Above its Station

Sony PlayStation 4: It’s Out There, Now What?

February 20, 2013 Tech : Electronics By Photo by Sony
They didn't show us what it would look like. So we guessed with the rest.

There’s no doubt about it: the Sony PlayStation 4 has a hell of a lot to live up to. Sony’s video game rock star has absolutely shaped the gaming world, and the tech world in general, leading the way through three iterations of gaming domination with a massive library of titles, while insuring media formats like the DVD and Blu-ray reached critical living room mass in the process.

But today’s gaming market is a whole different beast — a drooling one, with bigass teeth and lots of stomachs to fill. It’s not necessarily enough to have powerhouse specs anymore, or great titles (though they help); Nintendo’s proven that with their Wii system. The same goes for two other gaming leviathans, Apple and Android, that seem intent on leaving the TV be — for now. So what innovation has Sony brought to the table this time?

At an introduction event Wednesday, Sony “showed” a new gaming experience that’s both exciting and impressive; that said, there was still a maddening amount of info kept under wraps. They didn’t share a single fucking image of the actual hardware — something we’ve never encountered before in our years of product sleuthing. Maybe they did this to keep expectations grounded, since the eventual PS3 machine that started shipping to consumers seven years ago was far bulkier than the prototypes teased pre-launch. But hosting a hardware event without showing hardware is still a serious head scratcher.

Thankfully, Sony did share hard details about the machine’s new guts. There’s an AMD X86 “single-chip custom processer”, a next-gen Radeon GPU capable of 1.84 teraflops of performance, 8GB high-speed unified memory and 8 AMD Jaguar CPU cores, meaning game designers (like Bungie for the first time, whee!) can run wild with physics engines and graphics. Upcoming titles were on display, like Watch Dogs, Killzone, Second Son and DriveClub, and sharpness, color and overall graphics were mind-blowing. Physical video media may still cling to relevancy thanks to a 6x Blu-ray and 8X DVD drive, while USB 3.0, auxiliary ports, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI, analog AV-out and optical S/PDIF audio output round out the connectivity suite. The new machine will also tackle the body motion tracking and voice control pioneered by the Kinect thanks to a PlayStation 4 Eye camera, which includes two 1280 x 800 cameras boasting f/2.0 fixed focus lenses, capable of capturing a 85-degree field of view and a four-channel microphone array.

Naturally, there’s some future-proofing innovation on the software front too. Cloud Gaming improvements, like broadcasting live play to friends, and even a way to watch friends “over their shoulder” from your own system — plus a cool system of interaction, so you can impact others’ gameplay, even when not playing yourself — mean staying more connected with your buddies. This is paired with a new UI for buying games (which can now be streamed — and you can demo on the system) and Social Networking integration so you can connect and chat with friends. You can even start playing games before they’ve finished downloading, a nice little bonus tweak for gamers.

As early leaks hinted, the controller has also received a makeover to accomodate these new forms of gaming. The DualShock 4, looks a lot like controllers of yore — with the addition of a two-point capacitive touchpad in the middle and a share button to allow the live in-game broadcasting — and works with the 3D camera in the PS4 for movement recognition. A three-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, vibration feedback, a mono speaker, stereo headset port and a 1000mAh battery top it all off. These new goodies open up all sorts of exciting possibilities for immersive gaming. Likewise, Sony intends to pair the existing PlayStation Vita with Cloud Gaming — allowing mobile users toc play any PS4 game on the handheld from afar.

There were also a few disappointments. The biggest? The PS4 won’t natively support PS3 games. Still, Sony hinted cryptically that it’s something they hope to pursue in the future via streaming. Oh, and we didn’t get pricing pricing, either. What we did get was a fuzzy release date: Holiday season, 2013. We’ll keep you up to date as news comes out. At least there’s quite a lot to pine for while we stew.