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What Sony PlayStation 4 Brings to Your Home Theater System

by February 24, 2013

At a press event in New York on Wednesday, Sony finally unveiled its upcoming PlayStation 4 with all the hype and showmanship we've come to expect from major consumer electronics releases.

First up, the President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Andrew House got on stage just a few minutes after 6 PM and talked about Sony’s commitment to focusing not just on hardware in the living room but on the gamer. His message emphasized the social aspect of gaming as well as the anywhere, anytime ability to take your games on the road with PlayStation Network. Mr. House talked about mobile, PSN and the consumption of media while away from the main console. Besides some vague details about a PSN - smartphone bridge, mobile PS4 game play seems to mean that the (four) people in North America that bought PlayStation Vita will be able to continue their PS4 games in-progress while on the road.

Perhaps this de-emphasis of the console itself is why Sony never actually showed us what the PlayStation 4 console will look like nor did they get into specifics about the console's audio video performance (ie. 4K video, high-res lossless audio formats). Or maybe it’s not quite finished and some of these features are yet to be decided… I’m going with the latter.

Before I get to the good stuff; I want to give a thank you to all the would-be soothsayers who see the future of consumer electronics as a series of lightweight universally compatible apps, streaming from the ubiquitous cloud to handheld, thought-controlled devices. Your Sherlockian insights into where technology is going are astounding, if not obvious.

Sony was destined for howls of protest from the tech-critic elite if it produced anything less than a gorilla-glass encased miracle device that grants wishes and drops them from a built-in 3D printer like Cheetos on game-night.

I’m talking to armchair comment-critics across the web and analysts like James McQuivey of Forrester who said of the PS4:

Sony believes the future will be like the past… Tablets and smartphones now engage more people in more minutes of gaming than consoles will ever achieve.”

So, what does McQuivey suggest - that Sony abandon the hardcore games market to double down on Angry Birds?

Sony was destined for howls of protest if it produced anything less than a gorilla-glass encased miracle device that grants wishes like Cheetos on game-night.

The overall games market may have contracted in recent years, but a game console these days should be about hardware, specifications and gloriously rendering the games of the future. You can pile on all the superfluous language of gamer-centrism and cloud mobility you want. But the hardcore group that wants to put hours into an immersive experience demands quality hardware with twitch-fast response times, lag-free connectivity—and that means game data processed locally accompanied by 5.1 audio you can feel in your chest while viewing it all on a screen so huge you couldn't dream of swiping it with your fingertips.

Despite the rise of cutesy pay-to-play smartphone apps, there is still a market for serious gamers and digital media home theater users. And that means old fashioned set-top boxes like Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4.

PlayStation 4 Specs – the good stuff!

It seems like only yesterday we got our first taste of the PS3. At the time it seemed to us that Microsoft had it right by designing the Xbox 360 more like a PC. In 2006, Sony was pushing the raw power of its Cell Processor. But in the end, PS3’s deviant APIs turned away developers that had little incentive to spend extra resources on only one of the four major gaming platforms (if you include PC).

In-game performance between same titles on PS3 and Xbox 360 were no different—the power of the Cell was never truly realized. Thankfully, this time around Sony got it right by turning PS4 into what Lead System Architect Mark Cerny called a “Supercharged PC”.

The PS4 will be powered by an 8-core AMD Jaguar x86-64 CPU with an integrated graphics APU alongside an enhanced AMD Radeon graphics processor capable of driving 1.84 teraflops. The brains of the PS4 will be paired with 8GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory.

PS4 PC

One serious drawback to adopting x86-64 architecture is throwing away any hope for PS3 backward compatibility. But that shouldn't be much of a surprise. Even the PS3's promise of backward compatibility was short lived. The original PS3 included the Emotion Engine chip required for full PS2 compatibility which was dropped in subsequent builds of the device as a cost-saving measure.

Here's a list of hardware specs, including I/O for your home theater system. Sadly, we don't know much that is specific to your audio/video performance.

PlayStation 4 – Specs We Know (so far)

    Controller
  • 8-core AMD Jaguar x86-64 CPU, integrated APU
  • Enhanced AMD Radeon GPU capable of delivering 1.84 teraflops
  • 8GB of dedicated GDDR5 Memory
  • Built in HDD
  • Blu-ray 6xCAV
  • DVD 8xCAV
  • Ethernet (10bT, 100bT, 1000bT)
  • Built in 80.211 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR)
  • HDMI, Analog AV and Digital Optical outputs
  • USB 3.0
  • Mono headset capable of cross-game chat

The PC-like architecture is a strategic turn for Sony and a wise one. During the presentation, Sony promised easy access for developers—and that can only mean access to more games. Even though the hardware is comparable to today’s more powerful PC-gaming hardware, I’ll leave it to the real PC-gaming aficionados to inform us as to whether the hardware is obsolete when the system finally launches.

PlayStation 4 Controller

Images of the PS4 controllers have been leaked on the Internet so we’ve had a good idea of what to expect. But Sony filled us in on the details.

The DualShock 4 controller weighs in at 7.4 ounces compared to the DualShock 3 which only weighs 6.77 ounces. The controller features an integrated touch pad that we got to see used in a demo of the upcoming Unreal 4. The touchpad was used to shift the camera view in-game, but we don’t know much else about its potential application to gaming.

The controller features a headphone jack and a quick-access share button used for some of the PS4’s built-in sharing functions. An LED light bar across the front of the controller can be used to track and identify a player and provide motion control as we’ve seen with PlayStation Move.

Accompanying the DualShock 4 system is the PlayStation 4 Eye. A pair of 1280x800 cameras flank the Eye unit which can capture video at 60 frames-per-second and includes four microphones. The PlayStation Eye has an 85-degree field of view and can be used to triangulate objects in 3D space for gesture recognition and motion gaming (just like Microsoft’s Kinect). But the PS4 Eye claims a significant gain over Kinect which only has a 640x480 30 frames-per-second sensor.

Cloud Gaming

Sony bought Gaikai last year for $380 million to take advantage of its cloud-gaming technology, and it plans to use the Gaikai for “social” and remote gaming. For social gaming, Sony envisions broadcasting games in real time to your friends, capturing and sharing video on Facebook and Ustream. Friends won’t just be passive viewers. They’ll be able to trash talk you while you’re in game. Great! One would have to venture all the way to a local bowling alley to get that kind of over-the-shoulder in-game trash-talk experience.

You’ll also be able to let friends join in and even take control of your game in progress. A smartphone bridge to PSN will let the social interactivity with your friends travel with you on mobile devices.

Since PS4 won’t natively support PS3 games, Sony is working a solution involving Gaikai cloud gaming technology to give PS4-users access to the complete library of legacy PlayStation titles. It’s not clear on how this will work, or even if it will work. If you have any PS3 games you’re absolutely in love with, don't be too quick to toss them out when you get your hands on PS4. We don't know exactly how cloud gaming your PS3 games on PS4 will perform, especially in competitive multiplayer shooters.

Used Games?

Speaking of backward compatibility, one sour rumor that has been floating around about the next generation of game consoles pertains to their ability to play used games. There is talk about security measures preventing you from trading, lending or even buying used games. Although this wasn’t covered specifically at the event, just prior to the event getting started, Shuhei Yoshida (Sony’s head of Worldwide Studios) confirmed there would be no ban on used games for PlayStation 4. The PlayStation faithful can breathe a sigh of relief.

This would have been a step in the wrong direction for gaming. Pulling the rug out from the used games would piss off the core fan-base and there is no reason for it.

Finally – the games

Don’t expect a senses-shattering array of PS4 exclusives—although there were a few nice surprises.

Announced exclusive titles mostly included the usual franchises—Killzone: Shadow Fall and Infamous: Second Son. There was also DriveClub, a team driving game and a cutesy alien game called Knack that looks like you’re playing scenes from Monsters Inc.

A few of the most anticipated games coming to PS4 (and other platforms) include Unreal 4. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen an installment of the great-uncle of shooters from Epic Games and the next iteration of the Unreal Engine looks amazing on PS4.

Destiny

Blizzard was on hand to talk about the integration of Diablo III on PlayStation 4. While response to D3 since its launch last summer has been underwhelming, it’s great to see Blizzard finally working with a console. Diablo III on PS4 promises dungeon crawl action in a 4-way gaming experience that doesn’t resort to split screens.

Bungie, the makers of the Halo franchise are building their next franchise that will be another launch title for PS4: Destiny. This science fiction first-person-shooter will have role-playing elements and allow you to explore a deeply immersive universe with characters that will grow as you learn more about the game. The graphics on this game look phenomenal. 

What We Don’t Know

There are many questions left after Sony’s presentation—mostly about the details. But to be sure, it’s likely many of these details haven’t yet been ironed out. If our past experience with major product launches and their tight timelines are any indication, it’s likely some of these details won’t be resolved until after the system is launched. But a few important things weren’t revealed.

Namely the launch date and price.

We were told that it would be launched in time for Christmas with no exact date. We heard nothing from Sony about the price, but rumors have it priced in the $430 - $530 range. However, Inside Network analyst Billy Pidgeon told Gamesindustry International that there's a "magic price point" for Sony. It should be $299 - $399 to achieve the uptake necessary in its critical first year (ahead of Microsoft). 

A Q4 2013 timeline is an obvious shot at Microsoft after getting the leg-up on Sony back in 2005 when it launched Xbox 360 a full year ahead of PS3. Let’s hope there is no Sony equivalent to Xbox’s red ring of death issue which hurt many early Xbox adopters (and many feel was the result of the system being pushed out the door too soon).

Conclusion

PS EyeThe PlayStation 4 looks like it will deliver exactly what the gaming public expects in a big-screen media experience: More power, more connectivity, smoother frame rates and better all-around graphics for the future generation of games. For home theater owners the PS4 looks like it will (again) make an excellent media center, gaming system and Blu-ray player in one system. Hopefully soon we'll get more information about audio/video performance.

As for computational performance there’s not likely to be much difference between PS4 and the upcoming Microsoft Xbox 720. Console game systems, like everything else in consumer electronics, are moving toward homogeneity with fewer features that set competing platforms apart. 

Sony’s move to the x86-64 architecture will have developers more at home creating games for PS4 than they were with the idiosyncratic API of the PS3 Cell Processor. The next Xbox will likely use DirectX API. Both are conspicuously familiar to PC game developers. With both systems effectively gaming PCs, hardware differences between the two are a mute source of argument among fanboys.

Sadly, the faithful on either side of the Xbox/PS3 divide are still fighting it out on the Internet, convinced of the eminent superiority of one system over the other.

But we should be looking for cross-platform unification brothers and sisters! Competition is inherently good for consumers—but add cross-platform compatibility and it's even better.

PlayStation Xbox Network Live

So, I’d like to humbly suggest Sony and Microsoft getting together and really getting serious about cloud gaming with a true cross-platform multiplayer experience, a unified online gaming network. I'm skeptical of the real in-game performance of multiplayer games being served up remotely, I fear lag will ruin the experience and most competition will come down to the best ping. But if it can be pulled off... "PlayStation Xbox Network Live" makes sense.

XBL and PSN members would be automatically in and PC gamers can join independently.

If Sony can use Gaikai technology for cloud-based PS3 backward compatibility that delivers a multiplayer experience that isn’t a lag-ridden nightmare, rendering consoles into dumb-terminals the individual architecture of games becomes irrelevant—the technical hurdles are mute. A unified multiplayer gaming experience, even if it only worked with certain titles, would take platform wars to new heights. But first I’d like to see for myself how Gaikai pulls off the multiplayer Black Ops 2 cloud experience.

With three new consoles expected to be fully launched or announced by the end of the year, the next gen console war is in full effect. It looks like 2013 is shaping up to be a great year for gamers.

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About the author:

Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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Recent Forum Posts:

woensl.itis posts on March 21, 2013 16:24
Yea, I was refering to the keyboard/mouse whilst gaming with friends.

I just don't see the level of playing seen in CS 1.6 or CoD4 promod ever getting to the joysticks.

If I was still really serious about PC gaming i'd invest more in a rig. I still run a MBP.
But the option for full support of Mouse/keyboard ingame will allow me to pwn some nubs whilst hanging out with MY nubs.

Online PC multiplayer is getting increasingly restrictive, as well, though. Almost none of the newer FPS games have really good competition rules or even dedicated servers. This sucks. I think it must just be way more profitable for companies like Treyarch to push their consumer base towards console gaming. But that is just a guess. It is at the very least much easier to control how the game is played by the consumer on console. (PC games are getting less and less configurable/modded)

On another note, it will be interesting to see how Leap Motion plays into all this.
avnetguy posts on March 21, 2013 16:20
It took some time but I made the transition from PC/Keyboard/Mouse to Console/Controller (XBox) and now I don't mind it at all playing FPS games. I haven't played a computer game in years, all console based now. I just hope the next gens will be a significant step forward hardware wise though the graphics certainly aren't bad on either the PS3/XBox 360.

Steve
Grador posts on March 21, 2013 14:22
With more and more “advancements” like keyboard+mouse consoles lose more and more appeal to me. They're just becoming slower and more restrictive computers really, which is why for me my wii gets busted out more than my ps3. If I want to sit down and game, my computer is the better option, but for chilling with friends the wii is quicker and more fun.
woensl.itis posts on March 21, 2013 14:00
It's really the ingame mouse support that's the big one for me. i come from more competitive PC FPS, and it's a beautiful thing to imagine getting to play the PS3 network and at the same time aim as well as one can on PC.

But thnks for the tip on the keyboard, mang. Will have to try this out at the hang-out.
avnetguy posts on March 21, 2013 13:59
Meh, so far (with the limited info available) the PS4 brings nothing to the table that I don't already have or want.

Steve
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