The world has seen the first extended look at real-time gameplay on the PlayStation 5, and even though it's not from an in-production game, it's being pitched as what the PS5's hardware helps make possible. In an interview about Epic Games' new Unreal Engine 5 tech demo, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney says Sony is "pioneering" with the PlayStation 5's storage solution, giving software developers the tools to make next-gen detail possible.
Speaking with our friends at Digital Foundry, Sweeney's goes even further with his praise for the PS5's architecture: "It's got a God-tier storage system which is pretty far ahead of PCs," says Sweeney, before allowing that on "a high-end PC with an SSD and especially with NVMe, you get awesome [Unreal 5] performance too."
The difference between "awesome" and "god-tier" here comes down to a leap in solid-state hard drive tech. Both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X will use NVMe SSD solutions for storage. The PS5 will be expandable with Sony-certified drives made by any manufacturer, while Microsoft is designing proprietary storage cards. Both will offer a substantial leap in terms of how fast games can load in data, but there's a huge difference in speed: the Xbox Series X has a throughput of 2.4 gigabytes per second, comparable to NVMe drives for PCs today, while the PS5 is targeting 5.5 gigabytes per second.
After Sony's hardware presentation in March, Digital Foundry's John Linneman warned that "there are no drives available today that are fast enough for PS5, so do not buy one in preparation." This is also likely part of why reports point to high manufacturing costs and limited early production for the PS5.
The upshot of this tech difference, Sweeney's comments, and the level of detail on display in the Unreal Engine 5 tech demo is that few if any games on PS5, Xbox Series X, or high-end PCs are likely to push fast storage to the limit within the next year or two. Unreal 5 itself is only going into preview for other developers early next year, meaning games built from the ground-up for it are quite a ways off.
Considering that Unreal Engine 5 and the PS5's hardware both would've been discussed for developers at GDC 2020 had the event not been postponed, it's understandable that many players aren't feeling Sweeney's excitement. Additionally, knowing that full games utilizing this tech are far away may also dampen next-gen excitement for some.
Still, it matters a lot that Sweeney says the PS5's tech is a cut above the rest. As the head of the company that made Fortnite into a juggernaut, launched a serious competitor to Steam, and that maintains one of the most widely-used game engines, his interest in the hardware could influence the industry's direction—and ultimately, the games you end up playing—for years to come.