PS5 backwards compatibility could soon get a whole lot better

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The current console generation has been golden for backwards compatibility, with both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 capable of playing almost every title from the Xbox One and PS4 era. 

Now, a new patent application filed by Sony PlayStation lead designer Mark Cerny and David Simpson — apparently the lead programmer of Sony subsidiary Naughty Dog — suggests that this situation could soon get even better.

While Microsoft supports nearly 700 games from the Xbox 360 and original Xbox via backwards compatibility, to play anything pre-2013 on PS5 you need to subscribe to the PlayStation Now service, where titles are streamed remotely.  

But the patent application entitled “Backward Compatibility Through Use of Spoof Clock and Fine Grain Frequency Control”, filed Jan. 6 and first spotted by Shaun McIlroy on Twitter, suggests Sony is planning a local solution. 

As the title indicates, the patent application outlines how a “spoof clock” could “return a number that corresponds to the frequency of a less powerful console”. 

Reading between the lines — the word “PlayStation” doesn’t come up once — such technology could allow the PS5 to run at a lower CPU clock speed, or at least seem to, so that PS1, PS2 or PS3 games could perform normally.

The Holy Grail? 

Even after they are granted, patents don’t always translate into commercially available applications, of course. While this patent application sounds promising, the solution sounds deceptively simple. 

If it were just a case of telling a console to run more slowly, then both Microsoft and Sony would have done so years ago. Remember that Sony actually put PS2 hardware inside the first generation of the PS3 at great expense to ensure backwards compatibility because a software solution simply wouldn’t cut it. 

All the same, this patent application does tie in with another rumor that we’ve heard — that Sony is planning to launch a service to rival Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, which offers a rolling list of titles that can be played for the cost of a monthly subscription. 

Notably, the report suggested that PS1, PS2 and PS3 games would be part of the mix. This patent application might just explain how that’s possible.

Even more backward compatibility would certainly make the PS5 a much more appealing proposition — not that it needs much help, with stock continuing to vanish as soon as it appears. 

But as a day-one PS5 buyer, I have to say that the shortage of exclusive PS5 titles does mean I’ve spent most of my time with it on PS4-era games. Opening up the doors to older PlayStation titles would make a versatile console even more appealing.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.