PS5 Pro might be actually be an affordable mid-gen upgrade

Sony's new PlayStation 5 Pro console may actually be a cost-effective and affordable mid-gen upgrade that caters to enthusiasts without a high price.

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Sony's upcoming PlayStation 5 Pro might actually be an affordable console that doesn't cost $700.

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On paper, the new PS5 Pro sounds like an expensive machine. Recent leaks have basically unearthed all of the PlayStation 5 Pro's secrets and exposed some interesting new advancements to the world, including a beefy new RDNA 3 GPU capable of 33.5 TFLOPs of power clocked at 2.1GHz. The PS5 Pro is also said to have a special new machine learning (ML) block on its GPU that will power Sony's new PlayStation Spectral Super Resolution (PSSR) upscaling tech. All of this is said to enable more detail-heavy gaming experiences at boosted effective resolutions without biting so much into FPS, potentially leading to more sustainable 4K gameplay.

This has led to lots of talk about the PS5 Pro's price tag. Will it be a $600 machine that doesn't move the needle very much in terms of mass adoption? Or is it a carefully planned and budget-balanced device that is specifically made to sell as a profitable, cost-effective piece of hardware aimed at helping stabilize Sony's falling operating margins? The latter seems more likely, especially given Sony's current position.

Closer examination shows that the PS5 Pro is still quite limited by the normal pressures and constraints in the console market, namely price vs performance. How much the device costs obviously depends on how much it costs to produce, and further, what people are willing to pay.

New analysis from Digital Foundry paints a different picture of the PS5 Pro than gaming's enthusiast circles. The specifications are put into context and the theoretical capabilities of the tech is clarified in a way that grounds the wild speculation that swirls these kinds of hardware discussions.

According to Digital Foundry, the PS5 Pro isn't actually going to revolutionize gaming. It appears to be a case of Sony once again doing the best with what it has available within the limitations of its budget.

To keep production costs down, Sony is believed to utilize the same "Oberon" 6nm SoC (System-on-Chip) process as the PS5 Slim (which is in term a slightly shrunken variety of the 7nm+ "Oberon" SoC found in the base 2020 PS5).

Die space is premium real estate for consoles, and retaining 6nm will allow Sony to use the same Zen 2 CPU that's inside of the base PS5 and PS5 Slim, and also use that same CPU in the Pro. Why use the same CPU? This ties into cost reduction but also allows devs to maintain consistency and compatibility with their games (e.g. a new CPU might change the dev environment in some way).

This creates a hardware environment where the GPU is more powerful than the CPU. Sony somewhat offsets this by allowing devs to overclock the CPU from the PS5's stock 3.5GHz to 3.8GHz in the Pro, and this extra 300MHz of clock headroom (about +10% extra speed) is expected to help tighten up frame rates in CPU-intensive games. The CPU gets overclocked with the PS5 Pro's new Enhanced mode, but it comes at at trade off of 1% GPU performance. That's basically negligible.

The non-changed CPU also helps with the PS5 Pro's power control. Remember that the PlayStation 5 architecture has variable clock speeds dictated by power draw; if the CPU needs more clock speed, then the console will draw more power. The system does a careful balancing act with power and clock speeds to maintain better efficiency and performance.

This trade off is indicative of a system that isn't meant to be a full-on next-gen successor or breakthrough piece of hardware that supercharges an existing or new generation. Instead, the PS5 Pro aims to be just that: a better version than the base PS5 that delivers better visuals by way of both brain (PSSR) and braun (boosted GPU perf).

Taking a look at the business side of things is also important.

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Right now, Sony is not doing so great when it comes to profits. Total operating income is down, and margins have been below 10% for the last 7 quarters in a row. The company also lowered its PS5 shipment target from 25 million to 21 million, indicating that Sony over-shot its expectations.

As such, the PS5 still hasn't beaten the PS4's launch-aligned sales. This is surprising, considering the PS4 peaked in its 4th year on the market in 2016, and the current gen cycle has been anything but predictable. While the PS5 managed to reach 50 million sell-through during Holiday 2023, Sony says the console's life cycle has now crossed the halfway mark.

That leaves room for a Pro upgrade, similar to the PS4 Pro, which was released in 2016 (just 3 years after the PS4 released). If a PS5 Pro were to come out in Holiday 2024, it would mark the 4th year since the PS5's launch. What's interesting is that despite the PS4 Pro's significant performance upgrade, the console still launched at $399, the same price as the launch PS4.

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A new console could help Sony move units and improve profitability--assuming the Pro actually sells units. The PS5 is currently sold at a profit, but the level of profit has dwindled over time as production costs increase. On a very base level, Sony's buying power has been reduced by a weakened yen, meaning Sony has to pay more for console hardware components. This further highlights the importance of Sony's 25 million PS5 shipment, and also further underlines the gravity of missing this landmark.

We also can't forget about the PlayStation 5 console iterations. Sony has released multiple versions of the PlayStation 5 that have various changes such as improved cooling arrays to improve efficiency and weight (heavier products cost more to ship). The biggest change is the PS5 Slim model which makes all future consoles into digital-only models by default, with Sony instead selling the optional detachable disc drive. This reduces weight for all PS5 consoles and gives Sony another highly-profitable accessory to sell to consumers. All of these major changes, iterations, and advancements will come into play

So how much could the PS5 Pro cost? It's hard to say, but given everything we've heard about the tech and Sony's current position, the device should be priced competitively for the realities of the current market.

The PS5 Pro may not be for enthusiasts, but if Sony wants to sell units, it can't have an enthusiast price tag in the $600 or $700 region. Our guess would be that the PS5 Pro will cost $550 maximum, potentially even as low as $500. This assumes that Sony wants the PS5 Pro to be a best-seller. If the console isn't positioned as being something that will move the needle or convince gamers to buy the Pro instead of a base model, then it's possible it could be priced at a higher MSRP.

It all depends on Sony's internal targets and that's just something we don't have access to.

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Derek joined the TweakTown team in 2015 and has since reviewed and played 1000s of hours of new games. Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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