"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Playstation 4 Announced

Sony has announced their next generation console and if it lives up to the promise of its presentation, then console future is looking pretty good. And that is before Microsoft announces their next gen (rumor is anywhere from this year's E3 to next year). The press conference was about two hours long and ironically did not show the actual final product, provide a price or a release date other then Holidays 2013 (so likely early November 2013). Instead it was about its potential features and possible launch games but still a hell of a start.

- custom 8 core x86-64 AMD Jaguar CPU with 1.84 TFLOPS AMD Radeon graphics engine (current gen is at 1.76 TFLOPS)
- 8GB GDDR5 RAM (for comparison the PS3 has 512mb so a 16x increase in RAM)
- Build-in hard drive (sizes not announces)
- 6x Blu-ray/8x DVD drive
- USB 3.0 ports (number not specificed)
- Ethernet, b/g/n Wi-fi and Bluetooth 2.1 (essentially same as PS3)
- HDMI, analog AV-out, and optical S/PDIF audio output (so essentially same as PS3)
- DualShock 4 controller with touchpad, gyroscope, accelerometer, vibration, lightbar with 3 LED lights, mono speaker, micro USB port, headset port, battery
- Playstation 4 Eye with two 1280x800 camera, 85 degree field of view

- A secondary chip allows for background downloading and start playing a game even while it is still being downloaded
- System does not play PS3 discs, Playstation Cloud steaming will be used for PS1, 2 and 3 games but at launch only some PS3 games will be available. No announced plans for already purchased games but suspect will just have to re-buy the virtual version if want to stream a PS3 game.
- Instant on with sleep/resume function instead of on/off so avoid boot and load times.
- Attempt to have software "learn" interests so can auto-download content may like so instantly available when decide want it (this sound meh to me)
- Social aspects built into the game so can steam games while playing, record and post game play video, pictures and more from the system.
- Remote Play: PS4 acts as a server to the PS Vita so can play a game from the PS Vita screen and controls (useful if need TV for another reason but mostly sounds better then actually is and likely most games will not support it)
- Playstation Cloud Service to start will likely be used for streaming but assumed to include games saves and more so create the "fastest gaming network"
- Multiple account login: can have more then one user profile and configuration, useful if have one then more using it or even if bounce from friends house to friends house to play (especially if combined with cloud accounts)
- Remote access, spectating - Friends at other locations can watch you play or even take control of your game (say for that hard boss)
- Potential launch titles: Destiny, Diablo III, Killzone: Shadow Fall, DriveClub, Infamous: Second Son, The Witness, Deep Down, Watch Dogs and possibly a Final Fantasy game.
- Will play used games, pointing this out since rumors has indicated this wouldn't be the case

As the specs and features indicate, Sony is repeating what it did with previous Playstation versions by building and improving every aspect of what they already knows works. The hardware basically takes a PC gaming rig circa summer 2013 and squeezes it into a console frame with a custom operating system. They then added a heavy cloud and social solution that is currently dominating smart phones and tablets while recognizing that speed matters and people no longer like to wait for things to boot up especially when just getting a kick hit of information or just trying to get a quick game in between other of life's activities. As a casual gamer, most of the features they spoke of like remote play are things I will probably never use but regardless I appreciate the thought put into them as can see their uses. I especially like making movement where the idea of "save data" is no longer tied to a specific console or generation but moves "virtual" with you. What Sony is planning is what Nintendo wanted the Wii U to be but lacked the vision and leadership to accomplish.

Speaking of Nintendo, where does this leave them? The Wii U is a five month old console with a 5 year old hardware and 10 year old software solutions trying to compete against a device that is of 2013. Its not even a contest. All the touch gimmicks in the world will not save it. The drop in sales of the Wii, PS Move software and the XBox Kinect illustrates that the wave your controller movement is dead. The old ways of playing still rule, just see gaming success on smartphones and tablets that still thrive on essentially old style control methods. An example of how far behind they are is that your store purchases are tied into your hardware. I don't mean any Wii U. I mean the specific Wii U you own. If it breaks, you lose all your data including your purchases. If you want to try to recover it you can't just go buy another Wii U and log in. Nope, you have to ship the broken one to Nintendo and a few months later you either get it backed fixed or they will provide you credit to re-buy your previous purchases. Maybe. Usually getting that far is a fight. The equivalent is if you had to re-buy all your smartphones apps every time you broke your phone. Same phone, same plan, same service provider, but because "new" hardware, all apps have to be repurchased even though the App store could provide a list of your previous buys. That is the real, not exaggerated Nintendo solution.

The amazing thing is they consider that solution to be an "improvement". When asked about this solution, Nintendo has been perplexed on why its a problem. Sure now it isn't since still a very new system but next year? Year after that? It is an inexcusable decision that highlights why so much of the Wii U is broken. Add to that significant software lag times, poorly implemented software, poor game library and the result is a buggy, slow machine that is hopelessly behind. Sure some things can be fixed with software updates but because it is 2007 hardware, it simply isn't capable of doing any of the things Playstation 4 is planning. That isn't even taking into account that Nintendo has no interest in building the infrastructure required to maintain a cloud solution (even though if implemented right with save files and settings, you average free Dropbox account would be sufficient to meet those cloud needs).

Now you are thinking, what about the games? Nintendo excels at games. If they can produce some great games then they might hold to tide but the last four months of launch games have been pathetic and the future doesn't look any better. Nintendo currently doesn't seem to have any killer games in the pipeline, just a lot of promises of games to be. There is only so many times you can hit the Mario, Zelda, Metroid well and unless they do something dramatic, those three franchises just isn't enough. This is before you even factor in whatever Microsoft's next gen hardware will be. They now have an idea of what Sony is prepping and so the XBox 3 response can easily be equal or better. I just don't see how Nintendo can survive this console cycle with their continued insistence that 2007 solutions are the answer. I suspect that by end of 2015, Nintendo will leave the console hardware business and license their franchises to other game makers.

I am truly impressed with the potential of the PS4 and now looking forward to seeing what Microsoft has up their sleeves. This year's E3 (June 11-13) should be interesting as now Sony can use it as a platform to potentially show off the actual console, reveal the price and their launch line-up. Also Microsoft may or may not use it reveal their next XBox and Nintendo...well they will promise a Zelda and Metroid game which, if history is a any guide, will not actually get released until late 2014 so irrelevant. Between the resurgence of the PC gaming market, smartphone and tablet games and now the next generation of gaming consoles on the horizon, it has never been a better time to be a gamer. To bad this bright future has likely to claim its first casualty, the company that really started it all - Nintendo. Of course all this assumes that today's claimed features are actually implemented well when this comes out at the end of the year.

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