PlayStation 4 arrives holiday 2013: more power, more sharing and more downloads

21 Feb 2013

Sony’s hotly anticipated PlayStation announcement did confirm that a PlayStation 4 (PS4) will arrive in 2013. It did not, however, reveal what that device will look like and, apart from a quick glimpse at the new controller, the tech press were mostly dazzled with a display of the games being developed for the new console.

At the press event in New York City tonight, we were made privy to some of the specifications of the PS4. When it arrives in time for Christmas this year, gamers can expect a powerful device featuring an eight-core x86-64 AMD Jaguar CPU and an enhanced GPU. It will have 8GB of GDDR5 memory, allowing for a whopping 176GB/s bandwidth and further boosting graphics performance. The console will also have optical drive, contrary to much speculation, and will include a built-in HDD.

DualShock 4 wireless controller

The new wireless controller for the PlayStation 4 – the one piece of hardware we actually got to lay eyes on tonight – was just what we were all expecting, and more. It features a two-point touchpad for an added level of interaction and a light bar that, along with a new PlayStation 4 Eye camera, behaves much like the motion sensor in the Move controller.

The newly developed camera features two high-sensitivity cameras with wide-angle lenses and 85-degree diagonal angle views, making it capable of precisely recognising depth of space and clearly discerning players from their background. Four microphones are also built in for accurate sound detection and face recognition can be used for login with face recognition.

DualShock 4 wireless controller (via PlayStation.Blog on Flickr)

Back to the DualShock 4, the light bar features three different-coloured LEDs and so can help to distinguish players and match them to characters on screen. It will also indicate to a player when his or her character may be in trouble.

The analogue sticks and trigger buttons apparently have an improved feel to them, and the DualShock 4 is also said to be more sensitive, thanks to a three-axis gyroscope coupled with a three-axis accelerometer.

The new controller also features a built-in speaker and stereo headphone jack, and a mono headset will be bundled with the console to enable online chatting.

While most of these features were expected after images of a prototype leaked online last week, something that was a bit of a surprise was that ‘Start’ and ‘Select’ are no more on the DualShock 4, and we now have ‘Options’ and ‘Share’.

Social gaming

This idea of sharing the gaming experience is built into the PS4, which provides dedicated always-on video compression and decompression to enable ease of uploading video snapshots of gameplay. Guerrilla Games demonstrated this feature tonight when its live demo of Killzone: Shadow Fall was shared immediately to the game’s Facebook page.

The share button will also enable social spectating, letting gamers broadcast their gameplay in real-time via live internet streaming services, such as Ustream. During these broadcasts, friends can leave comments or even decide to join in the game if they see their mate is struggling.

All of this helps towards creating a broad PlayStation Network, as explained by David Parry, CEO of Gaikai, tonight. Gaikai is a cloud-based game-streaming service acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment last year, and it’s now looking to make the PlayStation Network the best gaming network out there. This will be a network of real-life friends, too, doing away with a system of obscure usernames and mysterious avatars and instead introducing profile images and a real-names policy.

Downloads get fast (and pushy)

Parry also promised that Gaikai is working on making the entire back catalogue of PlayStation games available to download on PS4, making backwards compatibility issues a thing of the past. This is in development, but hopefully it will have made some progress by the time the console launches in Q4.

Speaking of downloads, the PS4 has addressed the modern gamer’s demand for immediacy by taking steps to reduce the time it takes players to access their content. A suspend mode lets users shift to a low-power state with the touch of a button, ready to resume with just the same action. This means no more waiting to boot a console and loading a saved game to get back into it. And, when downloading, players can start playing before the download has finished. All gaming and no waiting.

In time, Sony hopes to speed up the download process even further by anticipating the games a user may want by monitoring what he or she likes and learning from them. This means the system can have a game the user is expected to like downloaded and ready to go before they’ve even clicked to purchase – a feature that sounds as pushy as it does efficient.

As well as recommendations (and pre-emptive downloads), the new PS4 will likely encourage more downloads with a try-before-you-buy ethos. A full portion of the games will be available to play for free, not a stripped-back version, and players are expected to only fork out for what they really love to play.

What of the PS Vita?

As far as the PS Vita goes, some suspected there may have been a next-generation handheld console on the cards tonight, as well owing to a recent price drop on the current device. This wasn’t the case, though the PS Vita did get a significant shout-out.

The handheld console that is loved by critics but has yet to really take off with consumers is now being pitched as the ultimate companion to the PS4. Developers have been encouraged to create PS4 games that can be played anywhere and everywhere, which will see the incorporation of second screens like smartphones and tablets – but, of course, Sony is pivoting its own mobile device as the optimum way to avail of this experience.

Followed by a round-up of upcoming games, this is all that was gleaned from the PlayStation 4 announcement. No release date, no price indications, but just enough specifications to keep up us all interested until later this year when all will be revealed.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.