Struggling consumer electronics giant Sony announced its next-generation PlayStation 4 video game console on Wednesday as expected, setting itself up for a new war with Microsoft’s next Xbox. And Sony is taking on Microsoft on the latter company’s own turf: The PlayStation 4 will essentially be a very high-end PC internally, making it easier than ever for developers to harness its power.
Not surprisingly, Sony is taking a similar approach to entertainment as is Microsoft. Like the Xbox, the PlayStation 4 will offer high-end video games with Kinect-like motion-sensing capabilities but also “second screen” experiences via mobile device apps and music and video experiences that allow the device to be used as a living room entertainment hub. It will let gamers share their experiences with friends and others online.
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Sony does have one advantage over Microsoft: The PlayStation 4 will integrate in interesting ways with the firm’s PS Vita, a handheld video game machine that, thus far, has failed to generate much excitement. The tying of the Vita with the PlayStation 4, however, might put the device over the top.
“The demands for a new platform were clear,” Sony Computer Entertainment President and Group CEO Andrew House said at a press conference announcing the PlayStation 4. “It is simple and adaptive with socially enriched content. Expect worlds to come alive with greater intensity and fidelity. Expect to be connected and informed.”
Sony’s most controversial choice, perhaps, was to step back from its pursuit of high-end but esoteric chipset hardware and turn to the well-understood Intel-type x86 hardware (albeit it in this case made by AMD) that has powered PCs for decades, plus “a highly enhanced GPU” and 8GB of RAM. That decision, the firm says, was driven by the changing needs of gamers. With today’s connectivity, there is less emphasis on “supercomputers on a chip” and more on making the gamer the center of a rich set of connected experiences.
PlayStation fans will like that Sony has evolved the familiar Dual Shock controller for the PlayStation 4, rather than replacing it with something new. The Dual Shock 4 sports a touchpad, a Share button, and a headphone jack, plus enhanced rumble capabilities. Lights on the controller help identify other players.
Although Sony did show off the new controller, the PlayStation 4 hardware was never shown. That, perhaps, will have to wait for this summer’s E3 conference. Pricing, too, wasn't announced, and the release date was only vaguely set for "holiday 2013."
The event did feature numerous game demos, and as you might expect, they’re beginning to edge uncomfortably close to photographic reality. Titles such as Killzone: Shadowfall, Driveclub, The Witness, and others were all decidedly impressive looking. Disconcertingly for Halo fans, Bungie was on hand to demo its next project, a game called Destiny that will run on the PlayStation 4 (and PlayStation 3) as well as Microsoft’s consoles. Sony will offer games for the PlayStation 4 over the Internet, and will allow gamers to move game play from a TV screen to a PS Vita’s screen.
It’s hard to know how this new system stacks up against Microsoft’s next offering, which is expected to simply be called “Xbox.” Microsoft will unveil its next console in April, however, and then provide more information about the device at E3 in June. Stay tuned.