Last night, at its much publicized event at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, Sony (SNE) announced the next phase of its "war against reality" by introducing its newest console, the PlayStation 4. Considering that in the last generation Sony fell from the top of the industry to a disappointing third place, this new console has a big role to fill in helping the company retake the fan base it lost when Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox 360 entered the scene in 2005. Journalists and consumers alike were expecting a bevy of new announcements and confirmations on the system's capabilities and launch software, and for the most part they were not disappointed, though a lot of the facts that will determine the system's success are still unknown.
Game developers will be happy to know that the next PlayStation console will forgo the cell processing design that made producing for the PS3 such a pain, as the PS4 will return to using a more PC-based setup. Specs for the PS4 included an X86 CPU, a powerful AMD APU alongside an "enhanced" GPU, and 8 gigabytes of GDDR5 system memory. The system will also be featuring a custom chip that can update system and game files in the background or while the console is asleep, and download software in parts so one can start playing a selected game while it is still downloading. The PS4 is accompanied by the upgraded Dual Shock 4 controller, which now features a touch pad, and a button for instantly sharing content online.
In an effort to make its system much more social, the PS4 will also be heavily integrated with social networking sites such as Facebook (FB) and Twitter via the share button. Gamers will essentially be able to broadcast videos of their gameplay with the click of a button, allowing friends to watch at their leisure or comment in real-time, without having to edit and upload content for sites like YouTube (GOOG). Lead system architect Mark Cerny stated that the feature will also be integrated with smartphones and tablets, so it's likely that gamers will have access to feature on their iPads (AAPL) and Android phones as well.
As many expected, Sony's acquisition of the Gaikai is helping to upgrade the PlayStation Network. Gaikai's CEO Dave Perry mentioned that the new PSN will allow a player to instantly try games for free, allowing someone to play a section of any game before buying it. In addition, the system will get to know your tastes and will automatically suggest titles after noticing your affection for a certain developer or genre.
Similar to the design of Nintendo's Wii U (NTDOY), Sony's PlayStation Vita will also be fully integrated into the PS4, allowing gamers to play PS4 games on the go while other family members are using the TV. Perry stated that the Vita will become "a client with remarkably fast connection speed", which will no doubt boost the struggling handheld's value in the near future. Unfortunately, because of switch back to PC processors, it's already been announced that the PS4 will not be able to natively play PS3 games. However, Perry stated it is the company's intention to use Gaikai's streaming services to eventually allowing gamers full backward compatibility with titles from Sony's previous consoles.
Where Sony impressed most was in the stellar showcase of games that would be available around its launch. While it's unconfirmed whether some of the games showcased -- such as SuckerPunch's Infamous: Second Son and Ubisoft's Watch Dogs -- would be PS4 exclusives, the event gave viewers a first glimpse at a great deal of titles that could support the system. In particular, Guerilla Games' demo for Killzone: Shadow Fall put on a impressive display of graphical fidelity and cinematic gameplay transitions that the PS4 might be capable of, while Mark Cerny's new game Knack seems to feature animation quality on par with a Pixar (DIS) film.
Indie game developers Jonathan Blow and Quantic Dream studios also appeared to present their latest projects and praise the PS4's accessibility to indie developers. However, Sony saved its biggest surprises for last: Chris Metzen of Blizzard Entertainment (ATVI) stated that Diablo 3 would be ported to the PS4 at launch, making it the studio's first new console game in over a decade, and Bungie, the studio that created the Halo franchise for Microsoft, would feature its upcoming project Destiny on the PS4.
As remarkable as these announcements were, there are still a lot of big questions left unanswered by the event. For starters, although the system was talked about at length, the console itself was never once shown, meaning that its design is still a mystery to consumers. Also, while gamers are confident that Sony will put itself on the cutting edge, detailed information about what the PS4 will be running on has yet to be provided, so tech analysts will likely still have a hard time estimating the system's strengths. The system has been slated for a "Holiday 2013" release, though an exact release was not provided. Almost unsurprisingly, the issue of the system's pricing was completely ignored, though most analysts have predicted that it will be priced around $450.
While these questions are irksome to those who want to get a good sense of how the next generation of gaming will play out, it's more than likely that this event was an attempt by Sony at beating Microsoft to the punch, or else forcing it into a defensive position before E3. Many of the speakers claimed that more information on games and features will be available at E3, which is when Microsoft is expected to announce its own next-gen console. Sony's strategy may be to try and overshadow the Xbox 720 by building up the PS4's hype, or by forcing Microsoft to make a reactionary statement. Leaving out information like system specs, pricing details, and the prospective release date prevents Microsoft from being able to use that information to its advantage, while also allowing Sony some flexibility in how to react once details on the Xbox 720 have been released.
If this is the case, it's a bold strategy, but it's unclear whether or not it will be successful. After the show, gaming pundit Marcus Beer stated that while Nintendo has a lot to fear, Microsoft might not be worried if only because the Xbox 720 is sure to have its own list of features and will most likely beat the PS4 on price point. Regardless, Sony's event has no doubt excited consumers and journalists a like over what gaming's future will look like.