As widely expected, Sony announced its next generation PlayStation 4 last night in New York. I say announced rather than unveiled as Sony didn't actually have a console on hand to show off. It also stayed mum on pricing details, though we'd expect it sell for no less than the current Sony PlayStation 3, and probably a few dollars more. The console's actual release date was also kept under wraps, though it is promised to be available in time for the 2013 holiday season. So, then, what exactly did Sony talk about during its sometimes glacially paced, near two-hour event? Lot's, though not all of the news will be warmly received.
High flying hardware on the horizon
Sony made its gaming bones on the hardware firepower it packed under the hood of the PlayStation 3, though that didn't always translate to better game play compared to the competing Microsoft Xbox360. For the PS4, Sony takes that several steps beyond with specs that approach those of dedicated gaming PCs, including an eight-core AMD CPU, AMD Radeon GPU, and 8 GB of RAM. It will also have a "large" hard drive (not a solid state drive), though capacity is unannounced and will likely vary from model to model, much like with the PS3. The demos played and played with at Sony's announcement certainly looked visually impressive, but judgment needs to be reserved until we can get a gander at how things look with retail versions of the games playing on the retail version of the PS4.
One piece of hardware was shown off last night, the new DualShock 4 controller. Though, from a distance, it doesn't look all that different from the current PS3 controller, it does sport lots of new features and functionality. That includes touchpad control; a "light bar" that can, among other things, interact with a redesigned Sony Eye camera for enhanced motion control; and a "share" button (more on that last feature in a moment). There's also a headphone jack built right into the controller.
All of the above is very nice, to be sure, but Sony is betting on other aspects of the PS4 to make it a compelling option for gamers, it seems. A key to a lot of what Sony has in mind is its new "cloud" technology, and PlayStation Cloud is being touted as the fastest gaming network to date.
One aspect of this is a greatly enhanced social experience. Using the aforementioned share button, you can stream your game play to friends in real time, or post clips or stills. Friends can post comments, and can, at your invitation, even remotely take over game play to help you through a rough spot in the action.
The cloud is also enveloping the PlayStation store. No, the hoped-for ability to stream live games on demand does not appear in the offing, at least not yet, but you will be able to access streaming demo versions of most if not all titles to try before you buy, Sony said. You can also begin playing downloaded content just seconds after purchase; no more twiddling your thumbs as you wait for a sometimes lengthy download to finish. If that's not instant-enough gratification for you, Sony also promised to reduce download times to zero by having the console "learn" your interests and pre-download games it thinks you will enjoy.
What else can the PS4 do? It can transfer full game play to the Sony PlayStation Vita, turning it into a touch-screen device that's similar in functionality to the Nintendo Wii U GamePad. There was also talk of extending the PlayStation experience to other devices -- cell phones and tablets -- but as was the case much of the night, details were not in evidence.
One thing that the PS4 can't do was made crystal clear, however: It is not natively backward compatible with PS3 or earlier games. Sony says that backward compatibility will be restored via its cloud services -- and that it could extend to PS2 game compatibility as well. But, you guessed it, details on how that will work and when that feature will be available were not announced.