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The PlayStation 4 Announcement: An in–Depth Analysis – Part 2

Continued from Part 1, before the Xbox One announcement – click here to read Part 1 (opens in a new page)

In the first installment I looked at the PS4 presentation, the branding, the games, PSN and the new Dual Shock 4 controller. This time I take adetailed look at the hardware and UI and ask whether Sony has done enough to ‘Win’ the next generation?

The UI

Although we didn’t get a much of a look, the new User Interface seems to be modelled somewhat on the new PS Store design (which is itself not that dissimilar to the current XBOX UI). I don’t know if it’s because the demo system was not fully populated or personalised but it all looked a little bland to me.

A heavy support on personalisation was hinted at, which ties into their system philosophy (more on that next time). Although the XMB has been with us along time its still pretty functional if not that exciting. Lets just hope the final version retains the functionality but with a little more flair.

The Hardware & The Ethos

Simple, Immediate, Social, Integrated and Personalised.

This is the ethos behind PS4 & PSN.

I can’t fault them for this in any way. In fact I would go one step further and proclaim this should be the mantra for ANY digital product, platform, culture, layer or service.

By integrating Social functions deep into the platform itself and not just relying on innovative developers to add features with specific titles, Sony has laid down the gauntlet. The Wii U has some very appealing social options with Miiverse allowing gamers to connect in ways Nintendo gamers could only dream of before and no doubt Microsoft will offer their own clever angle on social but it will be hard to compete with the prospect of sharing in game videos and images in real time with friends and the wider gamer universe.

Immediate and Simple. These are ideals aimed not just at the consumer but at the developer community who have seemed to be won over by Sony’s attempt to offer them a platform which is easy to work with. Sony has along history of technologically capable systems but which were a pain to develop for. Often it would only be the likes of first parties like Naughty Dog, Polyphony, Sony Santa Monica and a handful of talented third parties who could really push PS systems to their max.

Now with a PC based architecture and 8gb of dedicated RAM developers will finally have a Sony system that offers all the benefits of working on a closed, well-integrated system and one that is easier to work with. Could the days of multi format tiles being developed for XBOX as the primary platform be over?

Some have complained about PS4 essentially being a top spec PC – a platform which always has the potential to be upgraded. But after the alleged $1bn R&D costs for the PS3’s cell processor which led to its excessive launch price point can you blame Sony for instead opting for modified “off the shelf” components that will allow it to launch at a price point that theoretically should be much more palatable?

The PC point is also misjudged simply because this is not a PC it’s a PlayStation. We are not just buying a piece of hardware but a whole tailored eco system which comes with its own original titles, and unique services. Like the Xbox 360, the Wii U and indeed every other major console in history, this is much more than just a piece of plastic and chips but instead a total experience. One which I wouldn’t trade for a PC any day (and vice versa).

Personalised, Immediate and Integrated. Tying in it with its new emphasis on Social is the idea of truly personalised system. One that adapts to its owner and is to quote Arnie “a learning computer”. The idea of booting up your system (which can happen instantly and remarkably mid-game in certain standby modes) to find new titles recommended by the system which are then downloaded automatically will be something gamers haven’t experienced before. This will help gamers find hidden gems that may have otherwise escaped their glance. Indies must be hopeful this will offer the mainstream exposure essential to delivering a hit title.

Integration with other systems is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Smart Glass and is something we will continue to see with practically all future connected devices.

Unfortunately Sony’s dream of convincing the world that the Vita is the PS4 natural companion seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Remote Play is a great feature but it will take a lot more than that to revive the Vita…

The Box

Probably the biggest point of contention was the fact that although we saw plenty of what the PS4 is capable of we didn’t actually get to see the PS4 itself! Opinions ranged from “who cares!!” to “I can’t believe they didn’t show the system!!” The opportunity to take a few pot shots by their rivals wasn’t missed either…

Announce a console without actually showing a console? That’s one approach

— Larry Hryb (@majornelson) February 21, 2013

Although it was disappointing not to see the new system, we have to remember Sony still has a show to put on at E3 and there’s also the possibility Sony itself is still working on the final design. Also let’s not forget although brand new console hardware is always exciting especially when we have to wait 5 years or so, Sony will no doubt unveil a PS4 Slim in a couple of years!

The Verdict

Overall I was impressed with the launch but I hope Sony still has a lot more up their sleeves. The development community seems to be fairly positive about the hardware and the opportunities available and for gamers itching for new hardware the next gen can’t start soon enough.

Sony was adamant: the PS4 is a games system first and foremost and hardly referenced the ‘all-in-one entertainment box’ others are touting. But the landscape has changed a lot since the PS3 was launched. Rivals and threats exist in a myriad of new forms and Sony can not afford to take its eye of the ball for a second.

One thing is for certain, the next year is going to be very interesting…

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