Sony PlayStation 4: Is it Worth the Wait?

sony-ps4-news-launch-review

Sony officially announced the Playstation 4 this week at a two hour press conference. Was it worth the wait? It was more a preview of a preview, this year’s E3 will be the proper launch, so this one was designed to built up excitement for the PS4 that is expected to be shipping this 2013 holiday season.

Sony’s direction may be a little unclear at this point, and in the past it has been influenced strongly by the competition. When Nintendo was riding high with the Wii, Sony developed the Move controller, leading to lots of games where you need to stand and wave around a small orb-like device. They cite big sales numbers for Move, but I have yet to purchase one, and I am a gamer. Sony with the PS4 showed off an advanced version of the PlayStation Eye, which seems a reaction to the success Microsoft’s Xbox has had with the Kinect. The new PS4 DualShock 4 controller has a share button as well as a touchpad, with the influence there being perhaps social media and tablets. Sony has done a very good job incorporating social media and sharing with the PS Vita, so it’s not surprising to see the PS4 also be immersed in the same. The PS4 specs are very impressive, I am sure the new unit will run rings around the PS3:

Main Processor

Single-chip custom processor
CPU: x86-64 AMD “Jaguar,”

8 cores 
GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS, AMD next-generation Radeon based graphics engine

Memory
GDDR5 8 GB

Hard Disk Drive
Built-in

Optical Drive (read-only)
BD 6xCAV 
DVD 8xCAV

I/O
Super-Speed USB (USB 3.0) AUX
Communication Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T)
IEEE 802.11b/g/n
Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR)

AV output
HDMI
Analog AV-out
Digital Output (optical)

Several games were announced (including Diablo 3 for Playstation 4, very exciting) and many tech demos were shown, including some cool 3D sculpting technology from Media Molecule. But nothing really earth-shattering (yet). Also the unit itself was not shown. That’s right, at the PS4 event, we did not see a PS4. Some questions such as 4K support were left unanswered, but its many months until Holiday 2013, so there is still time.

I will say watching the press conference was kind of a pain. Instead of streaming the conference from the main PS3 interface, you had to go into Playstation Home on the unit and watch. Also instead of being available on YouTube, the press conference was available with new partner UStream, leaving those to watch it later having to view a non-scannable streaming version you could only watch from the beginning.

In the end, it was exciting to see the beginning of the next generation of consoles. But not extra exciting. Many of the games were sequels from the same developers who have been trotting out the same type of games for years. I did not see much next-gen ideas in the two hour show, and others had noticed the same. But if that is what is selling, and it certainly is, then we’ll be in that mode for a while. The graphics looked very advanced, and it will be great to see extra effects and definition added to new games. The PS4 is more in line with PC hardware now, which should make game development easier than the challenging Cell CPU of the PS3.

Microsoft gets to make its move at E3 with its new Xbox (which may be called Xbox Next or Xbox 720) so it will be interesting to see their take. Sony stressed a lot of “making things simple” with the PS4, and every demo of their interface did indeed look like it was easier to use and navigate. Perhaps taking some tips from Apple’s style on interface design with their iOS iPads and iPhones. Microsoft has done several Dashboard updates in the past few years with Xbox and seems committed to harder, more complex and a bear to navigate interfaces, so I see the new Xbox being an even bigger nest of menus upon menus leading to more menus. They may never learn.

In the end I am excited about Sony’s PlayStation 4. They seem to be thinking beyond conquering the “digital living room” which has been the battle cry up until now for other companies. Everyone wants their device to take control of the living room, but there is a lot more to our digital lives than that one room. And Sony seems to be getting that. I am interested to see how they follow up at E3 this year.

UPDATE: PlayStation 4 Demo of Killzone: Shadow Fall from yesterday’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

720p version – PlayStation 4 Demo of Killzone: Shadow Fall – Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – 1080p version available on YouTube