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The PS5 will keep 4K Blu-rays alive that little bit longer

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

The PS5 has come into clearer focus than ever. Sure, Sony still won't show us the console design, and the long list of PS5 specs are a bit of a mouthful to chew over. However, we've had a good look at a lot of the console's capabilities over the previous months, and it's clear Sony is doing a lot of things right – not least its inclusion of a 4K Blu-ray player in the PS5 disc drive.

Digital downloads – rather than retail discs – are getting more popular by the day, though we're not in a disc-free world yet, and it's not that surprising that both the PS5 and Xbox Series X will ship with disc drives for playing games new and old, if just to keep their promises of backwards compatibility.

But being able to play 4K Blu-rays, too, is significant given wavering interest in the technology from plenty of manufacturers: we didn't see a single new 4K Blu-ray player from Panasonic, LG or Sony at CES 2020 this year, and Oppo bowed out of the market a good while ago.

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 – and this could well be the last console generation to do it.

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 an HD 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 one-upped Sony by including an Ultra HD Blu-ray player in the Xbox One S, putting the PS4'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 speak 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 Series X model that could do the same thing. 

Sony, too, has been pushing PlayStation Now, with a price cut last year likely getting the video game streaming service into a lot more gamers’ lives, and further normalizing the existence of a broad gaming library that doesn't rely on a stack of disc cases below your television.

The PS5's disc drive will be a relief to those of us with a back-catalog 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. Not to mention its ability to play older PS4 games, given Sony's belated (but appreciated) inclusion of backwards compatibility on the next-gen console.

The PS5’s support for 4K Blu-ray feels a little late, too, given its absence in the last two PlayStation consoles – especially as it may be the last piece of PlayStation hardware to do it. 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.