As was widely expected, the latest salvo in the battle for “next-gen” game consoles was launched on Wednesday in New York as Sony formally unveiled the plans for what it is now calling “Playstation 4,” or PS4. OK, they didn’t exactly tell us everything; to be honest there is much more that is unknown than known coming out of the event. While we wait for additional details likely to be announced at the annual gaming convention, E3, here is a quick look at what can be gleaned about PS4 from the perspective of how it impacts the world of residential systems and custom installations.
Connectivity will be key to the new platform, putting further burdens on home network systems. Given the need for speed, the wired connection will be upgraded to 1GB Ethernet and the wireless will be 802.11 b/g/n. The USB will be significantly faster with Super-Speed USB 3.0. Given that the next HDMI “version” is still not announced, one of the unknowns is if PS4 will be the first product with a new HDMI standard, as the original PS3 consoles were the first with HDMI 1.3. Analog AV and an optical digital audio output will be retained, along with Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR) for communication with the remotes.
The hardware will move from the PS3’s custom “Cell” processor to a PC-like design using an 8-core, x86/64 bit AMD processor and an AMD next-generation Radeon-based graphics engine. This change may be critical to the success of PS4, because it should simplify the development of games for the new platform. It is widely known in the game community that while the Cell-based system provides great graphics, game creation was unwieldy, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. This should change that.
PS4 will keep a Blu-ray drive but it seems clear that streaming content will be pushed hard for games as well as for streaming content services. Indeed, while there was mention of playback of legacy games from older PS systems, that may come through downloads, not by playback of the original discs. Be forewarned that we don’t know if this will involve new software cost to users, so it might be best to think about keeping that old PS3 or PS2 in the system rather than replacing them with a PS4 when it appears.
The PS4 DUALSHOCK controller adds a top mounted touch pad, a "Share" button, a speaker and stereo headphone jack and a unique identifier light bar to the standard button array and joysticks. Photo courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment America.
A new DUALSHOCK 4 controller with a touch pad as well as traditional joysticks and buttons will be key to the new system. It will also include a built-in speaker and stereo headphone jack. A mono headphone will be included, so that presents an upgrade opportunity for you to add more accurate stereo ‘phones or buds. Also key to the new controller is a three-color LED light bar on the front of the controller that helps gamers identify one another.
Equally important, the color bar is detected by the dual camera sensors in the new PlayStation4 Eye that will use the lights as part of game play to sense player position similar to how the current Move wands work with the PS3 Eye accessory. The new Eye will also include four microphones for “sound detection and source origination,” according to Sony, but it was not demoed at the press event, so it is not known how the Eye will integrate into game play. We do know that it will have face recognition for login, and it is said to allow “...use of body movements or voices to enjoy games more intuitively…” How close it comes to the centrality of Kinect to some Xbox 360 games and exactly what it does is something else for the list of “unknowns.” The one thing that was announced is that the PS4 Eye will have a proprietary connection to the console—something that might cause problems for pre-wires until the system arrives.
The PS4 EYE has dual cameras and four microphones in a small size that will clip to the top of flat panels. How to integrate it with large screens is something installers will have to experiment with. Photo courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment America.
That’s what is known, leaving many key details as unknowns. Of course, there will be a hard drive, but size and replaceability are not known yet. While the Move wands will apparently work with PS4, it is unknown if current Blu-ray remotes or “BT to PS3 USB” adaptors will also work with PS4. Some of the games to be released for the new platform were previewed, but which will be available at launch and whether they will be on physical media or downloaded is still unknown. We know what the controller and Eye will look like, but any images of the console itself were conspicuously missing.
Given Sony’s very vocal support of 4K content creation and display, it was surprising that neither 4K or 3D were mentioned at all. One supposes that particularly if it offers the new HDMI “version,” and given the expanded connectivity and processing/graphics power, 4K is a possibility. But that, too, is unknown at this point.
Oh, and there is one more thing that is still unknown: price and availability. Yes, “Holiday Season 2013” was mentioned, but that’s it for now. Before “Black Friday?” Right at the end of the year?
Perhaps some of the unknowns are being left to E3 while we wait to hear how Microsoft will respond with its next-gen console. Perhaps some of this is still being finalized. Either way, we know PS4 is coming and a little about it, but as you plan for it in new jobs or upgrades, keep in mind how things might change until we know just a bit more.
One thing we do know for sure: it will be a very interesting few months ahead for video game consoles as they influence consumer buying decisions.
Based in Los Angeles, Michael Heiss (email@example.com) is a CEDIA Fellow and contributing editor to Residential Systems.