PlayStation 4 Revealed! Sort of…

It's hard to write up news about the PS4 when there wasn't any actual news about the PS4. At what best can be described as a "Save-the-Date" event, Sony laid out their ideas for their next-gen console, but gave few, if any, specifics.

What we found out is... interesting. By far the PS4 is being pushed as a gaming console to act as a central hub for a gaming lifestyle, than a hardcore, cutting-edge, gaming machine.

That and other disappointments AWESOME GAMING NEWS after the jump.

First, what we know and what it means. The big push is for more social gaming, with built-in abilities to stream your gameplay on the web, and have your friends jump in to play with you from wherever.

Speaking of wherever, they want you to be able to seamlessly keep playing your PS4 game elsewhere, using the PS Vita as the mobile device and the PS4 as the rendering brain. The Vita/PS3 can do this now, but it's laggy, and few games support it.

Interestingly, on the hardware side, they're moving to x86 architecture ­– essentially a PC – and not a bespoke stand-alone chip. It's an AMD 64-bit, 8-core "Jaguar" CPU. With all the hoopla surrounding the Cell processor in the PS3, this move is interesting, but perhaps not shocking. The PS3 lost Sony money on every unit sold for years. Moving to more off-the-shelf parts is a logical move to make the PS4 hardware less of a loss leader. There's 8 GB of RAM, which is reasonable if not amazing. It was labeled "Unified Memory" which implies to me it's shared with the video card.

Speaking of the video card, specifics for the video chip weren't mentioned, but it's also AMD and their brand name Radeon. My guess? it will be comparable to a high mid-range video card. Even so, that means a significant jump in picture quality over the archaic PS3. Expect improvements in textures, objects, shading, and everything we've had on the PC for years. I'd even guess that early PS4 games will rival many better PC games, given that the game engine can be tweaked/designed for the hardware. We saw this with the PS2 and PS3 as well, though PCs rapidly moved past them.

Hopefully this will also mean PS4 games will actually be rendered at 1080p (PS3 games are almost never rendered at 1080p, they're created at a lower resolution and then upconverted to 1080p).

KaBOOM

Then, a bombshell practically whispered, and moved over right away: There will be no native support for PS3 games.

In the switch from PS2 to PS3 (which did have support, by the way, for most PS2 games), this backwards compatibility was less of an issue. The jump in resolution alone was so huge, few people probably played PS2 games for very often on the PS3. At least not if they had an HDTV.

This isn't the case now. Sure, PS4 games will look better than PS3 games, but PS3 games aren't going to look bad (at least, no more than they already do). If you get a new, larger TV, PS3 games aren't suddenly going to look bad (as was the case with PS2).

Instead, Sony is going to push their cloud gaming environment, where you'll eventually be able to download any PlayStation title, from any era. Will we have to buy them again, or at least pay for the privilege? I think it's safe to assume yes.

This is as big of a single-finger salute to their fans as when Apple announced they were changing the dock connector for the iPhone 5.   

Analysis

The PlayStation 2 was revolutionary, including massive processing power and what was likely the owner's first DVD player. The 3 was too, offering even more massive processing power, and a Blu-ray player. Compared to the standards of its own predecessors, the PS4 falls flat. Sure, Sony doesn't have the money to lose like they did at the launch of the 2 or 3. From a hardware standpoint, it makes sense to go with less bespoke parts (it is, essentially, a PC without the openness). Honestly, I was expecting some mention of 4K. Sony and other TV manufacturers are really starting to push Ultra HD 4K hard, as a way to improve TV margins without a significant change in production. There was no way a PS4 was going to render 4K games (high-end PCs would struggle to do that at 60fps), but I really thought an updated version of the PS3's way to do 1080p would be here. As in, render at 1080p and upconvert to 4K. Not "true" 4K for sure, but as much 4K as the PS3 is 1080p. Maybe this will be mentioned at a later date, maybe I'm way off. It just seems odd to me that with the TV division all hot and bothered about Ultra HD, Sony's premiere content source would be so lacking... presumably for years. (Update: No 4K games. but the door is open for 4K videos. Also, they don't care about 3D games. Nor should they, honestly.) (Update 2: 4K downloads seem likely)

I do like how they're pushing for a more seamless game download process. Steam has been a huge benefit for PC gaming, and Sony's own PlayStation Store has had some unique and wonderful games.

The graphics admittedly, from the few glimpses we saw that weren't obviously pre-rendered cutscenes, seem great. This is surely a massive improvement over the PS3. They're not, however much different from what the the average PC gamer has had for a while now. Killzone:Shadow Fall, shown below, doesn't look appreciably better than Battlefield 3, which came out 1.5 years ago. Worse, at the end of the demo, the moronic "Press [] to have the game play for you" icon appeared, showing that the same boring game design will follow into the early years of the PS4.

Keep in mind, it's likely a lot of this is pre-rendered. Always be skeptical of any part of a gaming preview that doesn't show a HUD.

Bottom Line

Sony says the hardware and design of the PS4 are still in development. I'm sure we'll hear more news, perhaps more interesting news, at E3 in June. As a coming out party, though, the PS4 seemed to fall rather flat, offering little in the way of excitement for hardcore gamers, little in the way of entertainment possibilities for a non-gaming audience, and little in the way of drumming up excitement for the next ten years of console gaming.

I hope to look back on this article this winter and say "Oh, if I had only known they'd do this!" with some incredible feature announcement.

For right now, though, I can only see the benefit for PC games. More polygons are always a good thing, and if games for the PS4 look better, then more games for the PC will look even more amazing (not having to be tethered to ancient console hardware). Because above all else, I want the era of the PS3/Xbox 360 to die its aliased, tiny-textured, minimal-polygoned, limited-view-distance, long-in-the-poorly-rendered-tooth death. 

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