Wednesday, February 20, 2013

PlayStation 4 launch event was minus the console itself

As expected, at a New York City event on Wednesday night -- really Wednesday afternoon for those on the West Coast -- Sony unveiled its next-generation video console, the PlayStation 4.

Sony is calling its new PlayStation console “the evolution of gaming," but it prefers to call the PS4 something else, too: the company called the PS4 like a “supercharged PC.”

It's not really a new thought, as the power of the GPU, hard drive and optical drives of the latest video game consoles verge on that of the latest computers. In the case of the PS4, Sony has gotten even closer to a PC: The PS4 is powered by an eight-core x86 CPU, similar to Windows PCs, and unlike the PS3's "Cell" processor.

It will sport what is called a "standard" -- though customized -- GPU and 8GB of GDDR5 memory. The 8-core processor and GPU are unified on the same die, providing 170GPBS bandwidth. The PS4 will include a Blu-ray drive, as well as USB 3.0, Ethernet, 802.11n wi-fi, and Bluetooth.

The new DualShock 4 controller -- images of which were recently leaked -- features a touchpad, share button, lightbar and headphone jack, all of which were expected. The lightbar mates with a camera system on the PS4 that allows the console to track the player's distance from the console.

Using a secondary processor that allows for background work while the main processor is handling gameplay, the PS4 can play digital titles while they are being downloaded. It can also handle a big complaint of the PS3: the console can update game and system items even when the main system power is off. That means that unlike the PS3, folks won't fire up the PS4 only to wait and wait while the console updates.

Another new feature will be "personalization." The PS4 will learn from your behavior. It's not an unfamiliar idea to those who know how much a PC now tracks your behavior, at least in the browser, or even how your iPhone or Android phone apps track you, but it is something different for consoles. Sony’s Mark Cerny, who was part of the launch team, said the idea is to reduce the download times to near zero. Obviously if the PS4 knows what you like and dislike, it could pre-download a game before you even buy it.

Isn't that going to waste disk space? The new PlayStation will have a big local hard drive, so that shouldn't be an issue, Sony said.

In this age of Facebook, the PlayStation 4 also offers social experiences. That share button on the controller is a clue, but users will be able to stream their play sessions, to the point that they can allow their friends taking over control of a game to assist them through a part of the game that their friends may have solved, but that the gamer is stuck on. Some games will even allow people to give a user items that will assist them in gameplay, such as "health potions."

Users can also easily share video clips to friends and the PlayStation Network (PSN).

PlayStation 4 games can be streamed to the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s portable game device. Speaking of streaming, using technology from Gaikai, a company Sony purchased last year that allows for heavy compression and streaming of titles, the PS4 will allow users to try any game before buying it, by streaming any demo a gamer would like.

Sony’s long term goal is to allow all PlayStation, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games to play on a Vita using Gaikai technology. This would be done by streaming those games onto the device.

Andrew House, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment, told the crowd of onlookers that the PS4 isn't just about video gaming. Instead, it's about part of its own name: play.

Although Sony showed off a lot of functionality, as well as some games, there were a few things missing. For one, the company would not give any timeframe for the new console aside from "Holiday 2013." Nor did it share pricing.

In addition, the biggest missing piece was a huge one. The console itself didn't show up, either in a picture or in person. It was a big miss by the company, but PS3 owners will likely ignore it, and stay tuned for more.

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