PlayStation 5 Deep Dive - Mark Cerny Talks Audio, Ray Tracing and Speed

March 18, 2020

PlayStation offered a “deep dive” into the PlayStation 5 architecture on Wednesday afternoon, and that is certainly what it was. System architect Mark Cerny gave an uber-detailed look at some of the key aspects of the PlayStation 5 during a live stream in a presentation that was intended for the, now postponed, Game Developers Conference. 

Cerny’s presentation focused on three key aspects of the next generation’s hardware. A specialised, super powerful SSD drive was the first piece of technology discussed. With a throughput of 5.5 gigabytes per second, this will make load times one-hundred times faster than that of the PlayStation 4. 

Few real-life applications for the technology were discussed, with the focus more theoretical than anything else. However, Cerny was clear to point out that the object of all of this was to give developers more “freedom” — that includes everything from removing load screens to allowing them to stop designing levels with loading in mind. 

Cerny did address questions surrounding the upgrading of hardware and expanding hard drive space. He stated that “certain M2 drives”, that are commercially available, would be able to be used in the system. However, there was little more detail than this given.

The next point of Cerny’s triangle of topics was the PlayStation 5’s custom RDNA 2 GPU. A smarter man than I could (and will) break down the specifics better than I can, for sure (that goes for everything written here). However, Cerny was quick to focus on the power and flexibility of this custom GPU, shying away from the discussions of teraflops that have been a consistent talking point amongst fans, especially where the Xbox Series X is concerned. 

Ray tracing has also been a big talking point going into the next generation. The PlayStation 5 will support this at a hardware level, with Cerny breaking down the varying levels that it could be implemented. This ranges from improved shadows and reflections, right up to fully simulating the way real light would react with the environment. How developers choose to use this, and at what level, is up to them.

Backwards compatibility was discussed, but only in regards to the PlayStation 4, with ‘most of the top 100 most popular’ games on the current system being available for players to play at launch. This is a far cry from Microsoft’s steadfast approach to the same offerings on Xbox.

The presentation closed on a discussion around audio — 3D audio in particular. With their next generation, PlayStation appears to be pushing quality of life improvements over big technological statement pieces. To summarise, the PlayStation 5 will push high-quality, almost bespoke, audio on a system level. Whether you’re utilising a TV speakers, headphones or a high-end audio system the idea is for the experience to be heightened.

Almost everything discussed here by Cerny has yet to be set in stone, with plenty of mention of testing. That uncertainty is unexpected at this stage. However, with this presentation not initially being intended for a wide audience, the hesitation to fully commit is understandable. 

The question of whether PlayStation should have streamed this to the public at all is certainly a viable one. It was far from the concise, marketing-heavy, games-focused presentation that many fans will have wanted and will have left many (myself included) scratching their heads. 

We’ll have to wait and see how PlayStation moves from here, breaking this information down to be more palatable for consumers.

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Ant Barlow

Started with the PlayStation, now I'm here... with a PlayStation. Once skipped school to play the Metal Gear Solid demo repeatedly. I love stories big and small. Trophy hunter. Recent VR convert. Probably a hipster.