The long-awaited beginning of the next era in console gaming officially began Wednesday night, when Sony announced the PlayStation 4. Although Sony did not show the actual console itself (presumably to have something to show at E3, the gaming industry trade show in June), they did have lots to say.
Spec-wise, the PS4 will be on par with a current high-end gaming PC. It will sport an x86 8-core AMD CPU and 8 GBs of RAM (compare that to the PS3's 512 MBs), which should make for some fantastic graphics capabilities. Of course, it probably won't be the leap that going from SD-gaming to HD-gaming was, but it should be a big step forward nonetheless.
The PS4 will come with a new DualShock 4 controller that sports the familiar dual analog sticks, D-pad and shape buttons, but will also include a built-in touch screen as well as PS Move compatibility. Sony will be pushing "social integration" with this console, with built-in Facebook support and the ability to upload gameplay footage to share with friends, among other new features.
Using the Gaikai streaming technology Sony recently acquired, users will be able to play game demos from the PlayStation Store instead of downloading them to save hard drive space (no word on the hard drive, by the way, though they did talk about games being instantly bootable, so here's hoping for an SSD or hybrid drive).
Sony was also very clear that they are focused on making life as easy as possible for developers -- the PS3 was notoriously difficult to develop for in the first few years of that console's life. The success of Apple's App Store shows that you have to value the game developers second only to your customers.
Now for some of the bad news: The PS4 won't be compatible with PS3 games, at least not the discs themselves. There are rumors of being able to stream PS3 games, but no word from Sony yet.
Sony also didn't address the elephant in the room -- the rumor that's been flying around recently of a system to block used games from being played.
The PlayStation Vita (which I've never actually seen anyone use and personally will not buy due to the absurd cost of its proprietary storage) will be able to stream games directly from the PS4. However, that connection will have to be wired, which begs the question, why wouldn't I just play it on the TV if I'm stuck in front of it anyway?
They also didn't provide a price or release date beyond "Holiday 2013." Wednesday's event was clearly designed to get the jump on Microsoft, which will undoubtedly be revealing the successor to the XBOX 360 this year.
Overall, it was nice to hear about some of the things the next generation has in store for us gamers, but it feels like Sony missed a chance to tell us why we NEED to own a PS4. Their history suggests that they will put out a very high-end, very expensive product that will be awesome but marginalized until its price drops to a level that normal humans can afford.
In the meantime, Sony has to hope that Microsoft doesn't undercut them on features and/or price with their next console, and both have to hope Apple doesn't finally decide to wake up and allow games (and other apps) to be developed for their $99 Apple TV.