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

Sony used a press event in New York City on Wednesday night to unveil the PS3's official successor, the long-awaited PlayStation 4

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Brendan McDermid / Reuters

PlayStation 4's lead system architect Mark Cerny speaks during the PlayStation 4 launch event in New York City on Feb. 20, 2013

The rumors you’ve been hearing are true: nearly eight years after Sony announced its current-generation PlayStation 3 game console and media hub at E3 in 2005, Sony used a press event in New York City on Wednesday night to unveil the PS3’s official successor, the long-awaited PlayStation 4. As Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO Andrew House took the stage, he promised to give us “a glimpse into the future of play.”

The event wasn’t just about hyping a slab of custom-built computer hardware, either. Sony dedicated much of its presentation to new features like remote play, game streaming and social interaction — all stuff it says comes built into the PS4’s DNA. And it even managed to pull off a few surprises no one saw coming, including a partnership with PC gamemaker Blizzard.

The Console Itself

Sony took us further into the weeds than expected, though just barely, laying out the PS4’s specs in slight detail, revealing that it’s powered by an x86 CPU, a “highly advanced” graphics processor that uses GDDR5 memory, a respectable 8GB of memory and of course a hard drive (size unspecified).

How powerful are we talking? Sony left performance comparisons with earlier systems up to developers, who teased abstract figures that only glancingly addressed the question. Given what was shown in game-play demos and sizzle reels, it’s obvious the PS4 will pack more oomph than its predecessor, though eyeballing those same demos, it’s also clear the company’s playing catch-up to PCs, which have been capable of the sort of raw generational power demonstrated during the presser for years. Suffice to say the adage that “the last generation’s prerendered cut scenes become the next generation’s real-time game play” sounds about right.

Alas, we didn’t get a peek at the physical console itself, though that’s also no shocker, given that the system’s final specs are probably still in flux.

The Not-So-Different Controller

The PlayStation 4’s new controller — unimaginatively dubbed the DualShock 4 — looks a lot like its predecessor with slightly longer handlebar grips, but also includes a new touch pad on top, a light bar that can identify players (“a simpler, more friendly way to identify players,” said Sony) and a “share” button that’ll let users record game-play footage and instantly share it across Sony’s gaming network (without having to edit it, apparently) or pipe it to popular online video-sharing sites.

“You can see that your friend is in trouble and reach out over the network to take over for them,” said Sony lead system architect Mark Cerny, adding that we’ll also be able to watch friends play a game in real time.

The Mystery Interface

Sony didn’t show us much of the PS4’s new interface, but did reveal that the console will support system suspend and resume, meaning you can simply press the power button once to freeze a game, then press it again later to continue playing precisely where you left off. While it’s not exactly clear how quick any of that is, or how fast the system loads off a clean boot, the implication, made by Sony, was that it would be more or less instantaneous.

The company also claimed the PS4 will be “seamlessly integrated” with apps on tablets and phones (models unspecified), that it’ll have dedicated, always-on video compression/decompression and that you’ll be able to use your smart phone to browse game videos, say, of your favorite opponents in a fighting game.

Streaming Online Features

While it sounds like the PS4 won’t be backward compatible with older PlayStation games, Gaikai CEO Dave Perry talked up a new PlayStation Store feature that’ll allow gamers to play pretty much any older PlayStation game using the company’s streaming technology. You’ll also be able to use the PS Vita handheld to “remote play” PS4 games.

But the most intriguing Gaikai-related feature involves the ability on the PlayStation Store to try full, streaming versions of games for free — presumably with some form of time limitation — before actually unloading your wallet. Perry said the feature would also allow players to share (think “recommend”) games they like with friends.

“What we’re creating is the fastest, most powerful network for gaming in the world,” said Perry.

Digital titles will be playable while they’re being downloaded, said Sony, thanks in part to a dedicated chip designed to handle this as well as other background processes. The idea seems to be that the PlayStation 4 will be significantly more multitasking-friendly.

No surprise, the PS4 will include the usual media partners, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon and Facebook.

New Games

Most of the two-hour-plus event turned into a game-demo lovefest: in order to showcase the PlayStation 4’s new features, Sony welcomed a parade of game developers to demonstrate some of the titles that’ll be available for the new console.

Like: Knack, a third-person action game in which you can change shape and manipulate physics to challenge enemies and environmental obstacles; Killzone: Shadow Fall, a first-person shooter safely in the mold of the Killzone series; and DriveClub, a splashy chrome-tastic team racer that supports multiple gamers competing cooperatively against other racers in “clubs.”

Other developers took the stage, though more to highlight proof-of-concept demos, the most striking of which was probably an extremely realistic (and rather creepy) human face courtesy Quantic Dream’s David Cage (Heavy Rain). But the surprise of the evening was probably Blizzard’s Chris Metzen, announcing a “partnership” with Sony to bring Diablo III to the PlayStation 4 — a first for the traditionally PC-exclusive developer.

When Can You Buy One?

Sony said nothing about PS4 pricing or possible model variants, and only committed to rolling out the PlayStation 4 by “holiday 2013.” Expect significantly more detail at E3 in June, in other words, and the console to (probably) ship in November.