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After Seven Years, Sony Unveils Playstation 4

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The PlayStation 4 was unveiled at a Sony press event in New York City on February 21, 2013. (Source: CNET)

The PlayStation 4 was unveiled at a Sony press event in New York City on February 21, 2013. (Source: CNET)

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NEW YORK (CNET) – Sony has unveiled the PlayStation 4. But, we still didn’t get to see what it looked like.

The PlayStation 4 was formally announced in New York City. At least we know the name is definite. As for its features, the details came out eventually. Here’s what you need to know.

Hardware

The PlayStation 4, as you’d expect for a seven-years-later follow-up, has impressively bumped specs. An eight-core X86 AMD “Jaguar” CPU and a 1.84 Teraflop AMD Radeon graphics engine (with “18 compute units”) comprise the central processing on the PS4, There’s also 8GB of fast GDDR5 memory. The PS4 will use a hard drive for storage versus an SSD, but the included capacity in the box (and whether it’ll be as easily swappable as the PS3’s hard drive) hasn’t been specified.

Immediacy of response reducing lag time while accessing content is also one of the promised PS4 features (unlike the extremely laggy Wii U, perhaps). The PS4 will allow speedy background downloading, and Sony claims games will even be playable as they’re being downloaded.

Yes, the PS4 will have a Blu-ray drive that can also play DVDs, although Sony curiously left any mention of that out of the presentation. According to Sony’s press release issued after the event, the PS4 will also have three USB 3.0 ports, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.1, HDMI, Analog AV-out, and optical digital audio output.

What about PS3 game-playing on the PS4? Sony made claims not just for PlayStation 3 backward-compatibility on the PS4, but potential future PlayStation 1 and PS 2 retro gaming as well via a PlayStation Cloud Service. How or when this would be available wasn’t specified.

DualShock 4 and the new PS Eye: touch and move

The new DualShock 4 controller is one of the few parts of the PS4 that there are actual pictures of. Much like the advance rumors, it feels like a fusion of the PlayStation DualShock with some of the design philosophies of both the Vita and the Move. It has enhanced rumble, a touch pad, a share button, a standard headphone/microphone jack that will accept standard headphones, and light-up bar that looks like a transplanted top of a Move wand. The two-finger touch pad with click, located right in the middle of the controller, has the same look as the pad on the back of the PS Vita handheld. The DualShock 4 also has a Micro USB port, Bluetooth 2.1, and Sixaxis gyroscope/accelerometers.

The PlayStation 4 Eye has also been redesigned: instead of the single webcam-like lens setup before, the new almost Kinect-like bar has stereo cameras, and works with the light bar for motion controls It comes packed in with the PlayStation 4.

Online: the new social sharing

Sony promises you’ll be able to scan the last few minutes of your gameplay with the push of a “Share” button on the DualShock 4, uploading screenshots or clips, and even spectate and chat during other people’s games like PC gamers already do. Many screens shown at the PlayStation event show what looks like a serious revamp of Sony’s social gaming network, using what look like real photos and names for players. Whether or not video game footage-sharing is a feature with mainstream appeal has yet to be determined.

Streaming games, in a sense

Gaikai cloud technology, acquired last year by Sony, seems to be the glue for the PS4 offering the “fastest gaming network” and enabling features seen in previous streaming services like OnLive: a trial-based way of playing games before buying, which would work via streaming-game technology. David Perry, CEO of Gaikai, discussed the many ways that PlayStation Cloud services will potentially re-invent the back end of the PlayStation experience.

Gaikai technology will also be used to power the PS4’s spectating experiences, and that aforementioned ability to continually one-button broadcast your game progress via Share. It’s certainly the first time a home gaming console has entered this territory, although PC gamers have enjoyed similar types of functions. The streaming/sharing technology will also work with Facebook and UStream.

PlayStation Vita and remote play

Can the Vita and PS4 be best friends? Sony also discussed remote play second-screen gaming on the Vita, but didn’t demo the technology. It sounds somewhat like what the Nintendo Wii U enables on the GamePad, except in this case the experience will be translated onto a fully independent handheld device.

If this works as promised, it could help make the PS4 and Vita a hardware match worth getting — improved transmission times between the Vita and PS4, as promised, result in an experience as seamless as what Nintendo achieves on the Wii U GamePad. Sony’s aiming to have most PS4 games be Vita playable via remote play. No further details were given: apparently, that will be discussed “later in the year,” too.

Cell phones, tablets…second screens, too?

Whether phone, PC, or portable gaming device, Sony also made big promises regarding integrated gaming that will follow you wherever you go. What that actually entails–an app, social gaming, or something like true game streaming–wasn’t clearly defined either, but it sounded like Sony’s continuing attempt to broaden PlayStation support via Sony tablets, phones and electronics. It’s important to note that other game consoles like the Xbox 360 already allow this type of integration via certain apps, and many games do as well.

The core social elements of the PS4 are being promised to work on smartphones, tablets, and the Vita as well — on stage, the clean-looking social browser was shown on various devices, including streaming video of gameplay.

Games

Games shown at the event included some very familiar franchises, as well as some new titles. Killzone Shadow Fall has what looks like a far more expansive city landscape and obviously more impressive graphics from the few minutes seen, but could be easily confused for a PS3 game. More interesting was how the video footage was immediately shared afterwards via the main menu.

Driveclub, by Evolution Studios, promises team driving with asynchronous and real-time social gaming, along with a connected tablet app for watching team progress. Then again, that isn’t far off from existing social-connected sports and racing games. InFamous: Second Son looks a lot like another Infamous sequel. Jonathan Blow’s The Witness looks more unique, but its inventive vibe looks like a triumph of game design, not new hardware.

Other future-tech demos ranging from Move-sculpted digital puppetry to creepily real animated heads show elements of the PlayStation 4’s potential, theoretically, but it’s hard to suss out what parts of this technology couldn’t have been replicated on a PS3.

Developers galore appeared to tout the capabilities of the PlayStation 4, but Sony did not provide a launch date other than “Holiday 2013.” A price wasn’t provided either…nor was any actual picture of the system itself. A glimpse of the DualShock controller and camera bar and a rough spec chart are all that were shown over the course of over two hours. For more, it looks like we’ll need to wait for E3, or some other time in the year.

PS4: only half an unveil

Will the PS4 open up new ways to play? Sony’s event made claims that, among other things, the new PlayStation platform will be open to episodic and free-to-play content. That’s more of a philosophy shift in content sales and distribution, but the presence of Gaikai’s streaming services could influence the future of game content delivery as well.

In short: the PS4 looks like it’s long on promises and big-picture dreaming, but currently a little short on clear, concrete reasons why anyone would be tempted to buy one.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Interactive, Inc. and CNET, a CBS-owned company. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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