PS5: Hidden Feature Sheds Light on Sony's Plans for Its Graphics Powerhouse

This could fix one of PS4 gamers' biggest pet peeves.

sony playstation controller console

The PlayStation 5 will self-fashion as the go-to console for “hardcore gamers” when it launches in 2020. And it’s cooking up a host of major specs upgrades in order to do it.

Sony has already revealed several of the ways its next-generation gaming system will bridge the quality gap between consoles and PCs. Notably, the PS 5 will be Sony’s first console to use a new technique called ray tracing, which makes graphics much more lifelike by better simulating how light interacts with in-game objects.

Ray tracing would enable highly-detailed graphics that make games feel more like movies that were shot in real-time. But without smooth frame rates, the amazing graphics could wind up feeling like you’re clicking through slideshows of a breathtaking digital world, as opposed to traversing it. In the end, it’ll be up to game developers to weigh incredible graphics against the need for smooth performance.

Fortunately, graphics-intensive worlds will have less of a performance trade-off on the PS 5, too, thanks to another feature, this one called Variable Rate Shading (VRS). VRS is a graphics loading technique that allows developers to strategically add details, like shadows, to certain parts of an image. This will boost the overall load speed of each image and increase the frame rate the PS5 can output at 4K resolutions with negligible impacts on overall image quality.

nvidia variable rate shading
Slow or fixed elements of the image are shaded with a 1x1 accuracy, while the graphical quality of fast-moving asphalt and side of the road are greatly reduced.

Focusing on the parts of an image that gamers will be paying most attention to allows developers to add detail without bogging the console’s computing power down, explains Redditor /u/ooombasa who first called attention to the role of the feature in the PS5 subreddit.

“Typically, the full 4K image will be shaded at the same rate, which is actually a waste of resources since depending on the situation you won’t be able to appreciate if a part of the image is at full quality or not, like darkened areas or in this case fast moving elements,” they wrote. “With VRS, devs can break down the image and assign the pixels different levels of quality depending on need.”

It’s a subtle, but potentially impactful change. PS4 owners have often reported frame drops in both single-player and online games, but VRS could hold the solution by better managing a CPU and GPU’s resources. This way, the console won’t have to slow down frame rates during a computation-heavy scene which, incidentally, often come during a game’s most crucial moment, like when an extravagant boss battle begins. But

All that said, the feature has yet to be confirmed for the PS5, but there is good reason to believe it will be included.

We already know, for example, that the PS 5 will be powered by custom-built CPU and GPU from semiconductor giant AMD. Sony has also confirmed that the GPU will use AMD’s “Navi” architecture. The current iteration of the Navi architecture does not support VRS, but that could soon change.

While AMD hasn’t introduced the feature yet, the company is definitely working on similar technologies. The company recently filed a patent application on March 1 about a new VR-rendering technique that would “improve efficiency of pixel shading.” That certainly sounds like VRS, even if the specific patent pertained to VR, and the PS 5’s projected 2020 launch would give them plenty of time to implement the patent.

But the biggest reason to expect VRS from AMD, perhaps soon? Its chief rival, Nvidia, already offers it. Nvidia and AMD battle ferociously for marketshare, particularly among graphics chips. That Nvidia got there first puts huge additional pressure on AMD to match the offering.

Games on the PS5 might not only look stunning, but they could run like butter. The outcry for smooth, stable console frame rates could finally be answered come 2020.