The PlayStation 4 Unveiled, The Evolution of Gaming Sony Style…

After much pomp and ceremony Sony has revealed their next generation PlayStation to the world, the PlayStation 4 has now moved from rumour to reality. With a captive audience of media types present the show got underway.

Now, days later the dust has settled and the details of the next generation PlayStation have become much clearer, free of rumour and innuendo.

Still the event wasn’t free of controversy; the absence of the console itself has had speculation running rife. Some media outlets are reporting that the hardware isn’t complete, while others are reporting Sony is holding back the big reveal for later in the year.

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The Controversy

PS4 concept design.
PS4 concept design.

The PlayStation 4 controversy kicked off with the absence of the console at the event, like a birthday party without the individual celebrating the big day. As with all great controversies two contradicting versions of the same story must be present. In this case Mashable and the hoards of parroting reporters who use it are reporting that Sony ‘don’t know how the PS4 will look as the designs are not yet complete’. While Kotaku has interviewed the man behind the big event Shuhei Yoshida, president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, who answered the ‘Why no console?’ question by stating Sony wishes to keep some surprises up its sleeve for later in the year.

With 6 months until the consoles release the manufacturing of the console will be in its early stages, the expensive stages. A point that relies on the design being completed; extrusion molds must be produced, production lines prepared and parts ordered. At this point there is enough time for minor tweaks and modifications but the consoles design will have been completed before Christmas.

The Hardware

AMD design win
AMD design win

Under the bonnet the PS4 is a design win for AMD. The brains of the PS4 will be a customized APU (CPU+GPU) with a unique memory solution. Whereas most AMD APU’s use standard DDR3 memory connected to the CPU’s memory controller, the PS4 will use 8GB of DDR5 memory connecting through the GPU’s memory controller. This unique design will help to eliminate the memory bottleneck suffered by many all in one integrated processors, Sony and AMD are quoting the memory subsystem as being capable of 176GB/sec transfer rates, a not too shabby number at all. Here at Highpants we think AMD should test this setup with its tablet and laptop chipsets.

The CPU within the APU will provide 8 processing cores based on the latest Jaguar dual core modules (4 modules). The GPU will contain 18 graphics processor cores that will include 1152 stream processors, comparing nicely to a mid to high end PC video card. A far more powerful graphics processor than the standard GPU included within AMD’s mobile chips.

According to AMD “At the most basic level, an APU is a single chip that combines general-purpose x86 central processing unit (CPU) cores with a graphics processing unit (GPU) and a variety of system elements, including memory controllers, specialized video decoders, display outputs, etc. Our semi-custom solutions take the same treasure trove of graphics; compute and multi-media IP found in our APUs, and customize them for customers who have a very specific high-volume product that could benefit from AMD’s leading-edge technologies,”

Aside from processing power the AMD APU also provides the connections to the outside world, the I/O ports. All the modern acronyms are covered; USB 3.0 is included along with Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, HDMI, optical and analogue audio out and a mysterious custom auxiliary port.

Storage and media hardware will include a large capacity hard drive and a 6 speed BluRay drive.

The Controller

The fourth generation DualShock controller.
The fourth generation DualShock controller.

Sony has built much of its gaming reputation on the quality of the DualShock controllers. With the fourth generation DualShock controller front and centre during the onstage demonstration this is a tradition that is continued, it did impress.

While most of the rumours regarding the G4 DualShock were accurate there is always a tendency for the wish list to become part of the rumoured functions. In this case the rumoured LCD screen on the controller was more wish list than reality. The LightBar on the front edge of the controller was possibly partially responsible for the rumour. The LightBar is intended to represent various in game information, changing colour to show you characters health for example, but it is not an LCD display.

Keeping the DualShock at the leading edge of technology Sony has upgraded the motion sensors to eliminate shake and improve sensitivity. Three colour LED’s replace the original mono LED’s, allowing transitions to signify more detailed information, power levels, signal quality etc. Audio capabilities have been integrated; with speakers and a mono headset (a headphone socket is also included). Sony has also worked with gaming industry heavy-wights to improve the feel and responsiveness of the analogue sticks.

The Share Button is new and was demonstrated on stage allowing the player to record and share short bursts of game-play, player can now prove the impossible really did happen and easily keep a record of it for posterity.

PlayStation 4 Eye

Adding to the gaming options Sony has jumped on the visual controller bandwagon. The Eye camera for the PS4 contains two high resolution camera’s that are able to able to watch the LightBar on the DualShock controller, allowing it to judge distance and movement of multiple controllers. This same technique is also applied to the Move controller, allowing the Eye to improve the accuracy of the Move.

Cloud based Gaming

The Cloud expansion to the PlayStation Network
The Cloud expansion to the PlayStation Network

One new aspect of the PS4 that was announced by Sony focuses on the expansion of the PlayStation network, a concept that has the potential to change console game forever, the cloud connected console. While the Cloud is naturally associated with storage Sony has much grander plans for the ether based system.

Having purchased Gaikai in 2012, a company dedicated to building cloud based systems for large organisations Sony is planning to put the Cloud to work as a remote gaming powerhouse.

Backwards compatibility will be one of the major functions initially provided by the cloud. All games dating back to the original PSOne will be made available through the cloud service, negating the need to integrate emulation into the new box. There will of course be costs involved for the gamers but there will also be benefits, allowing the trophies and other data related to your gaming history to still be relevant. Haven’t finished GranTourismo yet, the cloud will allow you to pick up where you left off.

This same approach could also be applied to PS4 games as well. In the future if a game developer wants more power than the PS4 can provide they could shift heavy processing to the cloud. 4K gaming is a good example, the PS4 natively isn’t capable of generating games at 3184×2160 resolution required for 4K gaming, but shift the processing to the cloud and the problem is quickly solved.

The brave new world of Cloud based gaming has the potential to create a brand new gaming eco-system for Sony. If it works as well as Sony suggests you can bet that Microsoft will adapt a similar system for the Xbox 720.

Cost

Pricing of the new console is still up in the air, reports suggest the price to be in the $599 USD range, this may change as we get closer to the release date in November. Sony won’t want to lose money on sales of the console as they did with the PS3 so expect the price to be high. Using standard of the shelf PC components will help to keep the price down but that may not be enough to stop sticker shock.

Conclusion

Sony has now drawn a line in the sand, ending the speculation and replacing it with a healthy dose of gadget desire. Can Sony’s marketing machine keep the attention of the world focused on their upcoming gaming extravaganza for the next six months? 2013 is quickly becoming the year of the Gamer.

Reference: Kotaku
Reference: Mashable
Reference: TomsHardware
Reference: Fudzilla
Reference: CNN