PlayStation 4 looks to bring power, social features to the next-generation of game consoles

The big three gaming manufacturers, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony, are in transition.  Each are looking to move from established platforms to new, next-generation consoles.

Nintendo was first out of the gate, offering the Wii U in November of last year.  Though its hardware is not particularly next-gen, the Wii U’s second screen experience is unique.

Microsoft hasn’t officially revealed their next console yet, but it’s in the works. The project, codenamed ‘Durango,’ would be the follow-up to the Xbox 360.  Launched in 2005, the 360 was the first of the previous-generation consoles to market.

This leaves Sony, whose PlayStation 3 console has been out since 2006.  On Wednesday, Sony invited the tech press and thousands of viewers online to PlayStation Meeting 2013, where the future vision of PlayStation was partially revealed.  Here’s what they let us know about PlayStation 4, scheduled to be on shelves this holiday season :

Hardware and specs

Sony officially named the product PlayStation 4, but didn’t reveal the console’s form factor or what it actually looks like.  This isn’t particularly worrying, since they’re likely saving the reveal for another conference, like E3 in June, but it would’ve been nice to see.

Preliminary specs for the PlayStation 4 were given, though, and they are powerful for a console.  PS4 will include an 8 core, x86 64-bit processor and 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM.  An AMD Radeon card will handle the graphics processing for PS4, which will again include a Blu-ray drive and a built-in hard drive.

The early specs show the PS4 to be much more powerful than the Wii U and slightly more powerful than the heavily-speculated specs for Durango.  Specs aren’t everything, though, as the Wii proved in the previous generation.  Still, it will be interesting to see how the PlayStation 4 compares to Microsoft’s newest console when detailed information for both are available.

Controller and peripherals

Though the console wasn’t shown, Sony did give the world a full look at PlayStation 4’s new controller, DualShock 4.

Thankfully, it’s much like PlayStation 3’s DualShock 3, save for a few additions.  The first, and most obvious, new feature is the inclusion of a small touchpad at the controller’s center, where the “Home” button used to be.  The device also includes a lightbar, for identifying active players, a dedicated “Share” button, which can be used to access the platform’s sharing and social functions, and a headphone jack.

PlayStation 4 will also ship with the new PlayStation 4 Eye camera, which provides dual cameras for 3D field detection, like Microsoft’s Kinect.  The new Eye camera can also detect both the DualShock 4 and PlayStation Move controllers when held by the user, which adds further motion control capabilities.

Taking a page from Wii U’s second screen features, Sony has added an option to stream PS4 gameplay experiences to the PlayStation Vita handheld.  A player can start playing a PS4 game on the television and switch the experience completely to a Vita if someone else wants to use the TV.  The Vita is an additional purchase to the PS4, unlike the Wii U’s included GamePad, but the system connectivity will be there for those willing to pay for it.

The last few years have seen shared gameplay and game streaming popularized, with viewers flocking to sites like YouTube, Twitch.tv and UStream.tv to watch players both amateur and professional show their gaming skills and participate in competition.

PlayStation 4 will allow players to easily and seamlessly stream their play experiences to their online friends.  The DualShock 4’s “Share” button will also let users upload videos and screenshots of their game experiences to the PlayStation Network and other services.

Software

Sony is likely saving some of their bigger PS4 game announcements for events later in the year, but they did take some time to show a few titles in development and announce partnering developers.

Key games shown included Knack, Watch Dogs, Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall and the Witness.  Halo creators Bungie were on hand to announce PS3 and PS4 version of their new game, Destiny, while World of Warcraft developer Blizzard said that popular PC title Diablo III would also appear on PlayStation.  Square Enix showed a future Final Fantasy title, but didn’t give a name or specifics.

One of the bigger disappointments on the gaming side was that PS4 will not natively support Playstation 1, 2 or 3 games through backwards compatibility.  However, Sony is hoping to deliver older titles and game demos to PlayStation 4 through streaming, similar to the OnLive platform.

To be announced

Sony said enough at PlayStation Meeting 2013 to get the industry talking, but left several key aspects of PlayStation 4 unsaid.

PlayStation 4 will be available “holiday 2013,” but Sony didn’t say what it will cost.  PS4’s specs are good enough to expect a price above $400, but I doubt Sony wants to hit $599 again, after the trouble they had launching the top end PlayStation 3 there.

Costs for PlayStation Network access on PlayStation 4 were also not discussed.  PS3 owners could play online through PSN for free, but it’s unknown if the extra features PS4 offers will lead to a PSN monthly fee.  Microsoft charges a fee to access it’s top Xbox Live features, like online play.

I highly recommend watching PlayStation Meeting 2013 for yourself, if only to see the spectacle of a new product launch.  Sony is hosting the video and multimedia from the meeting on their PlayStation blog hub at http://blog.us.playstation.com/ .

Watch for more when the E3 conference starts in June.  Nintendo and Microsoft will be looking to counter announced PlayStation 4 games and features, while Sony will hoping that what they’ve got planned is enough to take the top spot.

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