February 22, 2013, 9:00

PlayStation 4: The Console Of The Future

By David Howard, Editor-in-Chief and Founder

It’s been over 24 hour since Sony officially revealed their new home console, the PlayStation 4; enough time to hear everything there is to hear, organise them into a neat pile and then spew the words onto a page in the attempt of being coherent.

The PlayStation Meeting event in New York had been creating an incredible buzz both online and offline, with Twitter, especially, full of gamers anticipating great things. The excitement for something new and shiny rolls around every five or so years but due to an overly long life cycle of the current hardware there’s been an added wait to deal with. As we neared the event, positivity was high and the wish for a good showing from Sony was craved.

Well, Sony knocked it out of the park with an expertly executed press conference that has well and truly lain the gauntlet down for Microsoft. Not to mention also putting severe dampener on the Wii U’s prospect of getting out of its current slump, and showing that the company has learnt from many of the mistakes it made with the launch of the PlayStation 3.

The Lead-up

Something that many considered unlike Sony, they ran a consistent yet not overbearing marketing campaign that was highly effective in the lead-up to the event. Saying little but teasing at great things, they let the web run riot with speculation subsequently increasing the anticipation. Adverts were placed live during Champions League games, humorous one-liners with little digs at the competition on Google adwords, and a powerful messages of “Be the first to know” and “See the future” were enticing and effective. Not to mention the ‘leaked’ photo of the new controller.

It was key to reach a wider audience than the core gaming fans and press though: front page headline stories on the BBC website, segments on Sky News, and articles in a variety of the British media were all talking about an event held half way across the world and it worked. Everyone was talking about the PlayStation 4 – although Sony had not at this point confirmed or denied its existence. The trending topics on Twitter were nostalgic and pleasing to see and, according to SCEA, a staggering 3.1 million people tuned it to watch the reveal stream.

The event then kicked off on time, something that was important, and the world watch as Sony revealed their future for the PlayStation.

The Hardware

Getting the formality of actually naming the PlayStation 4 out-of-the-way early on, Sony went about revealing the internal components of the system along with the expected new controller.

Mark Cerny arrived on stage to be revealed as the lead architect designer for the PlayStation 4 and was the ideal candidate to present what could otherwise have been a very woodenly presented segment. They say that the best presenters are those who love and know the topic they’re talking about and that was entirely the case with Cerny; his enthusiasm and confidence of the product he’d been working on was clear to see and the conference was better for it.

PlayStation 4: The Console Of The Future

With an eight-core x86-64 CPU and a graphics processor capable of generating 1.84 Teraflops of data it all sounded very impressive, but it was the confirmation of 8GB of super fast DDR5 RAM that peaked the interest – and is something that the likes of Crytek and Epic Games will be most pleased about. It was surprising that additional components weren’t mentioned, such as USB 3.0 and the Blu-ray drive, given Sony’s love of buzz words but the spotlight was on what the system could produce.

“We wanted to hear from developers. We spoke to dozens of the best teams in the world, we wanted to know what was important to them, we wanted to make them happy. Because if, we knew, that if they were happy we knew they could unleash the creativity and innovation that would result in a true next-generation experience.”

There was a worry that there wouldn’t be the same technological jump from the current generation to the next but such powerful internal specs seem to have laid those fears to rest.

It’s an architecture that has been created with developers in mind. The PlayStation 3 was notorious during its early years as being extremely complex, thanks to the Cell processor, so it’s good to see them take this into consideration this time around.

“We were able to create, in PlayStation 4, a platform by game creators, for game creators.”

Additionally, there was a strong focus from Sony that they want all types of developers, from the triple-A to the tiny, to be able to create games for the platform. News has broken since that developers will be able to self-publish their own titles on the PSN and price them from free to $30. This is a big step to creating a platform that anyone can develop for and shows that Sony has taken clear directive from both the success of games on mobile devices and the recent rise of indie titles.

We didn’t see the actual casing for the console, and one would assume that’s because Sony has yet to finalise it (there are suggestions that the decision to increase the RAM from 4GB to 8GB may have been a recent one, which as a result requires more internal space). This is something we expect to see at E3 in June, and really isn’t that big of a deal not to have seen it – despite the pleasantries of being able to put a name to a face so to speak.

The Inputs

It wasn’t just about the box with bits though, there were two new bits of hardware as well that signal big changes ahead. First up, the DualShock 4. Very similar to the prototype leaked last week, the newly designed controller not only features aspects that many were hoping for – better triggers, an improved d-pad and more appropriate analog
sticks – but also a variety of new additions that will vastly alter the way we play and interact with the PlayStation 4 over any previous console.

PlayStation 4: The Console Of The Future

The inclusion of a touch pad akin to the Vita will provide a new way to input method – though quite how we’re yet to discover – but could also be extremely useful for other applications. A web browser, whilst not mentioned, will surely be included and a touchpad would work ideally as an input device – something similar to a trackpad found on
laptops.

Then there’s the light bar, whilst not only acting as a “friendly” way to establish who’s who when playing local multiplayer it’ll have in-game uses, such as displaying a health bar. It’s the 3D tracking in tandem with the new PlayStation 4 Eye though that is probably the biggest change.

Sensing the popularity of Kinect – at least from a sales perspective if not a general consensus one – Sony has included a stereoscopic camera that will be able to determine the depth and angle of the DualShock 4. For what purpose remains to be seen, but this will obviously have in-game related attributes that we’re excited to see more about. Simple touches like determining in which order players are sat in could be subtle be effective uses.

Move will still play a big part in Sony’s future, especially if Media Molecule’s new love child is anything to go by, but the ability from the ??? definition camera to body track and use facial recognition to login will create yet more avenues to interact.

PlayStation 4: The Console Of The Future

The Games

Knowing the hardware’s all well and good, but without great games it holds little value. Whilst the three opening titles didn’t show the greatest shifts in the gaming medium that many hoped for I don’t know of a launch line-up – which we’re assuming the three games shown from Sony’s lead studios are exactly that – that broke any traditional overhangs from the previous generation. It’s not until a few years in that we really begin to see what the next-generation capabilities are, however, Sony ensured to impress with an initial showing.

PlayStation 4: The Console Of The Future

A vastly superior bump in hardware will undoubtedly bring a graphical leap, but even the most optimistic would’ve been wowed by the showings of both Killzone: Shadow Fall and Drive Club. Unprecedented particle effects and mind-blowing graphical fidelity tease the beginnings of a new era of visual design – with Killzone even discovering a new colour palette. Such additional grunt will allow from new artistic designs, smarter AI, advanced physics engines and present new genres that perhaps were previously impossible due to technical limitations. Whilst there’s surely a lot to still be shown (most likely at E3) the early signs were immensely promising. Heck, if Media Molecule can fall in love with and find an extremely interesting use for the PlayStation Move then anything is possible.

With Sony really thinking about how to accommodate the developers they’re opening new doors. Third-party titles such as Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, Bungie’s Destiny and even Blizzard’s Diablo III are promising signs from developers – whom seem extremely pleased about the offerings at hand.

It’s obviously far to early to judge, given how little we really know, anything we say other than take it at face value – and it that regard they impressed. Sony were never going to showcase brand new genres and revolutionary mechanics at this stage. Such things, one would hope, are for the future.

The Network

The importance of social networks and a powerful and flexibly online infrastructure is something I’ve discussed before, so the initial announcements of Sony’s network features are most promising.

PlayStation 4: The Console Of The Future

A share button, whilst hardly revolutionary, will be vitally important in a world where the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube rule the web. By allowing players to seamlessly share their latest adventures, best goals and sickest tricks at the touch of a button is huge. There is much talk about the important of mobile – which I’ll get to later – but consoles still rule the roost when it comes to breathtaking gaming moments and its such times that you want to share with your friends.

Gaikai’s implementation is an astute move, blending the streaming of trials and games, plus letting players spectate each other – as possible with OnLive – and even assist may not be at the top of many gamers who are into at least their fifth generations of consoles but it is to the newer age of gamers. An era define by the Internet, by sharing and helping your friends online.

A major gripe with the PlayStation 3 – especially as the years passed by – was the constant waiting for patches to download or installations to finish. Thankfully then, all such waits will be a thing of the past as both will work in the background as you continue to play. The suspend/resume feature which will allow you “instantaneously” boot-up, integrating remote play to Vita, and utilising second screen devices, are all signals that the PlayStation 4 is a console for the modern-day.

The Final Thoughts

I’ve been waiting for a new generation of hardware for some time and although the current crop always felt as though they were straining to keep pace, they’ve never felt quite as archaic as they do now.

This is the console of the future. I’m sure we’ll hear of features that go wrong or bits that don’t quite end up as hoped, but the PlayStation 4 is an impressive vision. It engages a generation engrossed with sharing, aims to return to a golden age of big screen gaming whilst incorporating the mobile and tablets of the modern world, and considers the media services that both Sony and Microsoft have spent the past few years firmly pushing as just expected features barely worthy of a mention.

Sony’s conference wasn’t perfect, yet it was never going to be. However, it was a positive first reveal and leaves plenty to be shown throughout the rest of the year. Business models and pricing will play a huge part in how the PlayStation 4 shapes the landscape of tomorrow’s gaming scene, but by embracing the changes in the last seven years and understanding what is wanted from a home console, they may have presented us with not just the more progressive console to date, but the more progressive gaming platform.

Let’s hope Microsoft are just as impressive.