The PlayStation 4 isn't even three years old, but Sony could be unveiling its successor as soon as this September. Following a slew of reports, Sony has confirmed the existence of a PlayStation "Neo," which will allow for 4K video output and a potentially smoother PlayStation VR experience. The Neo might be joined by a "PS4 Slim," which could appeal to budget gamers not ready to make the jump to 4K. Here's everything we know about the future of PlayStation, as well as what we think Sony needs to do to make its spruced-up console a success.
PlayStation Neo: A 4K-Ready Console
After months of rumors, it's official: the PlayStation Neo is coming. According to a June interview with the Financial Times (and as reported by Engadget), President and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Andrew House confirmed that a more powerful version of PS4 is in the pipeline. House had few details to share, only noting that Neo will be a more premium-priced system aimed at hardcore gamers with 4K televisions, and that all games released this generation will still work with the original PS4. House also noted that the system will be skipping E3 2016, meaning Microsoft may be the only console maker showing new hardware.
This confirms a massive April report from Giant Bomb (opens in new tab), which was the first mention of PlayStation Neo. According to Giant Bomb, the new console is rumored to pack a 2.1-GHz octa-core processor (up from 1.6 GHz), an improved AMD GCN graphics chip at 911 MHz (up from 800 MHz), and 8GB of GDDR5 RAM with speeds of 218 GB per second (up from 176 GBps).
The result of all of these fancy numbers is a PS4 that can output games at 4K, a big upgrade from the current console's max resolution of 1080p. Internal Sony documents supposedly obtained by Giant Bomb don't mention anything about PlayStation VR, but the improved specs could certainly help provide a smoother experience to those who pick up Sony's upcoming $399 virtual-reality headset this fall.
PS4 Slim: Smaller and Cheaper
The Neo might not launch alone -- according to leaked images, we may see a PS4 Slim debut alongside its more powerful big brother in September. Leaked images of the purported redesign show a console that's a few inches skinnier, ditching the original PS4's sharply angled edges for a more unassuming square-shaped design. This leak coincides with an August Wall Street Journal report that suggests that Sony has two PlayStations on the way: the powerful Neo, and a standard PS4 refresh that could appeal to those on a budget.
There's no word on whether the PS4 Slim will introduce any new features (the redesigned Xbox One S offers 4K video playback, for example), but if the console is real, we should see an official announcement soon enough.
Price and Release Date
Sony sent out press invites to a special "PlayStation Meeting" event on Sept. 7 in New York, where the company will likely officially unveil one or both of the new consoles. This confirms reports from Vice Gaming and Gameblog about the potential date.
Neo was originally expected to arrive in October alongside Sony's $399 PlayStation VR headset comes out, though we'll have to wait and see if Sony will release its new console just a month after announcing it. A March report from The Wall Street Journal suggested that the Neo would be officially unveiled ahead of PSVR's launch, but didn't specify whether folks should expect to see the console on shelves by the end of 2016.
Despite its stronger specs, the PlayStation Neo will reportedly retail for just $399 — only $50 more than the current PS4's retail price. That's a similar delta to what's between the new Xbox One S ($299 starting) and the older Xbox One ($249), which suggests that the Neo could be a 4K streaming machine that doesn't necessarily support true 4K gaming. At the same time, Sony could be looking to offer the PS4 Slim as a budget option, which would allow the company to offer the Neo at a much more premium price.
Games: No PS4.5 Exclusives
Ever since the PlayStation 4.5 was first rumored (via Kotaku) a month ago, concerns have appeared over whether the new system would create a fractured player base by locking older PS4 owners out of the latest games. But according to Giant Bomb's report (and later confirmed by Sony), the folks at PlayStation are working to make sure everyone gets to play the same games, regardless of which PS4 they own.
Sony is reportedly requiring developers to make all future PS4 games playable on both the Neo and standard versions of the consoles, meaning those with the new system will simply get the added 4K performance benefits. The Neo seems like it will use the same user interface as the standard PS4, and you should be able to play games online with owners of both models.
One interesting nugget from the Giant Bomb report is the fact that existing PS4 games could be optimized for the Neo, if developers choose to put the work in. This means that Neo owners may someday be able to play their copy of Dark Souls III in 4K, or that Bethesda could eventually choose to patch Fallout 4's many console-performance issues for those with the more powerful system.
The PS4 hasn't even been out for three years, and the thought of upgrading to a new box may be painful for many of the console's 36-million owners. However, Sony seems to be handling the situation well by not making the Neo a mandatory upgrade. Buying a Neo could be similar to buying a new phone, tablet or PC — your apps and games will run just fine on what you have now, but you'll be treated to better performance if you upgrade.
For better or for worse, these half-step consoles could become the norm. Microsoft just released the Xbox One S, a sleeker version of its console that supports 4K video and HDR. Next year, the company is expected to launch the more powerful Project Scorpio, which is designed to support high-end virtual reality as well as 4K gaming.
Console gamers aren't necessarily used to quick upgrade cycles — the Xbox 360 and PS3 were viable for close to a decade — but times have changed. With PC gaming becoming more popular and easier to get into (not to mention virtual reality's explosive popularity), it makes sense for Sony and Microsoft to provide options for gamers who want the absolute best of the best. Let's just hope that the PS4's Day One adopters don't get left in the dust.