PlayStation 4: Sony announces it, but doesn’t show console

Sony has moved into the next generation of the console wars. In broad strokes, the company announced the PlayStation 4 to media at a Wednesday night event in New York City, touting a device with an eye on the cloud and social interaction at its center.

What Sony didn’t do, however, was actually show the PlayStation 4 itself to its eager audience.

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A parade of Sony executives and an impressive lineup of game developers came out to tout the console’s features. Live game demos showed off its high-performance graphics processing unit and central processing unit. The settings of many of the games showed off hyper-realistic textures — gleaming cityscapes, craggy rocks glistening with water, lifelike flames — that take advantage of the system’s 8-core AMD processor with integrated graphics.

That’s just the start of the admittedly impressive specs, showing that Sony is sticking close to its engineering roots. The PlayStation 4 will also pack 8GB of RAM, as compared to 512 MB on the PlayStation 3. It also comes with a Blu-Ray player, Bluetooth capabilities, WiFi, USB 3.0 ports and another (as-yet unspecified) auxiliary port.

As for the all-important player ecosystem, Sony is revamping its PlayStation Plus network to be a more social, sharing-focused network zeroing in tightly on the needs of core video gamers.

For example, there’s a button built into the new PlayStation controller that lets users share gameplay videos straight to the network, in addition to features that let players drop in on each others’ games, watch their friends play titles live and even see what titles their friends have recently bought.

The controller also has a built-in headphone jack as well as a touchpad — a feature that didn’t get more than a mention last night, but had many wondering how developers could effectively incorporate touch inputs from the controller into their games. The controller also has an LED light that the company said could help differentiate players. It may also be used for other gameplay features, such as motion tracking.

Sony also showed off a Kinect-like camera that will come with the console, the PlayStation 4 Eye, which appears to still work with the PlayStation Move motion controllers but also packs a pretty impressive sensor on its own.

The company is also making a big push into cloud gaming, enabling players to shuttle their games from the PlayStation 4 to its handheld Vita system. The same is true of movies that come through the company’s bundled Video unlimited service and songs from its Music Unlimited service. Players will also be able to control parts of the console with their smartphones and tablets, similar to the way Microsoft handles second-screen features with its Xbox Smart Glass program.

The company is working to get a library of over 3,000 PlayStation 3 titles into digital form — something that’s important for those with older Sony systems, since the PS4 will not work with older Sony discs.

There are still plenty of questions, of course — chief among them being what the console looks like, what it will cost and when in Sony’s broad “holiday 2013” release window it will actually hit store shelves.

Chances are, Sony will offer those details at this summer’s Electronic Entertainment Expo — giving it some news to break against the expected announcement of it’s biggest rival, Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox.

 
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