14:14 03 March 2013
The long-rumoured, eagerly-anticipated PlayStation 4 (PS4) has finally been revealed, signalling the true start of the next generation games console war between Sony and Microsoft.
The PS4's announcement event might not have been as exciting as that of the PS3 back in 2005, but the new kit looks powerful and uses technology which could change the way we play videogames.
So from graphical grunt to social sharing, here's a run-down of what to expect from the new PlayStation 4 console, including when it will be released and how much it could cost.
What is it?
The PS4 is the fourth iteration of the massively successful PlayStation console, and the successor to the 70-million-selling Playstation 3 (PS3).
Like the PS3, the console (which wasn't actually shown at this week's announcement event) will let you play the latest blockbuster video games, stream video and music, and play Blu rays and DVDs, among other things.
Amid all the buzzwordery and marketing-speak at the event, it's clear that Sony's big focus for PS4 is on connectivity - whether it be online play and social network integration or cross-device play between the console and the PlayStation Vita or your tablet or smartphone.
It basically means taking your PS4 games with you wherever you go, thanks to some clever 'cloud' technology. But more on that later.
Despite all the talk of cloud storage, streaming and sharing, Sony has actually given the PlayStation an overhaul in terms of what's under its bonnet, which means we'll get games with next-generation graphics, sound and functionality.
If you're a bit of a geek (read 'Sony fanboy') like me, then the next section will tell you a little more about the console's technical specifications. If you're not imbued with geekery, just know that they showed footage from Killzone Shadow Fall, the next iteration of the blockbuster Killzone series, and it looked suitably spectacular.
See for yourself below
For the tech geeks...
If you're reading this section then I'll assume you're at least a little savvy with this kind of thing and spare you the extended explanations of each feature. Among the upgrades, the PS4 will have a 'supercharged PC architecture' and sport:
•An eight-core X86-64 AMD 'Jaguar' CPU
•A 'super-charged', next-generation AMD Radeon GPU
•8GB of unified GDDR5 RAM
If you're not into this kind of jargon but got this far anyway, that basically means there's been a big upgrade from the PS3.
As well as all this graphical and processing grunt, we'll see the features which made the PS3 such a success, such as a Blu ray drive, internal hard drive, HDMI ports, Bluetooth and USB 3.0.
What can it do?
This is where it gets particularly interesting, as the PS4 will be capable of a lot of things the PS3 wasn't.
As I said earlier, the actual PS4 hardware itself was a no-show at the event, but its new joypad - the Dual Shock 4 - was shown. It resembles the PlayStation control we've known and loved for years, but has a few new tricks up its sleeve.
First off, there's a big touchpad on its face, like the one on the back of the PlayStation Vita, which, for example, lets you swipe it to throw a grenade, and so forth.
It also has a new share button, which will let you instantly upload replays of your latest gameplay with your friends. The PS4 will be constantly recording this kind of thing in the background, and will upload it in the background too, so you can continue playing.
Dual Shock 4 also has a light bar on top which, when coupled with a stereo camera sat atop your TV, will be able to track your movements in three dimensional space, like the PlayStation Move or Xbox Kinect.
Finally, there's a headphone jack at the bottom of the control so you can plug in a headset and speak to friends (or enemies) during online play.
That's just the control
Though we didn't get a look at the PS4 'box' itself, we got a good preview of what it'll do.
Sony bought a cloud service called Gaikai last year, and will use it to good effect with the PS4. For example, you'll be able to play demos of new games on the Playstation Store instantly, without having to download them first - just push a button and you're in.
Speaking of downloading, you'll never have to wait for a download to finish before you start playing the content. So rather than wait for a new 20GB game to download before playing, you start it instantly, downloading only a small portion, and the rest will download in the background.
The cloud service will let you play PS4 games on your Playstation Vita (and other device, potentially) via Remote Play, without any loss of fidelity.
It basically turns your PS4 into a server and your Vita into a client. So if you're playing in the living room and your TV is commandeered by less enlightened members of your household, you can just continue on your Vita.
Speaking of continuing, the service will eliminate the console boot time we're all used to. Instead, you'll be able to suspend and resume play at the touch of a button, with the cloud remembering where you left off and the console remaining in a low power mode in the meantime.
The PS3's user interface has been given a big overhaul, doing away with the Cross Media Bar (XMB) in favour of something a lot more modern and Xbox-alike, with social sharing deeply integrated.
Will it replace my PS3?
The PS4 will not play your Playstation 3 games, at least not in the 'insert a disc and press start' sense. The Gaikai CEO implied that backwards compatibility for PS3 titles may be possible at a later date, using cloud technology.
But if you want something that will deliver the next generation of console gaming then yes, you'll need to replace your PS3 with a PS4. That's not to say Sony will stop supporting the PS3 overnight - they only recently stopped supporting the PS2.
Finally, the dubious rumour that the PS4 would ban you from playing used games turned out to be false.
When is it out, and how much is it?
At the announcement event we were told the PS4 will be available this 'holiday season', which means Christmas time to you and me.
That said, PlayStations of years gone by have been released on different dates in different countries. The PS3 was available in Japan in November 2006, but we didn't get it until March 2007, so we might not actually get it in time for Christmas.
As for pricing, that's anyone's guess. The PS3 was seen as expensive when it launched at £425, but has steadily dropped in price over the past six years. But I wouldn't expect there would be much change from £500 for Sony's new box of tricks.
That said, in a post iPhone and iPad world where new gadgets launch for around £400 and get updated every six months, I wouldn't be surprised to see less backlash against this PlayStation's price tag.
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