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A $399 PlayStation 5 will conquer next-gen

New spec leaks suggest Sony's new PS5 could end up being cheaper than the Xbox Series X, giving the system a huge advantage

By: Derek Strickland from Dec 31, 2019 @ 16:14 CST

Recent leaks show the Xbox Series X crushing the PlayStation 5 in raw GPU power, at least insofar as relative devkit specs. But a less powerful console could give Sony a major advantage: A $399 price tag.

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New reports show a clear discrepancy between next-gen console power. The leaks, which are based on devkit hardware, say the Xbox Series X sits at 12 TFLOP GPU clocked at a 1.7GHz frequency with a whopping 56 Navi Compute Units from AMD's new RDNA 2.0 architecture.

The PlayStation 5 conversely clocks in at 9.2 TFLOPs with only 36 Compute Units (the same as the PS4 Pro) at a 2GHz clock speed. With these numbers, the Xbox SX's GPU sports 33% more TFLOP performance and 55% more compute units. That's a sizable lead that should come with an equally sizable price tag.

It's possible Sony chose this specific pared-down hardware configuration to keep costs down, albeit there's a lot we don't know like manufacturing costs of the hardware or even final specs. Remember the leaks are based on the PS5's codename Oberon APU used in the v-shaped devkits.

But ironically for Microsoft, who lost their initial foothold with this generation with a weaker console, massive horsepower is no longer needed to conquer the market. Next-gen will be a race towards embracing the past while pushing the future.

Sony could win next-gen simply by repeating history with big exclusives, a low-cost console, and carrying forward 100 million people's games to the PS5.

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Early speculation had the PS5 priced at $399, and that seemed outlandish at the time...but the more I think about it, the more tantalizing the possibility becomes.

Sony could take a hit on power to ensure full native backward compatibility while also delivering the new bells and whistles like 8K gaming output, ray tracing, 4K 60FPS, ultra-fast 120FPS+ frame rates, variable rate shading, and a new super-charged SSD.

How did we get to that number? Reports say Xbox Series X might be sold at $499, and the PS5's spec power drop makes room for a price drop to match. $399 would be the magic price that helped Sony move a big 7.5 million PS4 consoles at launch.

Right now Sony has a tremendous sales lead over Microsoft and Sony is keen on bringing this advantage into the new generation.

Sony kicked off this lead by exploiting Microsoft's missteps with the Xbox One at E3 2013 (always-online, no game sharing, weaker power, a $499 base price). This was just the doorway, Sony's on-field advantage that kicked off that gen, and ever since then Microsoft hasn't had a leg up when it comes to hardware sales. Even with the Xbox One X mid-gen refresh, which was marginally more powerful than Sony's own PS4 Pro refresh, Microsoft couldn't turn things around.

It's ironic that Sony could win next-gen without making the more powerful console, considering that's exactly what it did back in 2013. This goes to show the power of the new iterative hybrid business model that boosts hardware while carrying forth software.

Sony's main advantage here is games. The PS4 has sold more than 100 million consoles worldwide. With a huge installed base like that comes hundreds of millions of software. That massive library of games is Sony's biggest asset right now and it'll be carried fully forward with the PlayStation 5.

The aforementioned leaks say the PS5 has three GPU profile modes that scale performance, and two of them fully emulate the PS4 and PS4 Pro:

  • Gen2 mode - Fully unlocks the Navi GPU at 2GHz for next-gen games
  • Gen1 mode - Downscales the GPU to 911MHz, 218GB/sec bandwidth, and 64 ROPs to emulate the PS4 Pro
  • Gen0 mode - Drops the GPU to 800MHz with 176GB/sec bandwidth and 32 ROPs to emulate the base PS4

Microsoft is doing something similar. The Xbox Series X will play an astounding four generations of Xbox games, which is much bigger in scope than any of Sony's confirmed plans.

Microsoft's just missing half of the formula: The huge hardware base that generated those game sales and ownership simply isn't on the PS4's level.

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Read Also: PS5 hardware reset may cause Sony lots of problems

Essentially the point of this article is this: Sony could win next-gen by creating an environment that simply continues what it's currently doing.

The PlayStation 5 will be both an extension of the PS4 family with full backward compatibility, and the entry point to a brand new era of high-end PS gaming. Sony might've scaled back the PS5 to ensure a lower price point (massively important for widespread adoption in an arena where gamers have already massively adopted PS4s) and ensure easier transition points between the two generations.

As it makes deep preparations for the PS4 to live vicariously on through the PlayStation 5, Sony will be ramping up development of big high-profile first-party exclusives, another big hallmark of its gaming dominance. We'll continue to see colossal hits like Horizon Zero Dawn 2, possibly a new Marvel's Spider-Man, and maybe a God of War continuation at some point.

And then there's services. Microsoft absolutely slays Sony when it comes to service-oriented value. Game Pass is just something that Sony can't rival, even with PlayStation Now. This has always been a weak point for Sony, at least in terms of a unified webwork of digitally-driven subscriptions that gamers actually want to use. But Sony got around this shortcoming with sheer numbers and volume as over 40% of all PS4 owners are PS Plus subscribers.

If Sony were able to shore up its weaker services focus and match it with a $399 PlayStation 5 that plays all PS4 games, they will undoubtedly conquer the next-gen market. But with so many consoles on the field at one time we won't see either the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 smash sales records upon release. I expect it'll take 2 years or so for the market to mature and hit its peak.

Sony is expected to reveal the PS5 in a special event in February 2020. The console will release in Holiday 2020, and it may cost $499.

Check below for more info:

PlayStation 5 specs and details:

  • Custom SoC with second-gen Navi GPU, Zen 2 CPU
  • 8-Core, 16-thread Zen 2 CPU at 3.2GHz
  • Navi GPU at 2.0GHz with 36 Compute Units
  • Navi, Zen SoC uses new AMD RDNA 2.0 architecture
  • Ultra-fast SSD
  • Support for 4K 120 Hz TVs
  • Ray-tracing enabled
  • 8K output support (for gaming)
  • Plays all PS4 games
  • Separate games that ship on BD-XL Blu-ray discs
  • New controller with extensive haptic and tactile feedback

PlayStation 5 Coverage:

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