The PlayStation 4 is barely out of its box in terms of a console life cycle.

But with so many recent advances - PlayStation Now, pre-loading games, YouTube streaming and PlayStation TV to name but a few - we're thinking about the future of black boxes under the television.

Is there one or are we just looking at Sony TVs shipping with a DualShock 4 from here on in rather than a PS5 console?

A PlayStation 5 will land in some form but what's most interesting is whether it'll be the big component packed box we've grown accustomed to heating our living rooms, a palm sized streaming device or an invisible power ever present on our televisions or even iPhones and iPads.

Gazing back 20 years to the original PlayStation and its successors – yes, you're that old – it's fascinating how little really changed until the internet explosion of the last few years.

Into each generation a whirring box under the TV was born, complete with disc support and a whole bundle of the newest components but it's only now, as we Remote Play content live to our PlayStation Vitas and play seamless online multiplayer in games like Destiny, that it really feels like the future has arrived.

When a PS5 comes a calling, this is the time for things to change. Or is it?

crash bandicoot

Discs are so 20 years ago

Now that PlayStation Now and streaming capabilities should be the norm by Christmas let alone in five years' time, shouldn't we scrap the disc drive already?

We can hear it from here. Despite the magazine dropping the legendary demo disc in the middle of last year, ex editor of Official PlayStation Magazine, Ben Wilson disagrees.

"Steam on PC has taught us that disc drives are becoming less and less necessary, but I can't see them being phased out completely for a while yet," he says.

"People love their boxed products, and 'experts' have been predicting the 'imminent' demise of the CD for more than 20 years. Remind me how that one has turned out? There will always be those who prefer special editions and sexy packaging to invisible downloads, and it's those guys and girls who'll ensure disc drives live on within gaming in some form."

Looking at the ages of the people investing in technology (that's us remember, and let's be honest, we're not getting any younger) we do still have the desire to buy physical products despite their ready availability online.

But it's not just PlayStation (and better pricing on the PlayStation Store) that needs to evolve here. Our broadband speeds largely still leave much to be desired and a solid online infrastructure will have to be implemented before we depend solely on fibre-optic wires to get our gaming fix.

Adding an extra hurdle to a disc-less world, there's yet another reason why the upcoming preloading feature will be like a gift from the PlayStation gods. Size.

"I'd argue that the ever-expanding size of games would cause significant issues for a digital-only machine," says Matt Pellett, current editor of Official PlayStation Magazine.

"Both in terms of download times and the number of games people could store on their hard drive at any one time."

So far, then, we're still looking at a disc drive and an ever increasing storage space for PlayStation 5...

ps5 games

PlayStation Now is the time

Sony's PlayStation release dates
PS5 dualshock 5
  • PlayStation: 1994
  • PlayStation 2: 2000
  • PlayStation 3: 2006
  • PlayStation 4: 2013
  • PlayStation 5: ?

In swaggers PlayStation Now to fix all these problems. Game size? No problem. It's all in the cloud.

Choice? In five years or so, Sony could have filled it with every game on their back catalogue. Is this enough? Or could this pose even more problems for the future of PlayStation?

"If we end up in a place where streaming games is the norm, like it has become in the movie/box-set rental market, then the console itself is under threat," says PC Gamer's resident tech expert Dave James. "And if there's no actual console, what do the developers target and what do they develop on and how does Sony make its money?"

So a physical console still seems the most attractive prospect here for Sony. PlayStation Now seems an excellent solution as an additional feature, especially for accessing games from previous generations, saving you blowing the dust off that enormous original PS2 you've not been able to say goodbye to.

Another matter is the thorny issue of cost. If we've shelled out for the newest console, what's the sting for the back catalogue?

"The big talking point of the PlayStation Now Beta has been the price-point," says Pellett.

"Sony needs to get this right in order to be as competitive in the streaming market as it is in the console hardware market. With Sony's library of games and the ability for people to revisit the games they can't play on PS4 – and in some cases can't buy these days – it could become a hugely important part of the PlayStation family."

The suggestion of the PlayStation family here is important. As we know, Sony will be shipping Sony Bravia TVs with PlayStation Now built in but this won't be a replacement for the PS4 or any future consoles.

Too much rests on the power from our home consoles as new tech appears on the horizon. Yes, we're looking at you Project Morpheus.

ratchet and clank

4K and the VR revolution

Project Morpheus looks like the future. No, really.

The baying for an Oculus Rift consumer version has proved that virtual reality might just have a place in our living rooms after all and Sony's Morpheus announcement came just at the right time. Is the future of PlayStation inside a headset?

"Between PS Now and Project Morpheus, PlayStation 4 is well-placed to evolve dramatically in the years ahead," considers Pellett. "In five years we may well not only be buying our games in a different way, but the types of games we'll be playing in the first place could very well be different to what we're experiencing now."

So more shark based diving experiences then.

It seems clear that, like PlayStation Now, Morpheus is a strong addition to the PlayStation brand but an add-on to the main event which still happens to be that whirring console we can't get rid of. Yet as 4K televisions raise their ugly but oh-so-pretty heads, how can the PlayStation 4 cope with the extra processing power necessary for extra pixel production?

little big planet

"Given the rapid price drops of 4K TVs, and the likelihood of increased adoption, I think Sony is going to need to produce a PS4K hardware update in the next couple of years to increase the GPU horsepower," says Dave James.

"With both latest-gen consoles battling to play native games at just 1080p there is no chance of them ever being capable of running at a native 4K resolution without a serious change in components.

"Given the processor manufacturer supplying the silicon design for both consoles is constantly iterating on that technology it should be relatively simple for Sony to upgrade the components, and as it will still be an x86-based platform it would be backwards compatible. But whether Sony would want to do that, creating a two-tier PlayStation 4 ecosystem, is tough to say."

A PlayStation 4.5, rather than a 5 almost makes sense, given Sony's clear investment in the development side of things.

"Speaking with different developers it's clear that PS4 has been designed with external studios at heart," explains Pellett.

"I've been assured it's the easiest console to develop for in PlayStation history, which is as good as an open-door invitation for teams to make games for PS4."

This strong investment in the development side of things means Sony clearly doesn't think their box is going anywhere anytime soon. Any successor is going to follow in this parallelogram's footprint.

ps5 uncharted

The evolution of PlayStation

The PS Vita's Remote Play feature already hints at the miracles of new ways we can play but can features such as PlayStation Mobile extend the console experience even further?

And can future PlayStation updates deliver that?

"The thing I most want is to see PlayStation Mobile on iOS," says Ben Wilson. "The issue, of course, is that it would require Sony and Apple to clamber into bed together, which isn't going to occur anytime soon.

"But perhaps by the time PS5 rolls around, and there's even more scope for cross-platform sharing, we will see a way in which you can start a Call Of Duty 21: Robots vs Zombies campaign on console in the morning, continue it on iPad in the afternoon, and compete it on your phone at 2am while the rest of the household snores in unison."

It appears that we can't escape this idea of a home console. As a processing hub, an independent gaming power not necessarily dependent on the internet, a unit to centre our experiences around and plug extra peripherals into and a centre of the PlayStation universe.