Console gaming offers the opposite of instant gratification. Games can take forever to install, and even when that mind-numbing process is done, the games themselves are often punctuated by loading screens. Sony wants to change that with the PlayStation 5, and footage emerged Monday of the company's direct comparison of loading times between its next-gen console and the PlayStation 4 Pro using Spider-Man at an investor conference.
Unlike most consoles, the PS5 isn't really being developed in secret. Sony announced the product via an exclusive interview with Wired in which it revealed that the next PlayStation would use a Ryzen processor, Navi graphics, and other improvements to supporting gaming in resolutions up to 8K. (Some have claimed to know specifics about that hardware, such as its use of an AMD Ryzen 3600G, but Sony has yet to confirm any such reports.)
Better graphics were a given. But the decision to include an SSD in every model of the PS5 was a welcome surprise, and if Sony's tests are to be believed, it could have a bigger effect on the day-to-day usage of the console than supporting 8K resolution gaming. Visual upgrades are a nice-to-have; faster storage is becoming the norm in every category. People simply aren't willing to wait for stuff to load now that SSDs are so common.
Improved storage could directly lead to more exciting games, too, because developers wouldn't be as constrained by the console's hardware limitations. Sony told Wired that Spider-Man limits the superhero's ability to thwip-thwip his way through New York because otherwise he'd go hurtling past buildings that hadn't even rendered yet. Removing that limitation with the PS5 could enable bigger and better games.
Sony's recent test showed environments from Spider-Man loading in eight seconds on the PS4 Pro and 0.8 seconds on the PS5. That's a dramatic improvement, and Sony's demo for Wired was even more impressive, with the PS4 Pro clocking in at 15 seconds and the PS5 at the same 0.8 seconds. That's likely because the tests weren't the same--the most recent demo nixed the game's web-slinging protagonist and loading screens.
Those differences should leave everyone's spidey-senses tingling. Neither demo happened in a controlled environment with an impartial third-party calling the shots. Sony was able to dictate what it wanted from each demo to Insomniac Games, a developer with which it's worked closely since the original PlayStation, and it's not clear under what conditions the consoles were operating. Independent benchmarks could show different results.
Unfortunately there's little information about the PS5's storage available. Wired said in its reveal of the console:
"Sony won’t cop to exact details about the SSD—who makes it, whether it utilizes the new PCIe 4.0 standard—but Cerny claims that it has a raw bandwidth higher than any SSD available for PCs. That’s not all. 'The raw read speed is important,' Cerny says, 'but so are the details of the I/O [input-output] mechanisms and the software stack that we put on top of them. I got a PlayStation 4 Pro and then I put in a SSD that cost as much as the PlayStation 4 Pro—it might be one-third faster.' As opposed to 19 times faster for the next-gen console, judging from the fast-travel demo."
Still, even if the reduction to load times isn't as dramatic as Sony made it seem with these demos, any improvement should be welcome. A research firm recently claimed that many PC gamers will switch to consoles as Moore's Law slows down. That's already hard to imagine, but if there's going to be any chance of convincing enthusiasts to drop a few Uncle Bens (too soon?) on the PS5, it will be at least partly because it finally ditched the HDD.