Yesterday, Sony officially revealed the PlayStation 4 at an event in New York City. Although Sony announced a number of specs and highlighted some upcoming features, it didn't really break down what those components meant. We take a look back at the details and highlight the important parts of what Sony did — and did not — say at yesterday's event.
First and foremost, Sony highlighted the PlayStation 4's similarity to a PC. This emphasis was more for developer benefit than consumers. One of the biggest complaints with previous Sony consoles has been the custom hardware. Yes, the hardware was solid, but developing for the PlayStation 3 while also developing for the Xbox 360 and PC was not a simple task. Now that the underlying hardware is basically a gaming PC, developers won't need to learn a whole new set of hardware. This is similar to the approach that many current arcade games use.
Breaking down the hardware
CPU: 8-core x86-64 AMD "Jaguar"
GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS integrated Radeon
The PlayStation 4 is set to use a custom version of one of AMD's APU processors. Recently introduced by AMD, these chips combine a traditional CPU and GPU on a single die. Initially they were used in laptops, but the APUs are also used in desktop machines. Jaguar chips are not currently available in the marketplace, though AMD did show off working samples at CES in January. Those were "Temash" chips, which are low-power versions and meant for tablets. The Jaguar targeted for the PlayStation 4 will likely be part of the "Kabini" family. Initial versions of the Jaguar APU will be 28nm, though AMD expects to get that down to 20nm.
Assuming Sony does use a Kabini family APU, one of the key advantages will be low power consumption. Low power consumption means less heat, and less heat means less cooling is required. If Sony can keep heat generation to a minimum, fans need to run less often, keeping system noise to a minimum.
One key feature of the Jaguar APU is the fact that each core is completely independent. In the standard version announced by AMD (which features four cores), the only shared component is L2 cache. The stock version features 2 MB of L2, with each core getting one quarter of that. Since the PlayStation 4 version is slated to have eight cores, it is likely that the PlayStation 4 APU will feature at least 4 MB of L2. This is because the each Compute Unit on the Jaguar contains four cores and the L2 cache. An eight-core version of the APU will simply contain two full CUs.
Because the Jaguar APU is a full system-on-a-chip design, it supports all of the instruction sets found on standard 64-bit x86 compatible processors. Additionally, the Jaguar includes AES-NI, which is used to accelerate AES data encryption. It is likely that AES will be an integral part of the PlayStation 4's security features.
Comparatively speaking, there are no public benchmark numbers for the PlayStation 4 processor; however, the fastest AMD APU currently available is the A10-5800K. On the PassMark CPU Mark test, it rates an average score of 4,439, which is comparable to an Intel i7-3520M and an AMD Phenom II X4 970. Keeping in mind that the A10 is a previous generation APU and it has fewer cores than the Jaguar, the PlayStation 4 CPU should rate significantly higher. We're including the performance number above in order to give a baseline performance estimate.
As far as the GPU is concerned, Sony was mum on specifics, but since it is using the Jaguar APU, the GPU component will likely be derived from the Radeon 8000 line. Comparing specific features isn't really possible at this time, but the stated 1.84 TFLOPS of performance allows for a general comparison with current PC graphics cards. AMD's own Radeon HD 7850 currently boasts 1.76 TFLOPS, and that is considered a mid-range video card. On the high end, nVidia's GeForce GTX Titan boasts 4.5 TFLOPS.
It is likely that even faster cards will be available in the PC market by the time the PlayStation 4 hits retail shelves at the end of this year. Still, the stated performance is nothing to laugh at. Just don't expect the PlayStation 4 to surpass a high-end gaming PC in terms of image quality or performance.
RAM: 8 GB of GDDR5, Unified System Memory
While many will focus on the PlayStation 4's processor, it is the inclusion of 8 GB of GDDR5 that will make developers take notice. Along with the APU, it is also likely one of the most expensive components in the PlayStation 4. Rough estimates based on numbers from Mercury Research place the cost of 1 GB of GDDR5 between $16-19 and 2 GB of GDDR5 between $37-$49.
GDDR5 RAM is desirable because it's fast. Really fast. You won't see it used as system memory in gaming PCs (the vast majority use DDR3), but all of the high-end video cards come with GDDR5 standard. Since the PlayStation 4 is going to use a unified memory model, game developers will be able to allocate memory as they see fit, giving them a greater deal of flexibility than the PlayStation 3.
HDD: Unknown Size
Like the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4 will ship with a hard drive as standard. No size was announced, but given hard drive prices, we would be surprised if anything less than 500 GB was standard.
Disc Drive: Blu-ray (6X Speed)
The press conference didn't focus on it, but the PlayStation 4 will definitely have a Blu-ray drive inside for playing both movies and games. The primary reason this is worth noting is the increased speed. This means higher transfer rates, so installing games from disc won't be as annoyingly long as it currently is on the PlayStation 3
Networking: Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
Most consumers likely won't care about Gigabit Ethernet, but the inclusion of 802.11n Wi-Fi support will be a welcome addition.
Connections: USB 3.0, Bluetooth 2.1, HDMI, Optical Audio, Analog-AV, AUX
Though the USB and Bluetooth specs have been updated, from a usability standpoint, they should work the same as the current ports on the PlayStation 3. The main difference with USB 3.0 is a faster transfer rate. HDMI and Optical Audio are standard connectors, and unless Sony decides to change just for the sake of change, the Analog-AV connection should be the same multi-out that Sony has used since the original PlayStation. The AUX port is for the PlayStation 4 Eye.
PlayStation 4 Eye:
An updated version of the PlayStation Eye, the new unit contains two cameras with an 85 degree field of vision. Each camera runs at a resolution of 1280x800. It also features four microphones. The updated Eye does not appear to use an IR camera, unlike the Kinect, which uses IR for depth. There is also no visible motor on the Eye, though the large field of view likely makes that unnecessary.
An evolution of the DualShock 3, the most notable changes are the concave analog sticks, the touchpad and the inclusion of a headset jack. A chat headset will ship with the PlayStation 4. There is also a multi-colored light bar at the top of the controller that can be used to indicate pre-defined status messages as well as act as a tracking indicator for the PlayStation 4 Eye.
Breaking down the software features
The PlayStation 4 will not be backward compatible out of the box. This means that it will not play any prior PlayStation games, whether they were released on disc or purchased digitally from PSN. Sony did mention the possibility of using the Gaikai technology to stream older games in the future, but this was just a possibility.
From a feature perspective, the lack of any backward compatibility appears to be a mistake on Sony's part, as the company has prominently featured backward compatibility in its prior systems. While PlayStation 3 backward compatibility is likely not possible due to emulation overhead, there is no reason why the PlayStation 4 shouldn't be compatible with PSone, PlayStation 2 and PSP software. The hardware is more than powerful enough to run those titles via purely software emulation.
With no definite backward compatibility plan on the horizon, PlayStation 3 owners (especially those with large PSN libraries) should plan on keeping their current console and not selling it in order to upgrade.
Remote Play will allow you to run a game on the PlayStation 4 but view it and control it via the Vita. If this sounds familiar, it should. Sony previously announced the feature for the PlayStation 3 but never fully rolled it out due to technical issues. Unless you have a modded PlayStation 3, it's a feature you have probably never used. Assuming the technical issues are resolved for the PlayStation 4, this alone could be a reason to purchase a Vita. Bonus points if Remote Play also supports streaming movies to the Vita.
It is a button on the DualShock 4, but the magic is in the software. Pressing that button allows you to broadcast your gameplay directly from the system, no video capture box required. As live-streaming game footage becomes more popular, this is a feature that has the potential to catch on like wildfire. Yes, a handful of games, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops II, currently offer integrated live streaming, but that is dependent on the developer for support. With the PlayStation 4, you'll be able to do it in any game.
The PlayStation 4 will also allow game spectating, just like OnLive. Players will be able to view the game you're playing as well as leave comments. Taking things a step further than OnLive, the PlayStation 4 will also offer a remote help feature. If you're having trouble playing a game, you can ask a friend for help and let them control your system remotely. Your PlayStation 4 will still be running the game, but it will be controlled by your friend's PlayStation 4. Once you've gotten past the trouble spot, your friend can pass the controller back.
The help system sounds like an innovative feature, though it will be interesting to see how it gets exploited (and if Sony can do anything to stop it). Such a feature could potentially allow for enterprising individuals to offer paid-for-leveling services. It could also potentially allow someone to virtually "rent" a game they purchased to others. After all, if you're not going be using your PlayStation 4, why not subsidize a new game by letting someone connect remotely and pay for the privilege? Gamers found a way to monetize the game-sharing feature on the PlayStation 3. It would be folly to assume the same won't happen with the PlayStation 4.
Social was a major component of the PlayStation 4 presentation, and Sony announced both Facebook and Ustream as partners. There was talk of a gaming-specific social network, so it is possible that Facebook integration isn't as bad as it sounds, though we wouldn't be wholly surprised if a Facebook account is required to use the social features on the PlayStation 4.
Sony also plans on extending the social features to other devices, such as tablets and smartphones, so you can be connected to PSN even while away from your PlayStation 4. We got the sense that this would be similar to what Microsoft is doing with SmartGlass on the Xbox 360.
Gamers have seen activity tracking before, albeit on a limited level, with games that want to post status updates to Facebook or Twitter. Some have opted into services such as Raptr for the sole purpose of stat tracking. With that said, the PlayStation 4 promises to take activity tracking to a whole new level.
The system will log everything you do or play while using it. That data will be collected and sent back to Sony so it can "personalize" your experience. This likely means targeted advertising. The example used by Sony was that it wants to be able to "predict" what games you will buy so it can automatically download them to your console (in encrypted form). This way, when you decide to purchase, they are already there and ready to go.
While limited activity tracking around achievements and trophies is nice, the level of activity tracking hinted at by Sony in its presentation sounds a bit overboard. Hopefully, the PlayStation 4 will have a robust set of privacy options, allowing users to disable tracking if they choose to do so.
Sony showed off a handful of games at the PlayStation 4 reveal event, but what was most notable were the titles it didn't show. Drive Club looks like a promising racing game, but where is the next Gran Turismo? Also notably missing was any mention of The Last Guardian. The Witness looked intriguing, and it's good to see Sony supporting indie games, but a carefully worded presentation revealed that it's not even a PlayStation 4 exclusive.
The most impressive PlayStation 4 tech demo was undoubtedly Capcom's Deep Down (working title) running on the Panta Rhei engine. Capcom made no mention of exclusivity, which likely indicates that both the game and the engine will be multi-platform.
Square Enix, a long time Sony partner, couldn't even be bothered to show off new technology. Instead, when Square reps took the stage, they simply demoed the Luminous Engine tech demo that we've all seen before. It's rather underwhelming, given the history between the two companies.
Aside from Drive Club, the only exclusive titles shown at the launch event were Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadowfall and Knack. While all three looked good in the short presentations, none really displayed that quantum leap we've seen before in games when consoles shift a generation. Sure, they looked a little prettier, but to the untrained eye, they could be mistaken for top-tier PlayStation 3 software.
Ultimately, it is the software that is going to make or break the PlayStation 4, and that's where Sony needs to step up its game. The hardware has respectable specs, but for a reveal event, the software on display wasn't exactly earth-shattering. Perhaps Sony is holding back the big guns for GDC or E3. That's a very real possibility. But after seeing the relative lack of software for the Vita over the past year, the lack of a system-selling, major franchise demo was a bit worrisome. Still, we are cautiously optimistic and hoping for the best. After all, if Sony and Microsoft can both put forth strong offerings, then gamers are sure to benefit.
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