The much-hyped press event for Sony's Playstation is over with the first details of the PlayStation 4 announced. A Holiday 2013 release is being targeted, however there are no pics as yet of the machine - nor talk of pricing at this point.
The system will use a supercharged PC architecture with an 8-core "Jaguar" x86-64 AMD CPU, allegedly making it very easy to develop for. No word on the specifics of the architecture as yet.
There's also a high-end PC GPU - an AMD next-generation Radeon™ based graphics engine - consisting of 18 compute units and boasting 1.84 teraflops of computational power.
Then there is 8GB of unified high speed GDDR5 memory for use by both the CPU and GPU with 176GB/s of memory bandwidth, and large local hard-drive storage (sizes not revealed). The machine comes with Bluetooth 2.1, USB 3.0 connections, IEEE 802.11 b/g/n wireless, Ethernet connection, HDMI, Analog-AV and optical output.
A secondary custom chip allows for background downloading whilst playing games (and even when the console is powered down). Games will also be playable as they are being downloaded.
The Playstation button on the controller allows for instant and indefinite sleep/resume of not just the game, but the entire system. This essentially eliminates console boot time and allows for an "instant on" gaming experience.
The PS4 doesn't just learn your interests, it can even pre-download games it expects you to buy from the PlayStation Store - allowing for instant play when you do buy it.
The new DualShock 4 controller was revealed with enhanced rumble, a touch pad, a share button for social media, headphone jack, and light-up bar at the rear. The triggers, directional buttons and sticks have also been redesigned. 'Select' and 'Start' buttons have been combined into an 'Options' button.
There's also a stereo camera bar (similar to the Kinect) that works with the light bar for motion controls (ala the 'Move'). Core social elements of the machine will be smartphone, tablet and Vita compatible.
One big feature immediately makes Sony's PSVita a more effective machine - remote play. Like a reverse Apple AirPlay, this streams PS4 games to the Vita allowing them to be played wirelessly on the handheld instead of on your TV.
The 'PlayStation Cloud Service' will feature episodic and free-to-play content. Sony's acquisition of the Gaikai cloud service is a big part of the company's plans for the future. The aim is to offer the "fastest gaming network" on the planet, including a trial-based way of playing games before buying.
Gaikai will also be used for spectating experiences, handing over control of your game to friends, and one-button broadcasting of your game progress. There is dedicated video encode/decode hardware that allows you to instantaneously record and share screenshots/video of gameplay with the click of the 'Share' button. Sony reps spent a good portion of the presentation talking up not just the simplicity of the system for developers, but the social aspects of the system for consumers.
The biggest concern for many players is backwards compatibility, an issue only partly resolved. The PlayStation Cloud Service aims to offer availability of every game from all three previous incarnations of the console - so games will be available and playable through digital downloads.
Unfortunately disc compatibility was NOT mentioned, so trading in your old PS3 to soften the blow of buying a PS4 isn't really a viable option.
From the looks of it the launch titles will include the military FPS shooter "Killzone: Shadow Fall," the racing simulator "Driveclub," the next chapter in the "Infamous" franchise entitled "Second Son", and "Braid" creator Jonathan Blow's indie puzzle game "The Witness".
Capcom showed off first footage from the medieval fantasy horror game "Deep Down". "Heavy Rain" creators Quantic Dream demonstrated their impressive new graphics engine, and "Watch Dogs" also had a excellent new reel. Square Enix promised details on a new "Final Fantasy" title at E3 this year.
Also confirmed to be coming to the PS4 are Blizzard's "Diablo III" and Activision & Bungie's "Destiny".
So how will this compare with Microsoft's upcoming, but still unannounced Xbox 720? An excellent breakdown at Eurogamer suggests the systems are comparable, but the Xbox will use older and slower GDDR3 Ram along with less computational power (1.23 teraflops vs. PS4's 1.84).
They key difference would appear to be Sony is marketing this as a games machine first and foremost, with media capabilities being secondary. Microsoft are likely more keen to position the 720 as a 'one-stop entertainment console' which combines a solid games machine with a Blu-ray player and streaming media player.
Both face increasing competition from the mobile gaming market, not to mention Valve's Steam service and its proposed foray into the console market - the 'Steam Box'.
UPDATE: EB Games Australia, a market where customers are routinely gouged on pricing for games and consoles, is listing the console as being on sale for $899. That is, however, marked as a "placeholder price" with final pricing yet to be announced.
It sounds like a lot, but that is technically cheaper than the 60Gb PS3 launch price of $999 back in 2006. In the U.S., rumors have suggested $429 & $529 price points for the PS4.