Earlier this year, rumors began to fly that Sony would release an upgraded version of the PlayStation 4, a console often called the PS4.5 or the PS4K by fans and press. Today, multiple sources have confirmed for us details of the project, which is internally referred to as the NEO. No price was provided, but previous reports indicate that the NEO would sell at $399. At time of publishing, Sony has not returned our request for comment, but we will update this story if the company responds.
The NEO will feature a higher clock speed than the original PS4, an improved GPU, and higher bandwidth on the memory. The documents we've received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it's not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed. Starting in October, every PS4 game is required to ship with both a “Base Mode” which will run on the currently available PS4 and a “NEO Mode” for use on the new console.
Games running in NEO mode will be able to use the hardware upgrades (and an additional 512 MiB in the memory budget) to offer increased and more stable frame rate and higher visual fidelity, at least when those games run at 1080p on HDTVs. The NEO will also support 4K image output, but games themselves are not required to be 4K native.
In the documents we’ve received, Sony offers suggestions for reaching 4K/UltraHD resolutions for NEO mode game builds, but they're also giving developers a degree of freedom with how to approach this. 4K TV owners should expect the NEO to upscale games to fit the format, but one place Sony is unwilling to bend is on frame rate. Throughout the documents, Sony repeatedly reminds developers that the frame rate of games in NEO Mode must meet or exceed the frame rate of the game on the original PS4 system.
The NEO will not supplant the current PS4, but will exist alongside of it and use the same user environment. The PS4 and NEO will use the same PSN store, connect to the same online communities, and offer the same user experience, so expect to see the same cross media bar that you’re used to. Players will be able to retain all of the purchases they made on the PS4.
Sony seems committed to keeping the NEO and the original PS4 player bases connected. As such, there will be no NEO-only games, and Sony will not let developers separate NEO users from original PS4 players while playing on PSN. Likewise, Sony explicitly and repeatedly states that developers cannot offer exclusive gameplay options or special unlockables for NEO players—so don’t expect NEO owners to get a level editor or a special Rocket League car that you won’t have access to on your original PS4. That said, so long as both systems have the same feature, the NEO can run an improved version. A local co-op game that features four players on the base PS4 could offer an eight player co-op mode on the NEO, for instance. But again, don't expect those differences to transfer to online modes.
PS4 Base and NEO versions of a game will also need to have parity with regard to peripheral support. So don’t expect NEO Games to have exclusive VR modes. Sony makes no mention of PlayStation VR in the docs we've seen, so it's hard to know what that means for the persistent rumors that this upgraded PS4 will be able to support PSVR without the "breakout box" that the headset ships with. That said, so long as the NEO's upgrades apply to PSVR games, developers should be able to get even more performance out of Sony's VR headset.
Though every PS4 game released as of October of this year will need to support both the original PS4 and the NEO, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Neo will release in October. Additionally, games released in the late September window will require a day one patch that updates them to NEO standards. The documents we’ve received explicitly note that devs are allowed to launch NEO-ready games before the NEO itself releases.
Games released previous to the NEO can take advantage of this hardware upgrade, but only if developers decide to patch their titles. That isn’t too surprising: This was never going to be a magical “upgrade” device. I'm curious to see if any developers will take advantage of the NEO to improve previous PS4 releases. (I would certainly appreciate it if Bethesda would give the NEO-treatment to Fallout 4).
All of this is pretty well in line with early reports and rumors. A recent Digital Foundry report outlined the likely limits of an upgraded PS4, and the info we've received from sources seems in line with those findings.
I'm happy that Sony will take steps to keep the PS4 and NEO users connected, and that they are setting strict guidelines for developers. There's a chance that that will help to keep the user base unified despite new hardware entering the market. This could be a hard sell to those users who only recently purchased a PS4 if there isn't an upgrade path made available to them. At the same time, this could pave the way to drop the original PS4 price even further, offering cheaper access to a really solid console. In any case, I'm hopeful that Sony can make this work. Expect more details to emerge over the coming weeks.