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PS5 will double as a 4K Blu-ray player – here’s why that matters

PS5 will double as a 4K Blu-ray player
(Image credit: Sony)

The PS5 now has a launch date, folks – and while the end of 2020 timing isn’t surprising, 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’re likely to appreciate the convenience of not having to buy a separate 4K Blu-ray player, which are in shorter supply these days as people increasingly consume content via through TV streaming services.

But there’s a larger issue around how long we can expect console makers like Microsoft and Sony to keep supporting disc formats.

Blu-ray or the highway

Christopher Nolan wants you watch Dunkirk on Blu-ray

Christopher Nolan wants you watch Dunkirk on Blu-ray (Image credit: Syncopy Inc)

Sony did Blu-ray fans a huge favor by including a Blu-ray player in the PS3, which is largely considered as being crucial to the format’s success. For cinephiles, Blu-rays are still seen as offering a superior viewing experience compared to online streaming, with filmmaker Christopher Nolan openly favoring the format for home viewing over Netflix.

However, Microsoft stole a march on Sony by including an Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the Xbox One S, putting the PlayStation 4's continued reliance on a HD drive 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 what was an explicitly premium console.

As video quality gets more important for viewers, and with 4K TVs more or less ubiquitous in our homes, the absence of 4K Blu-ray support could have been a major issue for a console that Sony hopes – and needs – to be seen as a home entertainment center as well as a gaming machine.

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

Xbox One S All Digital Edition

Xbox One S All Digital Edition (Image credit: TechRadar)

With the rise of streaming platforms like Google Stadia, which allows you to access even AAA games from mobiles, tablets, and browsers, and with games increasingly being bought and played via digital download, there’s clearly a shrinking appetite for the humble disc.

Microsoft has already embraced the future with the All Digital Xbox One S, which ships without a disc drive entirely, 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's disc drive comes as a relief to those of us with a back-catalogue of DVDs and Blu-rays which we still need a way of playing, without carting around old hardware – which the current generation of consoles will soon be viewed as.

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 the PS5 could keep high-quality disc formats alive for that little bit longer.

This piece originally stated that the PS4 Pro did not play games in native 4K. This has now been amended.