The PS5 Pro is a cross-gen console and that may be a good thing

Sony’s upcoming PlayStation could actually pave the way for the future in a number of important ways, here’s why


The PS5 Pro is not officially even announced yet, but it seems that it may be more important to Sony’s future plans than what a mid-gen upgrade would normally imply. (Image: Mahtab Mashuq, Unsplash)


With everything that has been published online in various forms over the last few weeks regarding Sony’s widely expected mid-generation console, the PS5 Pro, it feels that an official reveal may not be long now. Since the cat is out of the bag, it’s not in the company’s best interest to delay this any more than it has to: such a choice could start hurting sales of the current PS5 model at some point, a scenario Sony would very much like to avoid in order to retain market momentum. For the very same reason the PS5 Pro should become available not long after its official announcement – especially if a price cut of the current PS5 model is also in the cards.

That’s how these things usually play out, but Sony sticking with its original plan – despite all the PS5 Pro information leaks of the past few months – is not out of the question either. The company has been working towards this for at least three years, after all, and the release of a new PlayStation is more than a marketing exercise: all the pieces have to fall into place at the right time in the right order for this product to be as successful as it can be. Rushing it to market would not be a good idea for anyone involved.

It’s fair to say that everything discussed regarding the PS5 Pro so far is either about its hardware capabilities (in terms of both absolute performance and relative to the one offered by the current PS5) or the software improvements it may be offering (in games worthy of the PS5 Pro Enhanced label). There’s an aspect of this product’s overall direction, though, that’s rather overlooked. Simply put: the PS5 Pro does not seem to be just a mid-generation system of little consequence, like the PS4 Pro turned out to be. It actually seems to be a type of product that neither Sony or anybody else has ever built before: not a “mid-gen” console… but a “cross-gen” one.

“A cross-gen console, you say?”

Yes. Something along the lines of those PS5/PS4 cross-gen games, but instead of trying to keep in touch with the past, the PS5 Pro may be paving the way for the future. Rather than being little more than an improved version of the current PS5, this product looks like it was designed to work as a “bridge” between the PS5 and the PS6. Here are the reasons why.

PSSR too important for just one PlayStation model

The first indication that the PS5 Pro may very well be a “bridge system” is none other than Sony’s new, AI-assisted resolution upscaling and image reconstruction technology, currently known as PlayStation Spectral Super Resolution (PSSR). This is, broadly speaking, equivalent to what nVidia’s DLSS, AMD’s FSR and Intel’s XESS are already doing in the PC space for a number of years. This is the first time this is done on console, though, because of Sony’s decision to include a separate, powerful machine learning subsystem in the PS5 Pro – one that was never in the cards for the current PS5.

Games based on Unreal Engine 5 – such as the impressive Black Myth: Wukong, out in August – will be getting even more visually rich and resource-demanding going forward, encouraging or even dictating the use of smart upscaling and frame generation on future PlayStations. (Image: Game Science)


Intelligent upscaling and frame reconstruction are very important because the pace of console hardware getting more powerful with each generation is slowing down – so software will be playing a significant role in driving that hardware in a smarter, more effective way going forward. Games are also getting more demanding visually, so it’s getting more difficult to display their graphics in high resolution, high fidelity and acceptable frame rates all at the same time. With 4K 120/144 TVs becoming the norm and PC monitors already offering 240/360/480 Hz refresh rate options, future PlayStations will absolutely need to employ technologies like PSSR in order to deliver on players’ expectations. Sony itself notes in the leaked documents regarding the PS5 Pro that it will continue to steadily improve PSSR, targeting 4K/120 or even 8K/60 resolutions – so the company is definitely not talking about just this particular PlayStation model.

In the same context, PSSR may eventually introduce the most useful function nVidia and AMD are offering to PC gamers using their respective graphics cards: frame generation. This technique creates new, additional frames based on the previous ones, resulting in higher frame rates overall and smoother motion than what the actual hardware using frame generation is capable of on paper. AMD recently announced that FSR 3.1 with frame generation will be coming to the Xbox soon, so it’s highly likely than Sony will be offering the same functionality at some point by leveraging the powerful machine-learning block found in the PS5 Pro.

Intelligent upscaling, frame reconstruction and frame generation will be an important part of any gaming system going forward.

Needless to say, frame generation will be an important part of any gaming system going forward, so – since the next PlayStation will most probably be based on AMD tech too – all the work done in that space during the next three or four years on the PS5 Pro will almost definitely carry over to the PS6.

AI for upscaling is only the beginning

PSSR aside, though, the type of new hardware included in the PS5 Pro is in and of itself proof that Sony’s incoming system will be paving the way for future PlayStation systems. That hardware is none other than the aforementioned custom AI processing unit, which AMD never planned for when designing the CPU/GPU combination the PS5 or the Xbox Series X are built around. Sony went to all the trouble of developing – either on its own or in collaboration with AMD – this machine learning acceleration system in the span of 36 months in order to use it in a new product… fully knowing that this product would not be the PlayStation6.

Nobody expects to see PS5 Pro-exclusive games that break PS5 compatibility, but we may get a few good examples of what AI can do for modern video games in the form of additional bells and whistles or even some PS5 Pro-optimized, focused indie productions. (Image: The Point)


This speaks volumes: people who know how Sony generally thinks about resources and development of new tech will attest to the fact that the company rarely ever spends time and money on something that’s going to be used as an one-off. The checkerboarding upscaler developed for the PS4 Pro is an example of this: not only was it extensively used on that machine, but on the PS5 too – there’s even evidence that the AI upscaling feature described in Sony’s development documentation for the PS5 Pro takes several cues from checkerboard rendering infused with specially-designed machine learning algorithms for faster operation and higher quality results.

It makes sense, then, to expect that the machine learning subsystem included in the PS5 Pro – an impressively powerful one at 67 TFLOPS – may not just be used for upscaling. There’s a number of different things AI can do for modern video games, ranging from character interaction or enemy behavior control to context-sensitive decision making, procedural content generation and everything in between. There’s a lot of stuff simply too demanding in processing power to do in real time right now – practically out of the question when it comes to gaming consoles – that AI could handle with ease if properly accelerated on a hardware level.

It makes sense to expect that the machine learning subsystem included in the PS5 Pro may not just be used for upscaling.

Now, it’s safe to assume that no major titles will use the AI subsystem in the PS5 Pro for something of vital importance to their core gameplay: that would render them incompatible with the base PS5 and no games publisher in their right minds would choose to ignore a 60 million-strong customer user base. Having said that, Sony might choose to fund a few innovative PS5 Pro-specific projects of its own or any number of daring indie productions in order to show off what AI can do for modern gaming, while a handful of major game publishers could add a few AI-powered bells and whistles to certain titles as proof of their ability to innovate.

Neither scenario would change the face of the gaming industry overnight, yes. But this might easily be the most important thing the PS5 Pro will bring to the table: developers will be able to experiment with AI in modern video games on a known, widely used platform, testing out new things and techniques, new mechanisms and processes not previously available to them. Not everything will work at first and there’ll probably be any number of pointless gimmicks passing for “the future of interactive entertainment”, sure. But consumers will start getting used to the idea of AI-infused video games at some point, making the PlayStation6 all the more appealing when it finally arrives (hopefully bringing the first exclusive AI-powered games with it).

Higher performance is welcome, but the PS5 Pro is on another mission

Taking all of the above into account can only lead to one conclusion: this more capable version of the PlayStation5 is essentially paving the way for an even more powerful, considerably more versatile PlayStation6. Sony will focus on the performance side of things during its PS5 Pro marketing efforts, which is to be expected: higher resolutions and/or frame rates are easier to explain and/or demonstrate after all (they also happen to be what the target group of this particular product is interested in). There may even be a few examples of flashy raytracing effects making certain PS5 games look better than “vanilla” ones, which might be important to some.

Intelligent upscaling, frame generation and AI are almost certainly included in Sony’s plans for the PlayStation6 and the necessary initial work on all three may very well be done on the PS5 Pro. (Image: Ahmad Mohammadnejad, Unsplash)


That’s all well and good but, in truth, these are not the most interesting aspects of this new PlayStation in the grand scheme of things. Those would be the machine learning custom hardware and PSSR, both of which will also be present in the specs of the inevitable PS6 (in upgraded form too). Releasing the PS5 Pro now will give game developers ample time – three years or more – to experiment with smart upscaling and AI, getting to know how to implement each in various ways. Then, when the time comes for the next PlayStation, developers will be able to include both features in the planning stages of new titles specifically designed for the PS6 – hopefully shaping those titles into more complex, more ambitious, maybe even truly innovative video games.

The only question is… when? When will Sony officially reveal the PS5 Pro – given that the company was initially going for a Q3 release of this product, but so much information about it is already out there on the Web?

The PS5 Pro will give game developers ample time to experiment with smart upscaling and AI, so as to implement each in various ways on the PS6.

According to The Verge all PS5 games submitted to Sony for certification in August or later will have to be compatible with the PS5 Pro, which seems to imply that the new model will be most probably be revealed earlier than that and become available around that time (e.g. early September). Which is more or less in line with what Sony was going for to begin with.

In any case, it will be interesting to see both when Sony chooses to unveil the PS5 Pro (so that the announcement does not greatly affect PS5 sales) and how it plans to promote it (without diminishing the base PS5 as an attractive consumer choice going forward). Oh, and… did anyone mention pricing? Yeah, that too!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kostas Farkonas

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

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