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PlayStation patent application tips big upgrade — but will it happen?

Sony PS5 on a table next to a TV
(Image credit: Future)

Ray tracing is one of the better features available on the PS5, but gamers have to sacrifice either performance or resolution to make it happen. Even then, there are still compromises. But that might change in the near future, if Sony's latest patent application is anything to go by.

First spotted on Twitter (opens in new tab), the application (opens in new tab) comes courtesy of PS5 system architect Mark Cerny. It describes a “System And Method For Accelerated Ray Tracing” and “System And Method For Accelerated Ray Tracing With Asynchronous Operation And Ray Transformation.”

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The application describes a system that uses shader processors to shorten rays. That means an increase in game performance when users have ray tracing switched on. According to the application document, the “processing strategy may result in a significant improvement of ray tracing speed, as the shader program is only performing hit testing.”

Accelerated ray tracing is nothing new, however. Software-based ray tracing has been in use for decades, and shows up everywhere from gaming to moviemaking. However, when it comes to real-time ray tracing, which is what happens in video games, you typically need some specialized hardware to do it properly.

Current-gen consoles, such as the PS5 and Xbox Series X, can handle this, as can high-end GPUs from the likes of Nvidia and AMD. However, a lot of games are unable to take full advantage of ray tracing on consoles, because of the performance dip that occurs.

While games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart offer ray tracing modes, others do not. Far Cry 6 forgoes ray tracing altogether on consoles, in order to ensure smooth 4K 60fps performance. Meanwhile, the upcoming Gran Turismo 7 will not allow ray tracing during gameplay. Instead it’ll be available only in replays and Garage mode.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go before console gamers get a more uniform ray tracing experience. This patent application details only one possible system that Sony might be considering. 

It's also worth emphasizing that this is a patent application, which means it hasn't been granted or rejected at this early stage. More to the point, being awarded a patent doesn't guarantee that a company will actually implement it.

Still, the fact that PlayStation is working on ways to improve console ray tracing is a good sign. The only question is whether this technology could, hypothetically, come in a PS5 firmware update. It would depend on whether the console has the necessary hardware, or if we'd need some sort of upgrade — be it the PS5 Pro, or the PS6.

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.