We’ve seen Sony release updates to their console in the past. The PS2 and PS3 both received cosmetic makeovers that trimmed down their bulk but those form-factor changes never changed the actual performance of system. Now, if the rumor mills are to be believed, the PS4 is about to undergo a significant makeover, not to fit better in your living room furniture but to play nicer with the 4K technology they believe gamers want immediately.
You don’t have to stretch your imagination too hard to understand the strategy. 4K TV’s have been selling well as prices have dropped and gamers have been looking for more content to use on their beefed up TVs. Netflix is taking the initiative by filming some of their most popular shows - House of Cards and Daredevil - in 4K this season. Anyone using their PS4 or Xbox One console for Netflix binging won’t be getting that higher end content since both of the gaming powerhouses are limited to 1080p resolution streaming. Similarly, console gamers have been sitting idly by as PC gamers have been able to beef up their rigs at any time, enabling 4K through mods to both their hardware and software. Take it from us, playing games like GTAV and Tomb Raider in 4K resolution is truly a sight to behold, one that immediately makes the current state of console resolution feel wildly disappointing.
The impetus for Sony to move forward is obvious but their strategy for maintaining a unified platform that caters to the 4K haves and have-nots is not an easy sell. In order to enable 4K on a PS4, more power needs to be added. That means increasing everything from RAM to Processors to GPU; no small task and one that’s unlikely to be accomplished with add-ons to the existing PS4’s closed system. Those constraints mean a 4K-enabled PS4 will be new hardware and existing PS4 owners won’t have the option to upgrade their existing hardware; they’ll just have to buy a new one.
Herein lies the problem. New, more powerful hardware for some (but not all) of the Playstation user base means a potential schism is brewing in the ranks of the legions of Sony fans who get their online competition fix via the Playstation Network, leaving those with the underpowered older hardware at a disadvantage in online play. This core problem, one that has plagued PC gaming for years, is rumored to be a priority for Sony’s PS team. The current explanation of how they’ll sidestep it by making devs create versions of games that will work on both systems without fanfare. There’s even been talk about the possibility of making existing PS4 games 4K capable in the future but that has us wondering whether these will be genuine 4K experiences or simple upconverting of the typical 1080p we already have.
It’s been reported that all of these strategies are “exploratory” in nature with no products confirmed or announced but with Playstation VR quickly coming down the pipe and an ever-growing install base of 4K TV owners, the demand for higher resolution is growing. With E3 just a few weeks away and Sony set to take the stage that Monday, we’d be shocked to go without an update on the hardware front even if we don’t see a PS4K (or PS4.5 or NEO) in 2016.