• Duncan Robertson

Mark Cerny Provides PS5 Architecture Deep Dive

Updated: May 7, 2020


The lead system architect of PlayStation hardware, Mark Cerny, delivered a talk via live stream today about the technical design of the upcoming PlayStation 5.

No games, images of the console, or details about the DualShock 5 were released.

Cerny went into detail about the new PlayStation's SSD, audio, and technical capabilities, saying "we have a responsibility to be cost-effective with what we put in the console".

Cerny's presentation covered Sony's three main goals with the technical creation of the PlayStation 5 - "listening to developers, balancing revolution and evolution", and "finding new dreams".

Firstly, Cerny said that using SSD as opposed to HDD would allow for much higher speed and performance. The PlayStation veteran said this would be advantageous to game developers as they wouldn't have to distract players while the console loaded things in the game.

Cerny also revealed that additional storage could be added to the console using M2 SSD drives you could "buy on the open market" and install in a bay in the console. Although, certain manufacturers and models will only be compatible.

The console will use a geometry engine, allow for ray tracing, and, thanks to an RDNA 2 GPU, will have better power consumption rates than the PS4.

The hour-long talk did reveal some new details about how Sony is tackling backwards compatibility, however.

Cerny announced that "legacy" modes will be built into the system's architecture, meaning that any complications or differences between PS4 and PS5 systems will not cause as many problems when playing games from different eras.

More specifically, Cerny stated that this method of backward compatibility will need to be done on a "title-to-title" basis and that he hopes that the top 100 PS4 games according to playtime, will be available to play on the PS5 at launch.

On games, Cerny only briefly mentioned that there "will be plenty of time in the future to talk about PS5 games", but later added that with regards to the use of his architecture, he is "hoping for the completely unexpected".

Duncan's Thoughts:

After months of radio silence from PlayStation, yesterday's tweet from the company's official account held so much promise.

Xbox has been giving us a steady drip-feed of news about their upcoming console recently while Sony has left us all in the dark, so Mark Cerny finally spilling the tea when everyone is stuck in quarantine sounded like the exact thing fans needed.

Mark Cerny is brilliant. His soft-spoken wisdom about computer architecture is so soothing. Moreover, long-term PlayStation fans will know that when he has news for them, something big is happening. When I saw PlayStation's tweet, it was hard not to be excited about what he might have to say.

Part of me remained skeptical, though. The dry, hour-long computing lecture that we ended up getting was exactly why - it isn't exactly what the average fan would have been excited for.

Now I know, this was originally supposed to be a talk given at GDC to developers and enthusiasts, not to the mass public in an attempt to increase hype. But my problem with this is, GDC was canceled. Months of utter silence and waiting should mean that when Sony finally comes to the table to say something, it should be something everyone can be excited about.

Xbox got this right a few weeks ago when Phil Spencer released a bunch of technical specifications and features for the Xbox Series X via a blog post. It was just that - a blog post. The information was succinct, filtered, and digestible. Listening to Cerny's extremely detailed talk about computer parts was like trying to watch that Matrix Reloaded scene where Neo tries to understand the architect's long, convoluted sentences.

My point is, plans change. If you still want to have Mark deliver that talk, or reveal some technical specs - do it in a more appropriate manner.

Especially if this is the first time you're addressing your fans publically in months. Sony's first reveal event for the PS4 started the mantra they've held ever since. Doing things "for the players" won them the current console generation. That hour-long Cerny talk (as interesting as it may have been to the right audience members) was definitely not "for the players." During the stream, 19,000 people had disliked the video on YouTube. The live chat was rabid about how bored they all were.

So once again, no concrete details about things we want to know. But what can we take away from Cerny's lecture?

First of all, the SSD details we got are extremely exciting, especially because Cerny promises the next PlayStation will have "no installs as we know them". All that talk about audio design focusing on presence and location is great, too! Think about the games that will be able to take advantage of design like that.

It does sound, however, like Sony is looking to be the cheaper console, as opposed to the most powerful. When compared, there are minor spec differences between the upcoming Xbox and PlayStation, but from the talk today, it seems as though PlayStation is focusing on the minutiae of building an efficient machine capable of delivering high power at lower costs, whereas Xbox is looking to cram as much raw power in as possible.

Honestly, I'd say cost should be more of a target. Out of the gate, the cheaper console will most likely reap the benefits of its price point. But without more confirmed features to sink your teeth into right now, you have to wonder if finally forfeiting the "most powerful console" title may play into Xbox's hands.

One thing which seems certain is that backward compatibility on the PS5 won't be a full feature at launch. Cerny said that the top games by playtime from the PS4 should hopefully be ready at launch, but what does this mean for PS3, PS2, and even PS1 compatibility? Is it even going to be a feature?

To the right people, Cerny's deep dive may have been extremely exciting. For the majority of gamers and PlayStation fans, however, it seems there is yet more waiting to be done for details to get truly excited about.

Image Credit: SIE

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