The DualShock 4 has built-in Move support, a touch pad, and a "share" button.
We don't know what it will look like or when it is arriving, but the PlayStation 4 is now officially on its way. Sony held a lengthy press conference yesterday morning in which they talked about the hardware, the new controller, and some of the big name games that will be released on the new console.
Immediately, the internet rumour mills went into overdrive, not least because of a few important details that were not revealed. What I hope to do in this article is recap what we know so far, note where there are gaps in our knowledge, and then fill those gaps with wild, irresponsible speculation. Sound like fun? Let's go!
What's inside the box?
The new controller looks far more comfortable that the old hard-edged boomerang.
The PS4 (and that is what it's called, despite speculation about a new title due to the Japanese cultural aversion to the number four) will dispense with the PS3's advanced but hard-to-program custom chipset and will instead, like the Xbox 360, use PC-grade components.
The PS3's Cell CPU was extremely powerful for its time, but it was reportedly a nightmare to learn how to use. Many cross-platform titles looked and played at their worst on the PS3, simply because the Xbox 360 had PC-like hardware inside, and was therefore easier for developers to use. In contrast, the heart of the PS4 will be an eight core AMD CPU, codenamed Jaguar. While it is not a simple off-the-shelf part, and will be custom-built by AMD for the PS4, it is an x86 CPU, just like the Intel and AMD chips inside almost all desktop PCs.
AMD will also be providing the graphical hardware, an as yet unnamed next generation Radeon chipset that will apparently do incredible things with a very large number of pixels. Alongside the CPU and GPU, there will be a very respectable 8GB of super-fast GDDR5 RAM. This type of RAM is typically used inside high-end video cards, so to have 8GB of it for the whole unit means it will be able to chuck around large amounts of data with ease.
The new Eye camera is suspiciously Kinect-like.
One feature that has piqued my interest is hardware physics simulation. One of the demos during the conference showed a million bright blue balls being dropped onto a realistic-looking village, bouncing convincingly off the roofs and into the streets. The GPU will take the strain of physics rendering off the CPU, leaving it free to run larger worlds with more AI and more complex animations.
Once again, the console will have wireless networking support built in, gigabit ethernet, Bluetooth connectivity, a "large" hard drive, and a much faster 6x Blu-ray drive, with the other interesting new addition being high speed USB 3.0 instead of the slower and more common USB 2.
The strangest omission from the press conference was a look at the actual PS4 console. While the new DualShock 4 controller was on display, the box that it connects to was not. Some claim that Sony has not finalised the box because they have jammed too much hardware into it and they can't keep it all cool enough. Others claim that the hardware specs are still being finalised, so they don't yet know how much space it will need inside.
Killzone: Shadow Fall features a huge, interactive cityscape.
My guess is just that they're still tweaking the look of it. Release is still at least nine months away, so that still gives them a while to nail down the look of it before going into mass production. If they had unveiled a prototype or mock-up yesterday they would have been risking branding confusion. beyond that, I see no reason to guess they're having design difficulties.
Also missing was any official talk about video resolutions, though Sony later told Joystiq that the PS4 will output movies in cinema-grade 4K resolution providing they are provided in that format, but games will not. Personally, I would simply be happy with all games running in 1080p full HD.
Controller and peripherals
Drive Club's cars are hard to distinguish from reality.
The DualShock 4 was the only piece of PS4 hardware visible on stage during the press conference, and it is bound to be divisive for fans. The hard, unyielding design of the DualShock 3, largely unchanged since the original PSOne controller, has been rounded and softened. The new controller looks like a mix of DualShock 3 and Xbox 360 controller, and frankly looks a lot more comfortable to use.
New features on this controller include a touch-sensitive strip, similar to the touch-pad on a laptop or the rear touch-pad on a PS Vita, which will allow simple finger-swipe input for games and apps, plus built-in PS Move functionality including a light-up colour bar just like the light-up ball on the Move controller, and a "share" button that will enable social functions.
Speaking of the Move, the PS4 will also have its own PS Eye camera peripheral, a TV-top device that looks a lot like a Kinect. With two high-resolution optical cameras, the new Eye promises instant facial-recognition log-in, gesture recognition, voice recognition, and enhanced motion control thanks to the light-up bar on the new controller.
The new Eye is already being mocked as a Kinect rip-off, but it's yet to be seen whether it has the same capabilities as Kinect. Its cameras are certainly higher resolution (an impressive 1280x800) but it lacks the Kinect's infrared, so how well it will see in 3D is something we'll just have to wait and see. As for the accusation of ripping off the Kinect, I've always said that if something works, it's only common sense to copy it.
This is where things get really exciting. The games on display at the press conference were not just graphically impressive, but also showed off the huge gaming possibilities the powerful new console will unlock.
Killzone: Shadow Fall was one of the promising games on display, showing off an absolutely gigantic and highly-detailed cityscape that seemed to go on forever. Apart from the standard first-person shooting action, there were also hints of the game allowing players to switch into aerial vehicles. It was a great demo of the new console's amazing grunt.
The future of driving games was also on show, in the form of Drive Club. The development team have made some interesting choices, such as concentrating on the first-person cockpit view instead of the more common third person rear view, and letting players start a race by walking around the car, opening the door, getting into the driver's seat, putting on your seatbelt, and starting the engine. The attention to detail is astonishing, with the cars nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Hopefully the gameplay will be as interesting as the visuals.
A bunch of other games have been announced, including Bungie's Destiny which will be on both current and next-gen consoles, Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs which has an astonishing new gameplay trailer out (captured from PC gameplay, apparently), and a new infamous title from Sucker Punch, subtitled Second Son. Square Enix also promised a new Final Fantasy title, though no live gameplay was shown, and Blizzard announced that Diablo III will be released for PS4, its first console game in nearly two decades.
Even more exciting was the official list of third-party studios making games for PS4. The massive list reads like a who's who of the gaming world, and includes fan favourites such as Level 5, Platinum, Grasshopper Manufacture, Klei, LucasArts, Telltale, Gearbox, 4A, CD Projekt, and Mojang. CD Projekt has already announced that The Witcher 3 will be on PS4, and LucasArts' involvement may mean that Star Wars 1313 will also be on the new console. As for Mojang, it could mean a PS4 version of Minecraft, or it may be Notch's upcoming sandbox game, the space exploration sim 0x10c.
The only big omission from a games viewpoint is the Sony-owned studios such as ThatGameCompany, Team Ico, and Naughty Dog. I was one of many impatient fans hoping to finally see The Last Guardian get announced as a PS4 title, but I was left disappointed. It was also strange that there was nothing from the creators of the smash hit Uncharted series on display, or the creators of Journey and Flower. Looks like Sony is saving a few tidbits for E3 in June.
Other excellent game-related news is that, despite rumours to the contrary, Sony has told Eurogamer that the PS4 will not block gamers from playing second-hand games, or from borrowing and swapping games among friends.
All things considered, the PlayStation 4 is shaping up to be a really exciting piece of tech. All we really need to know now is when it's coming out and how much it will cost. EB Games Australia has begun taking pre-orders for AU$899, which seems about right considering the bleeding edge technology inside. It is very unlikely to come anything close to the AU$999 of the original PS3.
Sony is talking about having it on sale for the 2013 Christmas shopping season, but that seems optimistic to me considering the console's casing doesn't seem to be done yet. I suspect we'll see another staggered release, with Japan getting it first in November, and perhaps the US in December and Australia in January or February.
See, it wouldn't be a new console reveal without some irresponsible guesswork, right?
What do you think, readers? Do you think you'll be picking one up based on what's been shown so far? Are any of the features particularly interesting to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez