Sony’s PlayStation 4 Reveal Raises More Questions than Answers

Sony's PlayStation 4 unveiling lasted two hours but still managed to leave a lot of questions on the table.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Sony

As expected, Sony’s Manhattan-staged PlayStation media event was the sort of hype-lathered spectacle we’ve come to expect from companies that bet the farm on overlong, action-packed game teasers whose crowning achievements involve moments where tricked-out environments pop with dazzling granularity.

For the better part of a somewhat erratic two hours, Sony turned its official PlayStation 4 announcement into exactly that: a collage of developers dragging millions of live-stream viewers through hypothetical exhibitions of the PS4′s prowess, capsulized in money shots of gleaming race cars, blaze-filled iron sights, exploding buildings and impressive (if still not entirely human-looking) faces. It’s as if Sony expected gamers to exhale in collective elation as it rang the old Pavlovian graphics bell. It was, in short, precisely what I’d been hoping the company wouldn’t do: deploy breathless presenters who wound up showing way too much of much too little.

To be fair, we probably won’t lay eyes or hands on the PS4 until E3 this June, and we won’t be able to actually buy the thing until late this year (probably in November), which means the system specs, console housing and pricing are still in flux, to say nothing of the launch games — always a crazy, last-minute affair, a situation doubtless complicated by soaring production costs associated with creating better than passable content for a console that’s undergone a complete architectural reboot.

(MORE: PlayStation 4 Unveiled: Sony Announces New Game Console, Social Features)

Speaking of architecture, let’s talk about the PS4′s specs for a moment. We don’t know much: an eight-core x86 AMD CPU paired with a “highly advanced” AMD-based graphics processor capable of 1.84 TFLOPS (both processors on the same die), a respectable 8GB of GDDR5 system memory (“capable of moving data at 176 gigabytes per second,” boasted Sony) and of course a hard drive (size unspecified, though Sony at one point referred to it as “massive”). It’ll also sport a secondary processor dedicated to “background processing,” which Sony hyped by referencing the ability to start playing a digitally delivered game before it’s done downloading.

That said, the event raised more questions than it answered. Like: Will this PlayStation still have an integrated Blu-ray player? (Less of an issue for games, since we know the PS4 isn’t backward compatible with the PS3, but think of all the Blu-ray film buffs.) If so, will it be slot-loading or a clunky noisemaker like the recent super-slim PS3 revision? Will the PS4, as rumored, support 4K Ultra HD games out of the box? Will the almost certainly spindle-driven hard drive be user-replaceable? How big will this thing actually be (and how noisy, assuming active fan cooling)?

It was telling and a bit surprising to hear Sony refer to the PS4 as a “supercharged PC.” Not that it’s really news. It may offend console wonks to hear this, but game consoles have long been…if not exactly supercharged PCs, at least recognizably PC-like. The distinction we make between computers and game consoles, while relevant when we’re talking about how we interact with these things (desks vs. couches, gamepads vs. mice/keyboards), is arbitrary in the end. The looming war for our living rooms (and beyond) won’t be fought between PCs and consoles — two sides of the same coin — but against other devices and cross-platform technologies entirely.

(WATCH: Sony Unveils PlayStation 4)

In any event, Sony’s initial emphasis on developer accessibility was intriguing. Forget specs, a system’s output depends at least as much on how easily developers can make programming headway. Developers have to hit the ground running these days with production demands soaring. Add grappling with a convoluted SDK and you’re piling insult on injury — a complaint often leveled at the PS3′s powerful but proprietary design. That the PS4 will employ parts derived from industry standards like the x86 architecture suggests the developmental learning curve will be far less cliff-like.

But this all assumes we’re talking about a future the world wants video games to live in. I won’t rehash my warnings about Apple suddenly taking gaming seriously and challenging Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony on their own turf (you can read more about that here). But it was more than a little disturbing that Sony’s only hat-tip to the tablet/smartphone crowd Wednesday night involved some vague references to browsing game videos on mobile devices. Instead of boldly upending the industry, Nintendo Wii-style, Sony’s initial play seems straight from the PlayStation 3 playbook: Spiff up the visuals, fold in some trendy “social” gameplay features, add buzzwords like “synergy” and “reconceptualizing” as frosting and presto, a PlayStation 3 + 1! Even the PS4′s vaunted instant suspend and resume feature sounds more like Sony playing catchup: tablets and smartphones have had that technology for years.

I’m also more than a little concerned about Sony’s streaming backward-compatibility angle. Gaikai isn’t doing anything OnLive wasn’t, and I was never a fan of OnLive for serious gaming because of its latency and visual degradation issues. While the prospect of playing older PS1, PS2 and PS3 games on the PS4 sounds enticing, will gamers playing whatever first-person shooter tolerate lag? How about the sort of graphical artifacts that plague uncontrollable streaming hiccups? The fact that streaming rules out offline play entirely? On the other hand, the idea that players might use game streaming to test-drive full versions of titles before unburdening their wallets, while again not new — take another bow OnLive — sounds like the technology’s sweet spot.

(MORE: The Next PlayStation: 5 Lessons I Hope Sony’s Learned)

Let’s circle back to a positive: I’d like to know more about this one-button video sharing feature, designed to let gamers watch each other play, comment in real-time and — say the friend you’re observing can’t get past some challenge you’ve already mastered — seamlessly slip into the driver’s seat to help them through. Letting gamers watch each other play has enormous educational potential, too. Fold in social network hooks to Facebook and YouTube and the possibilities snowball. This is where I’m hoping Sony has more up its sleeve. Everyone has better graphics, everyone has a more or less unique interface angle, but not everyone has a social-focused, games-angled backend that’s as compulsive as Facebook or Twitter and tailored to gamers in the act of gaming.

That Sony would try to work viewers into a froth by pumping out sizzle reels for over an hour is understandable given the presumed lack of sufficiently complete games or ready-to-talk developers eight or nine months from launch. I just wish the company had pared back Wednesday’s event time by half and devoted more space to the PS4′s more interesting innovations. Think about all the questions Sony left on the table: What’s it really up to with that touch strip on the DualShock 4? The player-recognizing gamepad sensor? The gamepad’s enhanced motion controls (and Move support)? The new PS4 version of Sony’s PlayStation Eye?

But the most important question is probably going to be: Can dedicated set-top game boxes thrive with Apple and Google at the gates? Can Sony compete against a market space that pumps out new devices by the dozens annually — devices with access to hundreds of thousands of apps that cost a fraction of what console gamers pay? Any bets on how long it takes smartphones or tablets to catch up with or even surpass locked-down consoles, power-wise? And here’s the more important question: Do they even have to?

9 comments
AbhishekEnder
AbhishekEnder

The fact that you  put tablets and smartphones on the same level as a console forget a pc, shows us the entire problem with a non-gamer. Tablets and smartphones on extremes have 16-32gb of memory. Single playstation games come on discs that huge. As for the quality of games, you never have engaging story lines, and lets face it graphics. I mean you can talk of everything and anything else but the fact of the matter is we want games to look better. Since the time of atari and 8bit games and the ps1,2 and3 we have evolved only to better graphics, and engines allowing more involvement in the game. That is the point. Not social networking, or posting your temple run scores online. 
The point is to play a good engaging single-player game, something similar to COD, or Mass Effect, or jump into an expansive multiplayer game, where you still only interact with multiplayers. Sony already announced post the XBOX release that their focus was on creating a gaming console, basically and adding certain media centre features. Social features are only to enhance the gaming. 
As far as gamers have always been concerned the point of evolution has been towards better graphics and engines. Compelling stories have always been there and will be there. If you want social features, switch from the playstation network to a social network. 

rashidreuben
rashidreuben

Phones are still phones. No way they can just push a console or PC to the side. With a phone you'd have to stay plugged into a wall like a console because you'll be using alot of power if you're gaming. Can phone even do 200+ players in a single game? Can they do 16? We play consoles longer than we play phone games. Its portable and all but do you see us playing Assassin's Creed and big MMOs on a phone? How much storage does a phone have. This article is full of crap. .

MS winning without even showing anything? Microsoft product is nothing but a rumor, I mean we're not sure if its true about them blocking used games. Until they speak its nothing but a story. Like PS4 was just a story. They did not need to show the console. I mean would you rather MS show the xbox only and nothing else? They're just going to change the way it looks anyways by making a smaller version.

LydonDoublezzLewis
LydonDoublezzLewis

This dude needs to watch the vid again, they did say it will be using blu-ray!!! XD Little does he kno, there will be plenty of ppl who will enjoy every last feature that PS4 has to offer. To many skeptics and critics lets all just wait and see, especially when u try to compare a console to another that hasnt even been announced yet!!! when there both out and running then lets let everybody complain and moan about who's better! Point blank It all Boils down to preferences! =/ 

LydonDoublezzLewis
LydonDoublezzLewis

@NYCseanWell said my friend!!! wouldnt have put it any other way!!! ppl are just to picky, not to mention selfish! I wish critics were not the ones to post up there opinions! And litte do they kno it there will be plenty of ppl who will enjoy every last new feature that the PS4 will be offering!!! I know i am 1 of them!!! =)

Envy661
Envy661

The only thing I really take issue with in this entire topic is "Consoles have always been supercharged PCs". That's a lie if I ever heard one. Consoles make shitty PCs, and are typically obsolete in the first year. As such, the price for what they may be worth is typically halved within that time, or at least it would be if it was a legitimate PC. Unfortunately, the overall cost for consoles typically remain higher than their PC counterpart. As a result, consoles over time become not only obsolete, but also not cost-effective, and not worth the price.

As we age, the more true gamers learn about console vs. PC gaming, the more true gamers will be switching to PC gaming over console gaming. After all, PC gaming tends to have a significantly higher game availability, and all games are typically ALWAYS backwards comparable, unless the game was made for an OS that is over 15 years old.

NYCsean
NYCsean like.author.displayName 1 Like

Were expectations truly so high for everyone who watched?  I wasn't disappointed at all, unlike most "reviewers."  We saw some official announcements followed by examples of things to come.  More will be revealed at E3.  Anyone who feels Sony dropped the ball is either a fan of some other gaming system or just overly critical and therefore biased.

Krizz
Krizz like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

lol MS won by not even showing anything? thats prolly the dumbest thing ive heard in a while. showing us games and specs and devs working on games is a negative? lol seriously, try harder

SteveGraham
SteveGraham

I have no idea why you are talking about smart phone games, are you kidding? Sony has always been about JRPG's and innovative action-platform games.  They cater, and have always catered to a more hardcore gaming crowd. no REAL gamer even jokingly considers smartphone apps or smartphone developers as real competition to anything.

MaryKateClark
MaryKateClark like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Smoke and mirrors... that's what I saw.  

No console, no price, no back compatibility. No women.  There really was a lot to not see. 

...And a host of people were disappointed that The Last Guardian also did not appear. 

It seems Microsoft has won this round without even being in the ring.  I'm not sure that Sony was quite there either.