Yesterday in New York, Sony officially announced its entrant into the next great console war – the PlayStation 4 is coming this holiday season to do battle with the Wii U and whatever Xbox Microsoft announces, which should be any day now.
The console itself wasn’t shown, not that that’s an issue – no one cares that much about what the console actually looks like. We’re all interested in what the new console will be able to do, and Sony gave us all a pretty good impression of what the PS4 will be capable of during their announcement.
We’ll start with the hard specs – an eight core x86-64 AMD ‘Jaguar’ processor, 8 GB of GDDR5 memory, and an unspecified next-generation AMD Radeon GPU. Hard drive sizes haven’t been specified, but Sony suggests they are cavernous. From the tech demos and the game footage shown during the announcement, the jump up in graphics isn’t nearly as dramatic as it has been in the past, but for good reason. Once you start approaching realism as effectively as the PS3 did, there’s a certain limit you reach – the asymptote just isn’t that far away anymore.
It’s safe to say that graphics isn’t going to be the powerful selling point it once was. That means Sony, which has leaned heavily on excellent graphics ever since the original PlayStation, is going to need to find new ways of selling this machine. One way they’re doing that is by riffing off the Wii U, by introducing a second screen – the PlayStation Vita, to be exact. Sony plans to have most, if not all PS4 games playable on the Vita, so someone else can watch TV while you’re playing. That’s about where the similarities end – you can’t use the Vita as a controller for the PS4. You will be able to access additional content on the Vita while you’re playing a game on the television, but Sony is saying that that will be the case with any mobile device, which means a SmartGlass-like app is coming – the PlayStation App, which will be headed to iOS and Android.
There are also more sharing and community options. Thanks to a dedicated video processor, you’ll be able to upload clips of your gameplay to your social media accounts on the fly, so you can instantly share that sweet kill, bro. If you’re skilled enough (or, you know, if it’s just your thing), you can even stream your gameplay live onto sites like Ustream, without any extra hassle. Friends who are watching will be able, in some cases, to offer items, though we’d imagine that would be limited to single-player gaming. To no one’s surprise, you will be able to integrate your Facebook account with your Sony Entertainment Network account.
Sony must have recognized that all of no one was a fan of the PS3′s interminable load and install times for games. For the PS4, you’ll be able to start playing once a small bit of the game is installed or downloaded – the rest will download in the background while you’re playing. In that case, better make sure your Internet connection is stable. The PS4 will also have predictive power for games you purchase online - games that you might like, based on your preferences, will be loaded onto your console before you buy – obviously, you’ll still have to buy it to access the game, but once you do, you’ll be able to start playing immediately. Speaking of playing immediately, once you’re done gaming for the day, you can put the console into a low-power sleep mode, so you can pick up where you left off when you get back to the PS4.
There will also be a cloud service, although Sony was light on details. From what we understand, you’ll eventually be able to access thousands of titles for sale on the PlayStation Store and actually play them for a limited time – kind of a try it before you buy it deal. Sony intends on making PS3 games available on that cloud service. That said, the PS4 will not be backwards compatible for PS3 games. Will you be able to access and play your old PS3 games, that you paid for, through the cloud? Time will tell, but it seems like a pretty poor deal if you can’t. Maybe don’t go off and sell your PS3 just yet.
The DualShock controller has also gotten an update. The DualShock 4 has the same basic design, with a few physical tweaks. The biggest difference is the touchpad at the top center of the controller. The DualShock 4 also incorporates the motion technology that was in the Move – there will be a sensor bar included with the PS4, but now, all you’ll need is that DualShock. And, just to show you how easy it is to share your gameplay with the PS4, Sony has even slapped a share button right on the controller.
The PS4 will also have apps like Netflix, Vudu, Hulu Plus – the whole entertainment suite. It’ll be a media hub for your living room, although it remains to be seen if the PS4 can pull that off as nicely as the Xbox 360 has with Xbox Live.
All that said, there’s still only one major reason people buy game consoles, and that’s to play games. Hits from last year’s E3, like Watch Dogs, will be headed to the PS4, along with a new Killzone, if anyone’s a big enough fan of that series to care. The Witness, the newest game from Jonathan Blow (creator of Braid), will also hit the PS4. One surprise announcement was that Diablo 3, which came out for PC last May, will be heading to both the PS3 and PS4. Square Enix said there was a new Final Fantasy coming, and that’s literally it. It seems that wouldnotbe the much anticipated Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which, considering it was announced in 2006, might be better accepted as vaporware at this point. Deep Down is a fantasy game with science fiction elements from Capcom, and you can expect to see The Witcher 3 and a new Infamous. It’s looking like a fairly strong stable of first party and third party content, which is critical considering the PS3 launch, which was often criticized for having a poor selection of games available.
The PlayStation 4 will be hitting stores this holiday season, and you can probably expect to hear more about the console during E3 in June. For now, you can get more information from Eurogamer’s interview with Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida, who confirms, among other things, that the PS4 will not require an Internet connection to play games, and that the rumor about the console being unable to play used games is false.