PlayStation 5 backwards compatibility: Support for some, but not all PS4 games

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member

By any measure, Sony dropped the ball when it came to backward compatibility on the PlayStation 4. It was the first in the line that shipped without legacy support. Eventually, Sony enabled PS3 titles via the PS Now subscription service, meaning users had to pay to play legacy titles even if they already owned them.

With the PlayStation 5, the console maker has been promising cross-generational compatibility, but until now has been vague about how it will work and how far back it will go. In a deep-dive keynote today, the PS5's architectural design head Mark Cerny said that so far, the system will be compatible with most of the "top 100" PS4 games.

"We recently took a look at the top 100 PlayStation 4 titles as ranked by play time, and we're expecting almost all of them to be playable at launch on PlayStation 5," Cerny said (video below).

While this is a far cry from full backward compatibility, at least it's better than what the PS4 had at launch. But with Microsoft's Xbox Series X promising support for all XB1 titles and many original Xbox and 360 games, it seems like Sony is not returning the competition's volley.

Cerny did say they are working on expanding the back catalog as much as possible through legacy modes, at least with PS4 titles. He said that rather than sandwiching PS4 hardware into the new system, they designed the PlayStation 5's custom AMD chipset to support the previous console's logic.

"[Putting PS4 chipsets in is] extremely expensive," he said. So instead, the new CPU will operate in three modes — native PS5, legacy PS4 Pro, and legacy PS4. These modes are built into the AMD hardware, so while the technology may evolve, backward compatibility will not be removed for a mid-life-cycle price cut as it happened with the PlayStation 3.

On the downside, Cerny said that because of the boosted frequencies, each PS4 and Pro title has to be tested individually for compatibility. Some older games may not be able to handle the new hardware, but so far, initial tests have been promising.

"The boost is truly massive this time around, and some game code just can't handle it," Cerny explained. "Testing has to be done on a title-by-title basis. Results are excellent, though."

No matter how "excellent" the results have been, being able to only play select PS4 titles is probably not going to sit well with those with an extensive catalog of PS4 games. Likewise, those on the fence about whether to invest in a PS5 or an Xbox Series X are not likely to be impressed.

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It seemed like when he mentioned the "100 titles", he was talking still about the boosted mode. He said at the beginning of that section, straight up that the GPU was backwards compatible with PS4.
 
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neeyik

TS Evangelist
Staff member
Essentially what Cerny is hinting at, is that older PS4 games have an internal clock that's tied to the frame rate. As those games were made to run at a near constant 30 fps, all of the internal sequencing of the engine is written around that too.

The new console's performance (especially CPU-wise) is so much better, that such titles may end up running at, for example, 148 fps and either the magnitude or the factors of such a number are borking the sequencing.

Titles that can be easily tweaked to get around this will be backwards compatible; those that can't (either easily or at all) won't be in the list of supported games.
 

SirDigby

TS Evangelist
TechSpot Elite
Most of the top 100 games is a very good compromise, I imagine that devs can also chose to bring their games forward for a bit of goodwill for gamers? Easy to picture many of the top 100 but I imagine they're referring to the Playstation Hits series?
 

SirDigby

TS Evangelist
TechSpot Elite
TBH that's really pathetic cosidering it's just the same x86 architecture.
But it's Sony, if they would not F something up it would be suspicious.
Be fair, Sony started off this generation on a much better foot than Xbox, and it's been Xbox scrambling to earn goodwill with the communities again - introducing backwards compatibility and opening up cross platform support and even porting some of their games to PC and the Game Pass Ultimate.
Sony's main flaws have been exclusives - which is a tried and tested business model which is fair, and cross-platform play which they're now caving on.
 

Jaryn211

TS Member
Be fair, Sony started off this generation on a much better foot than Xbox, and it's been Xbox scrambling to earn goodwill with the communities again - introducing backwards compatibility and opening up cross platform support and even porting some of their games to PC and the Game Pass Ultimate.
Sony's main flaws have been exclusives - which is a tried and tested business model which is fair, and cross-platform play which they're now caving on.
Being in first place doesnt excuse having shittier support than your competitor
 

Sombrax

TS Rookie
Honestly,

I am not tossing my PS4 in the trash when I purchase my PS5. I will keep my PS4 (mostly for nostalgia reasons) so I can play my PS4 titles that will not be able to play on my PS5.

Do I wish that PS5 was BC fully so I only have to deal with one device like XBOX, YES, do I think that they should have put more though into this when they were making the blueprints for the system, YES, is it Sony's fault that they have dropped the ball yet again and disappoint most of there player base, YES, is the PS4 UI trash, absolutely.

But at the end of the day Playstation is a better system because of the exclusives which are way better the xbox's. Don't get me wrong, XBOX has a great line up, but I have a gaming PC as well. Most of the games that I would want to play that are on the xbox either have a pc port or will most likely get one at some point and time so I will play it on there. I rarely see PS exclusives getting a PC Port.

Don't act like playstation fans will not by the system simply because of the BC issues. People still bought them when Sony flat out said no and sold more the xbox. No use in complaining if your still going to purchase the machine. I know I am :D

Hope you enjoyed my 2 cents.
 

Puiu

TS Evangelist
I don't get it why it's not full BC with PS4 I really don't.
Because of how some games are programmed. Any changes in the FPS (in game engines that have logic tied to the framerate) or hardware logic could break the game. They didn't say that the games won't run, they said that they haven't tested all of them yet and some will require some patches.
 
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bviktor

TS Maniac
Essentially what Cerny is hinting at, is that older PS4 games have an internal clock that's tied to the frame rate. As those games were made to run at a near constant 30 fps, all of the internal sequencing of the engine is written around that too.

The new console's performance (especially CPU-wise) is so much better, that such titles may end up running at, for example, 148 fps and either the magnitude or the factors of such a number are borking the sequencing.

Titles that can be easily tweaked to get around this will be backwards compatible; those that can't (either easily or at all) won't be in the list of supported games.
Indicating a horrible system design, only comparable to DOS games that broke on "too fast" CPUs. That was almost 40 years ago.

Maybe Cerny isn't such an incredible magician after all. Microsoft delivered it even cross-architecture, Sony can't even figure it out on the same friggin' several decades old x86.
 

neeyik

TS Evangelist
Staff member
Indicating a horrible system design, only comparable to DOS games that broke on "too fast" CPUs. That was almost 40 years ago.
Take Red Dead Redemption 2 on the PC, as an example in case. The 'life cycle' (hunger, thirst, tiredness) of the character was coded in such a way that it would time itself with the rendering engine issuing new frames. Fine for a 30 fps locked console platform, but created problems on the PC.

Is it the fault of AMD, Intel, Nvidia, etc for creating hardware, that in any configuration exceeds 30 fps, causes the life cycle to run too fast? Or is a design decision made by the developers that, at the time, wasn't an issue but ended up being an oversight in the platform port?
 

kira setsu

TS Maniac
Enlighten me please because I don't think they did wrong with the PS4 or maybe I just forgot...
considering the fact they've set a new precedent with the ps4 and pro....thats a bit wrong, imo

and knowing sony sony they'll do it again, I'd bet money they'll undercut the new xbox on price to get into homes then release another slightly better version a year later or so(which can probably alluva sudden do BC better), if I was to buy one of the new consoles I'd get the top spec xbox, not gonna fall for sony's shenanigans again.

and yes, I know each gen gets refreshes and updates but this was the first one that brought out updated consoles with pretty big performance increases, so if you bought both you just spent big cash, more than just buying an outright powerful system first of all, thats my personal gripe with sony.

the xbox series x may cost a pretty penny on launch but I see why, which is why I'd pick that one.

apologies, rant over.
 

Gezzer

TS Booster
Just to clarify, the PS4's backwards compatibility problems were due to the PS3's artitecture, same as the PS3's. The PS3 used IBM's cell processors, an evolution of their power PC processors.
While innovative the cell came with some downsides, harder to program and less compatible with industry standards. The only way Sony could make the PS3 backwards compatible was to actually integrate a full PS2 chipset into the console. This was expensive, so they dropped it for the later pro model.
The PS4 returned to a more conventional standard, but the PS3's design bit them in the butt again and the only way to offer backwards compatibility was in the manner they did.
Well ultimately the backwards compatibility problem is still Sony's fault, this doesn't make them "evil". They simply gambled on a new innovative architecture and ran head first into the problems doing that creates.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell_(microprocessor)