The PS5 now has a launch date, folks – and while the end of 2020 timing isn’t surprisingly, the announcement came with some information on hardware capability we hadn’t heard before; namely, that the PS5 will have a 4K Blu-ray player built into the disc drive.
Why is this important? Well, if you’re partial to using your home console for 4K DVDs or Blu-ray discs – often the best way to view a film in high quality without relying on your buffering internet connection – you’ll know the convenience of not having to buy a separate 4K Blu-ray player, which are in shorter supply these days as many of us prioritize content available through TV streaming services.
But there’s a larger issue around how long we can expect gaming console makers like Microsoft and Sony to keep supporting disc formats.
Blu-ray or the highway
Sony did Blu-ray discs a huge favor by including a Blu-ray player in the PS3, which is largely considered as being crucial to the format’s success. And for the cinephiles out there, Blu-rays are still superior viewing compared to online streaming, with filmmaker Christopher Nolan openly choosing the format over Netflix.
But Microsoft managed to get ahead with the Xbox One S featuring an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, putting the continued HD drive of the PlayStation 4 to shame. When the PS4 Pro came out in 2016, we were pretty shocked at Sony’s decision not to include the same, especially for an explicitly premium console.
But Sony has often, in recent times, fallen behind Microsoft in this regard. While the Xbox One X offers native 4K resolution for games, the PS4 Pro can still only upscale HD games for a 4K effect. As video quality gets more important for viewers, and 4K TVs continue to appear in people’s homes, not being able to support 4K games and 4K Blu-rays could have been a major issue for a console hoping – and needing – to be home entertainment centers as well as gaming machines.
The stronger sales of the current PlayStation speaks to the strength of the PS4 games available, even without the format support – but there’s only so long Sony could hold out on this feature.
Death of the disc
With the rise of streaming platforms like Google Stadia, which allows you to access even AAA games from mobiles, tablets, and browsers, and the increase in games bought and played over digital download, there’s clearly a shrinking appetite for the humble disc.
Microsoft has jumped on that trend already with the All Digital Xbox One S, which ships without a disc drive entirely, ruling gaming discs or home movies out of the question in a futuristic console – while rumors persist of an streaming-only Xbox Two model that could do the same thing. Sony, too, has been pushing PlayStation Now, with a recent price cut likely getting the video game streaming service into a lot more gamers’ lives.
So the PS5 disc drive is a relief to those of us with a back-catalogue of DVDs and Blu-rays we want a way of playing, without carting around old hardware – and the current generation of consoles will soon count as that.
The PS5’s support for 4K Blu-ray feels a little late, given its absence in the last two PlayStation consoles – but just as the PS3 helped to put Blu-ray discs on the map, so too could the PS5 keep high-quality disc formats alive for that little bit longer.