Former Frostbite Software Engineer Explains PS5’s Kraken Compression Unit

Yan Chernikov talks about the benefits of PS5’s hardware decompression.

Posted By | On 05th, Jun. 2020 Under News


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Hardware decompression isn’t something that’s grabbing headlines – certainly not as much as SSDs and 3D audio and what have you – but it’s an aspect of next-gen hardware that does deserve attention. In a nutshell, with a unit dedicated entirely to decompression, the PS5 and the Xbox Series X will in theory have processors that will be freed up to focus on other things that might actually lead to interesting and positive changes in games and their development.

Recently, Yan Chernikov – a game engine developer who previously worked as a software engineer on DICE’s Frostbite engine – spoke about the same – more specifically, the PS5’s Kraken compression unit – on his YouTube channel, and he had some pretty positive things to say.

“This is the kind of advancement that I guess consoles can have that PCs might not generally be able to achieve, because what we’re talking about here, as far as I can understand, is custom hardware,” Chernikov said. “It is literally doing decompression in hardware, it’s not doing it on the CPU or the GPU. There is literally a unit responsible for decompression of this Kraken format, which is like zlib, but a bit better.

“That’s basically the equivalent of buying like a red rocket card or something for your computer so that you can edit like red camera footage a lot faster because you literally have a PCIe card that is doing the decompression or whatever of that red footage. That’s very similar to what this is, it’s like a dedicated piece of hardware that does the decompression, which is going to be faster than probably a CPU and GPU doing it. But also, it’s in addition to that, so the CPU and CPU can do other things, which is really cool and again part of the reason why it might be possible if they play their cards right to do certain things on a PlayStation 5 that would be slower to do on a computer. I’m by no means saying that ‘Oh yeah, everyone should buy PS5 because they’re better than PCs’. They’re different pieces of hardware and I appreciate both.”

You can view the full video below.

Both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X are confirmed to feature hardware decompression (though details on the latter aren’t as freely available right now as the former). At least on paper, it’s easy to see how it will benefit developers with games, and it’s certainly exciting to think about what it might lead to, what with CPUs and GPUs being freed up to focus more on other things.

How effectively Kraken and the Xbox Series X’s BCPack do that remains to be seen, but if the two consoles can get close to the results that Chernikov is describing here, it’ll definitely be worth keeping an eye on what that might enable developers to do.

Recently, Chernikov has also spoken about other aspects of next-gen hardware, such as the PS5’s SSD, and whether or not the two consoles’ specs are properly representative of what they will be capable of. Read more on both through the links.

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