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DF Weekly: Microsoft expects a PS5 Slim and a Pro - but what will we actually get?

And what of the detachable Blu-ray drive rumours?

Last week, the press reported that Microsoft expects Sony to release a revised Slim model of the PlayStation 5 along with the already announced Project Q handheld, with the documents even mentioning a Pro model. While confirming nothing, Microsoft's expectations are in line with rumours that continue to persist, suggesting that Sony is looking to reshape its hardware line-up this year and moving into 2024. So what should we expect?

What's not clear is whether Microsoft genuinely believes these products are coming or whether the expectation is based on continued speculation surrounding reports that initially emerged from Insider Gaming (though in fairness, Insider Gaming did correctly predict the announcement of a new handheld streaming-based PlayStation). If its sources remain on the money, the PS5 Slim looks to use the existing components but within a new 'd-chassis' that features an detachable (optional?) optical drive. Quite how this concept translates into a retail product remains to be seen, but on the DF team, I think it's an interesting idea while John Linneman sees the idea of a detachable drive as taking us one step closer to the end of physical media in the console space.

From my point of view, I would not be surprised if a new process node enables Sony to reduce the size of the PS5 processor still further, making for a smaller box requiring a less expensive cooling solution. The smaller footprint allows for a number of wins, right down to packaging size and reduced shipping costs. However, the notion of making the optical drive an optional extra is intriguign. Right now, with disc and digital models, Sony has to choose between dividing components between those two SKUs. By making the disc drive detachable/optional, production can be centralised into just one PS5 and from there, the platform holder can divide up the units more easily between a base, disc-less model or else add in the drive for a more expensive version. What's up in the air is whether the idea of two SKUs will continue - or whether the optical drive becomes entirely an optional extra.

What should be pointed out is that while Microsoft apparently believes a $399 Slim model is coming, it makes no mention of an optical drive - detachable or otherwise. However, it does seem to believe that this will be the PS5 model, suggesting it's either a cost-reduced version of the disc model, or else the detachable drive product that Insider Gaming predicts. It's also suggesting a price-point for the new machine - which is new information we've not seen anywhere else.

I think the detachable PS5 BD drive is an interesting idea because buying a notional PlayStation 5 Slim with no BD drive isn't the automatic lock-out on physical discs that the current Digital Edition is. If you want to access the physical market with its range of much cheaper games, you can do so by buying the optional drive. However, as you'll see in this week's DF Direct Weekly, John's contention is that making physical media an optional choice brings us one step further to the end of the format altogether.

DF Direct Weekly #119 sees John Linneman joined by Rich Leadbetter and Alex Battaglia at the mics.Watch on YouTube
  • 00:00:00 Introduction
  • 00:01:25 News 01: Microsoft expects $400 PS5 Slim, sub-$300 Project Q handheld
  • 00:19:24 News 02: Final Fantasy 16 gets motion blur options
  • 00:28:17 News 03: John's PSVR2 game roundup!
  • 00:41:57 News 04: Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag remake rumoured
  • 00:46:59 News 05: CD Projekt claims Cyberpunk reception was overly harsh
  • 01:01:14 Supporter Q1: Now that RT is here, what's the next big real-time graphical breakthrough?
  • 01:14:20 Supporter Q2: Why can't DLSS be added to the Nvidia Control Panel?
  • 01:15:41 Supporter Q3: Now that gamers are used to 60fps, will it be hard for developers to go back? Is it smarter to target 60fps even if it means cutbacks to resolution?
  • 01:23:51 Supporter Q4: People often claim that game updates improve performance, when they often don't. How can gamers get over the placebo effect here?

I can see John's point of view because the history of console add-ons is not exactly packed with success stories. Assuming the optional drive is indeed going to happen, the question comes down to how Sony is going to present it. Will there be visible, high volume bundle deals with the drive included when you make your console purchase? Or will it be an extra? And if it is a supplementary purchase, just how many of them will Sony make? And how much will it cost?

Going back to Microsoft's FTC docs, there's once again talk of a PS5 Pro model, in contrast to Microsoft's stated position of being happy where it is right now with Series X and Series S hardware. I've been trying to think of how Sony can make this machine a reality but it occurs to me that a Pro model can take many different forms. There's the presumption that it would follow the pattern laid down by PS4 Pro - a doubling of GPU power and a much larger processor being the prerequisites for such a machine.

Going down that route would be expensive, but a new process node does offer other alternatives for the existing silicon - faster clocks, for example. On top of that, every PS5 processor has four compute units disabled. Binned processors with all CUs active in conjunction with higher clocks could see CPU performance improve and GPU compute move from around 10 teraflops up to circa 14TF. A bigger chip can't be entirely ruled out either bearing in mind that Xbox Series X shipped with a processor with around 13 percent more area overall. Other innovations like machine learning accelerated upscaling could also be added. I'm not sure how it would be marketed other than providing better image quality and more stable performance, but after some thought, i do think there are options.

In the Direct, my colleagues point out that the AMD roadmap doesn't seem to highlight any particular technologies that could enable a Pro console, but as I point out, I'm reminded of the 2019 RDNA 1 event I attended, where AMD downplayed the importance of hardware accelerated RT at virtually the same time that Microsoft confirmed RDNA 2 hardware RT in what was then called Project Scarlett. We later learned at the Series X reveal in March 2020 that RT was a foundational part of the Scarlett design going back to its 2016 origins. AMD has closed shop significantly in recent years in terms of discussing its next-gen tech, but of course, the console makers are working with them hand-in-glove years before we hear anything. Will this have an impact on a prospective PS5 Pro? Will there actually be a PS5 Pro? We can't see the need for one right now, but we've yet to hear the pitch from Sony!

In this week's Direct, we also spend some time discussing Final Fantasy 16's new patch, which adds motion blur customisation options, we revisit the controversy surrounding Cyberpunk 2077's launch, while the news of an Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag remaster/remake is all well and good - but we're still all-in on AC Unity getting the same treatment! Supporter Q+A continues to throw up some excellent talking points, but the idea that 60fps isn't the standard still seems to dominate discussion. We'll have more content on that soon from a completely new perspective, and we're already talking about it on the DF Supporter Program, where I've also just posted what might possibly be the first external 4K 120fps capture from a games console. Intrigued? Join us!

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