Rumors of a PS4.5 or PS4K have been flying around for the past month or two, and thanks to a huge breaking story by Giant Bomb’s Austin Walker earlier this week, it’s all but confirmed to be a reality. The PS4 NEO, as it’s being internally referred to as by game developers that Walker spoke with, will essentially be an upgraded PS4 capable of running games better than the current PS4 model can. The story stresses that Sony will not be abandoning the old model and will strive for parity between the two. While the idea of a better PlayStation 4 is definitely exciting, it’s not all sunshine and roses, and after careful consideration (and some crackpot theorizing) I’ve come to the conclusion that the PS4 NEO is both a great idea and a potentially terrible one. Allow me to explain.
GOOD: Sony Claims They Will Not Abandon The Old Model
As mentioned in the Giant Bomb story, every PS4 game will have to ship with both a “Base Mode” to run on original PS4 models, and a “NEO Mode” to run on the new console. Sony has also reiterated to developers that there will be no NEO-only games and that outside of differences in performance, owners of the older model won’t be missing out on any experience that NEO owners get. If true, this is a savvy move by Sony, as PS4 owners will likely already be pissed off enough that they bought the inferior version of the console and would only be more upset if NEO owners received exclusive content.
This was a mistake that Nintendo made with the New 3DS; while there haven’t been many games made exclusively for the device, the fact that there are any at all shows that Nintendo thinks of original 3DS owners as second class citizens. Whether or not Sony sticks with their plan for the NEO, it’s refreshing to see a games company take a hardline stance against practices that would result in a worse experience for a huge portion of their player base.
BAD: Developers WILL Shortchange The Old Model
While Sony is demanding that developers reach parity with their games in terms of features, that doesn’t mean the same thing will happen for performance. Devs will most certainly prioritize optimizing the NEO experience and since that’s going to take increased time and resources to accomplish, it seems a pretty safe bet that the older PS4 is going to get the short end of the stick. Heck, publishers already ship games that are broken and unfinished now and that’s with only one PS4 model to program for. While we’ll probably see most new games running well in NEO Mode upon release, it’s hard to see the same thing happening for “Base Mode” games when this is already a difficult task for some developers. And if a game is shipped and performs poorly in both modes, you just know the NEO version will get fixed first, further shortchanging original PS4 owners.
GOOD: Better Performance
One undeniable improvement that the NEO will have over the older PS4 is the ability to run games better. With a higher clock speed, improved GPU, and higher memory bandwidth, the NEO will be able to run more games at 60 frames per second as opposed to 30. As any avid PC gamer will tell you, a higher frame rate does make a difference and those who do decide to upgrade from an old PS4 to a NEO will likely notice a pretty significant difference in game performance across the board if Giant Bomb’s report is accurate. In addition, many older games will get a performance boost too, but that’s only if a developer allocates the time to release a NEO Mode update for an older game (I personally wouldn’t love to play Uncharted 4 or The Witcher 3 like this).
GOOD: Helps Keep Pace With PCs
One of the great advantages that PC gaming has over console gaming is that PC users can upgrade their system whenever they want, whereas consoles only get more technologically inferior the longer they’re on the market. By releasing a new PS4 with increased graphical horsepower, Sony will not only make it easier for developers to create multiplatform games, but also ensures that the PS4 ecosystem can keep pace with increasingly more powerful PCs. PCs will always be able to outclass consoles due to the ease of switching out components, but if the NEO is a sign of things to come in the console space, periodic hardware updates will make this less of a disadvantage in the future.
BAD: It Punishes Early Adopters
Most consumers realize that being an early adopter of new gaming consoles is a double-edged sword. Getting a product early means that you get to be on the ground floor of a new experience, but you also pay a higher price for that privilege; not to mention that later models are often cheaper and functionally better. Unfortunately, the PS4 NEO is a bit more than a slimmer PlayStation with a bigger hard drive packed in; it’s practically a whole new console.
While it’s true that the PS4 would benefit from a hardware upgrade, releasing it this soon in the system’s lifespan (the PS4 will be three-years-old if the NEO hits its expected fall 2016 release window) will definitely lead to quite a few disgruntled PS4 owners. The PS4 isn’t exactly cheap and finding out that Sony is releasing an objectively better version of the hardware only a couple years into ownership is a recipe for feeling ripped off. Sony is effectively rewarding anyone who has waited to purchase a PS4 by giving them a better version of what their most loyal customers have already shelled out cash for.
GOOD: Gives Developers More To Work With
As already touched upon, the PS4 NEO’s increased horsepower will allow developers to make games with increased visual fidelity and better performance than what was possible on the older PS4. While forcing game makers to make their games run in two separate modes will undoubtedly create more work, giving devs the tools to make better looking and running games is a positive thing. Ideally, this will lead to more sophisticated and ambitious PS4 titles down the road, which in turn will help Sony advertise the NEO’s capabilities. Game studios like having more tools available to do their job and the PS4 NEO would give them just that.
BAD: Forces Developers To Do More Work
Unfortunately, one downside of all of this is that, by forcing developers to make their games run on both older and newer PS4s, they are effectively forcing them to do more work. We’ve seen recently in the news how controversial the concept of “crunch” is among game makers, as many games industry workers are already overworked and underpaid, and adding more work onto this on the side of PS4 development won’t really help matters. There’s also a chance that the added cost and time of making games run in both NEO and Base Modes (I’m no game developer, so I could be vastly overstating how much effort this would really take) could lead to higher priced games and/or games being delayed more frequently. At the end of the day, the welfare of the men and women who make the games we enjoy is important and it would be disappointing if their jobs become more stressful as a result of the PS4 NEO’S existence.
GOOD: 4K Output
One of the chief benefits to the NEO will be its ability to output in 4K, which current PS4 models are unable to do. While most consumers do not currently own a TV that is capable of displaying a 4K signal, the adoption rate of 4K TVs will increase as prices go down. As a company that also sells 4K TVs, Sony obviously wants their home gaming console to be able to keep pace. While the thought of gaming in 4K is exciting, there is a pretty big stipulation with all of this.
Giant Bomb’s article states that, while Sony is encouraging developers to make their games display in 4K, it is by no means a requirement. Sony is prioritizing performance and frame rate here, so if a game’s performance suffers while running in 4K, it’s unlikely that that game will be output in 4K natively. Considering that most high end PCs still struggle to output in 4K while maintaining a solid frame rate, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. At least the NEO will still be able to output a 4K image for TV and Movies.
GOOD: Potential Price Drop On Old PS4 model
Although Giant Bomb’s story doesn’t report what the price of the NEO will be upon release, previous reports have indicated that it will sell for $399, which also happens to be the retail price of the current PS4 model. Seeing as how Sony will reportedly continue to sell the old model alongside the new, this means that the old PS4 will almost certainly drop in price. While it’s difficult to say how much of a price drop we will see, it would have to be sizable to convince any right-minded consumer to choose the old model over the new. If true, this would actually be great for anyone who’s held off on buying a PS4 up to this point, as the current PS4 model is still a great piece of hardware and even if it’s outclassed by the NEO in terms of graphical capabilities, it will still functionally be the same system, so you’ll only be missing out if you care deeply about visual fidelity (and if so, you’re probably already gaming on a PC anyway).
BAD: Could Set Bad Precedent
While both Sony and Microsoft have yet to actually confirm reports that they will be releasing upgraded versions of their consoles in the near future, it seems all but certain that they will and this could set a bad precedent for console gaming overall. Many people choose to game on consoles because they’re not as complicated as PCs and you also don’t have to upgrade them every couple of years. If the PS4 NEO is any indication of the future of console gaming, there’s significant cause for concern. For one thing, having upgradeable consoles at all sort of defeats the purpose of having one in the first place, as people buy consoles because they don’t have to worry about upgrading them.
However, the main problem is that this makes one hesitant to buy any console in the future. If and when the PS5 is released in a few years, many people may decide to hold off on buying one because they know Sony will just release a better version of it in a few years. Of course, it’s way too early to know for sure what impact the NEO will have on the market at large (we don’t even know if it even exists yet, after all), but I’m not yet convinced that it will be a good thing for the console business as a whole.