Sony PlayStation 4 “Reveal” Vaporous, Uncertain

Game consoles, unlike most other consumer electronic devices, tend to be maintained for years between updates. The last time Sony revealed a new home game system, the PlayStation 3, it was 2005. While that press conference, held at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), generated a host of popular Internet memes mocking the system’s high price and the awkward manner in which it was introduced. At Sony’s Feb. 20 conference revealing that console’s successor, however, the company revealed precious little. Though technical specifications, a new controller and some details about the system’s online capabilities were presented, much about the console, including its price, release date and physical appearance, remain unknown.

Gathering at a New York convention center, rows of game journalists and members of the electronics and more mainstream press were given a two-hour rundown of Sony’s new console, with a heavy emphasis on new social features and technical improvements. Lead system architect Mark Cerny took the honors for introducing the system’s basic hardware and operating system software. While all of last generation’s game consoles ran on IBM processors, the PS4 will be using an AMD processor with access to eight gigabytes of memory and what Sony has promised will be a capacious hard disk.

About the new console’s social features, which include the ability to press a button on the new DualShock 4 controller and instantly record video of the game you are playing, Cerny said, “Our goal is to make sharing of video as popular in the PlayStation 4 as screenshots are today.” Videos taken by users are accessible by others both through the system itself and via mobile devices.

The controller for the console features a touch-sensitive pad in the center, the familiar array of buttons and triggers and the aforementioned “share” button.

Some features seem to be not as much steps forward than work-arounds. PlayStation 4 consoles will not be backwards compatible with any of Sony’s previous systems, meaning users will have to keep their old consoles around to continue playing those games. Sony’s planned solution to this problem is game streaming. Instead of playing the game natively on the home console, the game will be streamed from a remote server.

Exactly how much of this and other features will be available at launch remains mysterious. Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) chief executive Jack Tretton said, “I think it’s aspirational on the device, as opposed to us standing up there, pounding the floor and saying the day this thing ships all this stuff will be there,” Tretton replied. “I think it’ll absolutely be there for the device, but I don’t know whether it will be there for day one on the device.”

Reports indicate that the new console will continue to accept physical media for games, though Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida has announced that there will be what he terms a “digital option” for those who are unwilling to commute to a real location for their game shopping. Though we know some of its specifications and that it will have the ability to play optical discs, there have been no images released of the console hardware itself. More concerning is the lack of news on either price or release date beyond a vague “end of 2013” designation. With its businesses struggling on all fronts, Sony might have jumped too early to announce this system when many of its details were still not finalized.