
Expect the PlayStation 5 to offer a massive improvement over the existing PS4 in terms of raw processing power. 4K gaming will no doubt be standard, and Sony will hopefully attempt to give the system the kind of horsepower that will ensure titles run at a silky-smooth 60fps. One of the big disappointments of this current generation is that too many PS4 and Xbox One games fail to meet that goal.
PlayStation 5 backwards compatibility: A link to the past?
This shift towards the smartphone hardware model – where devices such as the iPhone and Galaxy S are updated on an annual basis – could change the way we treat software, too. In exchange for asking users to update their systems on a more regular basis, Sony and Microsoft will probably try to maintain compatibility between versions, so your old games will still work on every PlayStation upgrade you purchase.
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Sony is already doing this to a degree with its PlayStation Now service, which allows subscribers to play old classics via the cloud, while Microsoft is aggressively pursuing its backwards compatibility programme to make more and more Xbox 360 games playable on the Xbox One. Tying you in with games creates loyalty, and that's something both companies will need if they start asking players to upgrade more often.
PlayStation 5 controller – How will it look?
Despite the passage of 20 years, the PlayStation controller has changed remarkably little. Sure, the DualShock 4 has analogue sticks, force feedback and is totally wireless, but it shares the same DNA as the pad which shipped with the 32-bit PlayStation way back in 1994. For this reason, we'd expect the PS5 pad to remain largely unchanged – after all, if it ain't broke, why fix it?
The DualShock 4 is arguably one of the best controllers ever made, and we can't see any areas where massive improvements could be made. Perhaps where Sony can really experiment is VR, by creating new kinds of motion control devices to make the whole experience more realistic, such as the Aim Controller designed for Farpoint.
PlayStation 5 discs: The end of physical media?
On the topic of software, it's tempting to ask if the PS5 will use discs. By the time it launches, digital downloads will have become even more popular than they are now, and there will come a time when the idea of buying a physical game over a digital one will seem almost silly – that's already happened to the music and movie sectors, and games are sure to be next.
Sooner or later we're going to see a mainstream games console which launches without physical media, a move which will not only make the process of buying games more streamlined, but will also allow the manufacturer to save on production costs by removing the optical drive.
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The PS4 "Slim" is the new standard PS4 hardware
Could Sony be the one to take the plunge? Perhaps, but this will need to be balanced by the fact that 4K resolution will mean bigger file sizes. Broadband speeds will have increased by the time the PS5 arrives and this will mitigate the issue, but even today it's a pain waiting for games to download on your PS4 or Xbox One. Imagine that wait with visuals that offer four times the resolution.
PlayStation 5 release date: When can you buy one?
Given that the Pro has only just been released, we'd guess that we won't see the PS5 until at least 2018 at the very, very earliest. There's a chance that Sony may feel the need to counter the threat posed by Microsoft's Project Scorpio – which is expected late next year – but we'd expect the Pro to give the PS4 range a shot in the arm and keep it relevant for at least another two or maybe three years.
PlayStation 5 price – How much will it cost?
There's obviously no solid indication of how much the PS5 will cost at this point, but we'd imagine Sony will be wise enough to keep the pricing similar to that of previous machines. Expect a launch price of around £400-500. Historically, consoles above this price range have struggled to sell, but with inflation we're going to see a £500+ system at some point in the future.
PlayStation 5: Things we'd like to see
More immersive VR experiences
The jury is still out on whether or not virtual reality is going to be The Next Big Thing or the next Kinect, but Sony is committing to it quite heavily, so it's fair to assume that barring a complete disaster, we'll see VR on the PS5 as well. If that's the case, we'd like to see Sony remove the annoying wires which currently plague the PlayStation VR experience; these physical connections tether users to the real world and shatter immersion.
Related: Best PlayStation VR Games
A fully wireless option has to be the way forward if VR is really going to dominate. The additional processing power of the console will also come in useful for creating more realistic visuals, of course.
Total backwards compatibility
The PlayStation brand has been going for two decades now and there's a multitude of amazing games that have been hosted by Sony's consoles in that time. The big issue is that it's not possible to fire up your PS4 and play every single PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 release – and you really should be able to do by now.
Apple and Google have ensured a older iPhone and Android games are playable through the generations, and given the quality of the PlayStation back catalogue, we'd like to see this kind of compatibility introduced with the PS5.
Are there any particular features you'd like to see on the PS5? Let us know in the comments below.