It’s official — the PlayStation 4 is on its way.
On Feb. 20, in a two-hour press event that was streamed live on the PlayStation website and on Ustream, Sony at last unveiled the highly anticipated successor to its PlayStation 3 video game console, offering millions of fans a glimpse at the future of gaming.
Here’s a quick look at what we know about the PS4.
Prior to the event, there had been a lot of speculation that instead of offering huge technological upgrades over current-generation systems, the PS4 would take a cue from Nintendo’s Wii U and merely focus on new ways to play.
Right off the bat, though, that rumor was crushed when PS4 lead system architect Mark Cerny was invited to unveil the new console’s specs. What he revealed is an exponential boost in processing power, graphical capabilities and memory.
In terms of its internal tech, the PS4 is basically a high-end gaming PC.
In fact, one of the big changes to the new console over its predecessor comes in the form of the PS4’s new CPU, an X86 processor commonly found in PCs that should also help make the PS4 much more developer-friendly than the PS3.
As Cerny put it, “The (PS4’s) architecture is like a PC, but supercharged to bring out its full potential as a gaming platform.”
A portion of the PS4’s processing power, though, is being diverted to solve one of gaming’s biggest annoyances: load times. If Cerny is to be believed, with the PS4, waiting while the console starts up or a game loads will be a thing of the past thanks to a new instant on feature.
Rather interestingly, the PS4 will also have a separate chip specifically for uploading and downloading content, making it possible, for example, to begin playing a game before it’s fully downloaded onto the device.
A slew of new social capabilities and cross-platform connectivity
One of the main points emphasized during Sony’s presentation was its commitment to bring social interaction to the forefront of the gaming experience in a way unlike anything seen on previous consoles.
The PS4 will offer an array of new social capabilities like the option to quickly post videos of gameplay on social networking sites, send and receive messages among friends (even while playing completely different games), spectate other players and reach out to them when they’re in trouble mid-game.
Sony also promised to make games more accessible than ever. In a move reminiscent of the Wii U’s GamePad, PS4 titles will be playable on Sony’s handheld PlayStation Vita device.
Additionally, gamers will also have access in some form or another to their games via PCs, tablets and smartphones, although it’s still not completely clear to what extent.
In one of the biggest announcements of the event, Sony revealed a new PlayStation Cloud gaming service.
Along with hosting some of the social media features already mentioned, the service will allow gamers to instantly try out any title for free without having to download anything.
What’s more, Sony outlined plans to make PS1, PS2 and PS3 titles all available to play via the PlayStation Cloud.
A redesigned controller
Unfortunately, the big no-show of the night was the PS4 itself. Sony kept its new console under wraps, focusing instead on new gaming features and software.
But the company did unveil the PS4’s new Bluetooth-equipped DualShock 4 controller.
While keeping the basic silhouette of earlier PlayStation controllers, the DualShock 4 adds a few significant upgrades, including a clickable capacitive touch pad in the middle (like what you find on laptops), a speaker, a headphone jack, improved joystick and trigger buttons and, the biggest one of all, a share button for social media.
What’s more, thanks to a glowing light bar on top of the controller, the DualShock 4 will be able to work in tandem with another device called the PlayStation Eye to allow for Wii-like motion control.
Of course, the hardware wasn’t the only thing on display during the event.
Designers from some of the biggest gaming studios in the industry took to the stage to talk about — and in some cases share glimpses of — a few of the next-generation titles they’re currently developing.
Some of the games that debuted during the event included a fourth entry in one of Sony’s first-person shooter franchises called “Killzone: Shadow Fall,” a brand new team-based racing game called “Driveclub" and Sucker Punch’s “Infamous: Second Son."
Longtime Sony collaborator Square Enix also showed off a tech demo that may or may not be a hint at an upcoming “Final Fantasy” game.
Like other generations of Sony consoles, the PS4 seems to be targeting hardcore gamers, but there were a few games clearly aimed at satisfying younger players, including "Knack," a cartoonish-looking PS4-exclusive, and "The Witness," an adventure/puzzle hybrid from the developer behind one of the biggest indie hits of all time, "Braid."
Possibly the big surprise of the software portion of the event, though, happened when Bungie Studios, which developed the Xbox-exclusive “Halo” games, took to the stage to announce that its upcoming first-person shooter, a new IP called “Destiny,” will be coming to the PS4 with exclusive content, proving just how competitively Sony is positioning itself for the next round of console wars.
One caveat, though, is that with the nearly photorealistic graphics of the PS4, the content does seem a lot more visceral. In a scene from the "Killzone" demo, for example, a wounded soldier is shot point blank, releasing a spray of blood that might look a little too realistic for some tastes.
What we don’t know
Even after a two-hour press event, though, there’s still a lot left to be revealed about Sony’s new gaming console, including what the system itself looks like.
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Another major question is how much the PS4 will cost. At launch, the PS3 sold for around $600, making it prohibitively expensive for many consumers. With the array of features and high-end technology built in to the PS4, early estimates are putting it at a similarly high price point that may put off many families.
Finally, a specific release date has yet to be announced, although Sony has promised the PS4 will be available in time for Christmas in North America.
To view the entire PS4 event, it can be streamed online on the PlayStation website at us.playstation.com or watched in archived form at IGN.com.
A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.