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PS5 could get this new feature to take on Xbox Series X

PS5
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Last week, Sony finally unveiled its rival offering to Microsoft’s all-you-can-play Game Pass service, which essentially divided PlayStation Plus into three tiers, with PS Now and its library of previous-gen games merged into the top tier for PS5.

It’s certainly a promising start, but for now Microsoft still has the upper hand for two reasons. Firstly, Sony has shied away from offering big releases on the service on Day One as Microsoft does, and secondly PS3 games will be streamed remotely, rather than played locally. By contrast, the Xbox Series X and S can play close to 700 Xbox 360 games locally.

But that latter issue could still be fixed, according to Venturebeat journalist Jeff Grubb. On his Game Mess YouTube channel (opens in new tab), Grubb muses that Sony could still be looking to upgrade PS3 games on PS5 to local play, meaning an end to latency and the ability to play offline.

“Since talking about this all week, I’ve looked, I’ve asked… it sounds like Sony might be working on emulation for PS3 on PS5,” he said. 

But don’t expect this move, if it does happen, to occur overnight. “It may take some time,” Grubb cautioned.

Grubb has a good record with Sony rumors, having previously detailed the new PS Plus offering, with a high degree of accuracy, several weeks before it was officially announced.

Grubb went on to say that he would favor a bit more transparency from Sony on this. “I wish they would come out and tell us that,” he continued. “Tell us that you care about this stuff because that is what was missing from the PS Plus announcement… to me, it seemed like they didn’t care about any of it. They just slapped it together, put a new name on it and sold it.”

The hard Cell

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about possible enhanced backwards compatibility for PS5. Back in January, a patent was uncovered hinting that Sony could resolve the problem by running hardware at a lower clock speed

Notably, the word “PS3” (or indeed “PlayStation”) didn’t come up in the patent, however, and while such things are deliberately opaque, that could also be significant. The PS3’s unusual architecture and unique Cell processor are notoriously hard to emulate, and it may just be simpler to keep PS3 games streamed for a smoother experience. 

Indeed, the patent sounds deceptively simple: put bluntly, if immaculate emulation was possible simply by slowing down hardware, then every console in the history of gaming would support it. That isn’t the case, and notably the first-generation of PS3 actually included built-in PS2 hardware for backwards compatibility — something that was eventually removed to keep costs down.

So even if this local PS3 compatibility does happen, it’s best to keep expectations in check. Remember, not every Xbox 360 game works on Xbox Series X/S, even with the relatively simpler architecture. 

If this emulation move does happen, it may just be that Sony makes it work for the big hitters — think InFamous, Ratchet & Clank, Killzone and Metal Gear Solid — while leaving lesser titles to be played by enthusiasts on the original vintage hardware, or just streamed via the new PS Plus. Either way, it looks like Microsoft could well keep its advantage on this front.

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.