Sony is reportedly planning to launch a higher-specification PlayStation 4 console ahead of the PlayStation VR release, in a move near unheard-of in the console realm.
Sony is investing heavily in its virtual reality programme, previously dubbed Project Morpheus. Its PlayStation VR hardware is priced considerably lower than rival PC-based systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, while the console itself costs around the same as a high-end graphics card alone to drive alternative headsets. Questions have been raised regarding the quality of the experience, however: with lower-end hardware than is recommended for PC-based systems, VR pundits have been questioning whether the PlayStation 4 will be up to driving a high-resolution low-latency virtual reality experience - a requirement to avoid nausea during head motion.
It's a problem Sony is reportedly working on, with game developer sources speaking to gaming site Kotaku
claiming that Sony will launch a more powerful console - dubbed the PlayStation 4.5 - ahead of the PlayStation VR release in October this year. This upgraded console, the anonymous sources claim, would include a more powerful graphics processor capable of driving both 4K Ultra HD external displays and the PlayStation VR hardware.
Typically, performance upgrades are eschewed in the console industry in favour of creating a stable platform. A console's overall specifications usually remain unchanged throughout its lifespan, with industry improvements instead being used to reduce power draw and heat output or drop the manufacturing cost. It's not entirely without precedent, however, with Sony rival Nintendo having some experience in the field: its Nintendo 64 console could be upgraded with a memory module to play more complex games including first-person shooter Perfect Dark, while it has fragmented its hand-held market with the launch of the New 3DS featuring a more powerful processor than the original 3DS with selected games only compatible with the New 3DS as a result.
Depending on the performance difference between the current PlayStation 4 and the rumoured PlayStation 4.5, fragmentation may not be an issue: developers could be asked to ensure their titles play acceptably on the older hardware, unlocking only increased framerates or higher-resolution rendering when running on the newer device. Should developers choose to make use of the PlayStation 4.5's increased specifications to build more complex games, though, fragmentation - where games will be made specifically for the PlayStation 4.5, rendering the original model obsolete before its time - could be a real problem.
Sony has unsurprisingly declined to comment on the rumour, which Kotaku claims to have verified through multiple independent sources.