We gamers are living in strange times indeed. First, Xbox chief Phil Spencer hinted at some kind of hardware upgrade for the Xbox One. Then after Kotaku and Giant Bomb reported on it, Sony acknowledged it’s working on something similar, a new version of the PlayStation 4 that’s more powerful than the current one, but not an entirely separate console like the PlayStation 5 would be. It will be a PlayStation 4.5, if you will. It’s code-named Neo.
Assuming the rumors are true, Neo will essentially be a new version of the gaming console that would pack enough power to pump out graphics at 4K resolution. We’ve been mulling over the idea of incremental console upgrades, and we’re not quite sure if they’re a good or bad idea. To help get to the bottom of it, here are some pros and cons.
1. Pro: The PlayStation 4.5 will have more power
Obviously, a more powerful console can run games that look better, load faster, and take advantage of new display technology, like 4K televisions. All of those things would be exciting to PlayStation 4 gamers. A power boost would also bring the PlayStation 4 hardware closer to top-of-the-line gaming PCs, which have only been pulling farther and farther ahead since it came out.
2. Con: It will split the user base
If we had two versions of the PS4, developers might not be able to take full advantage of the more powerful one.
Last year Nintendo released the New Nintendo 3DS, which is — you guessed it — a more powerful version of the original 3DS. It noticeably shortens load times, and it lets owners play a small handful of “New 3DS-only” games like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and the new Super Nintendo Virtual Console games.
The problem with this — and the reason hardly anyone is making games that only run on the New Nintendo 3DS — is that only a small percentage of 3DS owners have the New 3DS. Making a New 3DS-exclusive game is a bad business decision because it would mean cutting out the vast majority of 3DS owners.
The same logic would apply to a PlayStation 4.5. If a developer wanted to take full advantage of the extra power of the PS4.5, it would be turning its back on the 40 million people who already own an original PS4. Also, if Giant Bomb’s sources are correct, Sony says that going forward all games must be compatible with existing PS4. That would seem to limit the kinds of gaming experiences developers could create for the Neo.
3. Pro: It could power a better PlayStation VR experience
On the plus side, a more powerful PS4 would be able to crank out better virtual reality experiences for anyone who buys the PlayStation VR when it launches in October. PlayStation VR is the most affordable major VR headset launching this year, but it’s also the weakest. Both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive require computers with significantly more horsepower than the PS4 to run, which translates into a smoother, better-looking VR gaming experience.
A more powerful version of the PS4 would be able to deliver more technically impressive VR games. And if VR is going to be as big as many people think, that could be a big deal.
4. Con: No one likes to double dip
Sony releasing a more powerful PS4 would be kind of a jerk move, since 40 million (and counting) gamers have bought the vanilla PS4. Each of those customers, many of whom spent up to $400 to purchase one, would have to decide whether to buy a new version of a console they already own. Asking for hundreds of additional dollars for something that’s not a PlayStation 5 might not sit well with a lot of PS4 owners.
5. Pro: It’s good for people who held off buying a PS4
On the other hand, if you’re one of the many gamers who haven’t taken the plunge on a PS4, you might want to keep holding off until Sony makes an announcement about the PS4.5 (assuming it’s a real product). After all, there’s no reason to blow your savings on a soon-to-be-outdated system if a better version is right around the corner.
For the record, we have no idea when or if a PS4.5 will come out, but when there’s this much smoke, it’s a good bet that there’s probably fire somewhere.
6. Con: It will probably cost more than today’s PS4
A wise man once said, “with great power comes a great big price tag” (OK, I just made that up).
If a new version of the PS4 launches with enough horsepower to run games at 4K resolution (about four times as many pixels as a standard 1080p TV), it’s going to need a significant GPU upgrade. That means it would probably cost quite a bit — nearly as much as top-end gaming PCs do today, which go upward of $1,000.
Whether Sony or Microsoft actually release new, more powerful versions of their current gaming machines remains to be seen. But if they do, it will be a tough purchasing decision for gamers who already have the original hardware. How they market these devices will be very interesting to see.