PlayStation 4 complete guide


The stakes couldn’t be higher for Sony’s PlayStation 4. The original PlayStation set a ballsy precedent, doing away with cartridges; the PS2 threw Sonic and his Dreamcast pals under a truck, forcing Sega out of the console game for good.


But the PS3 and its hardcore gaming attitude wasn’t prepared for the family gaming revolution. Its high price led more parents to buy their favourite sprog a Nintendo Wii, and many traditional gamers were enticed by the ever-improving Xbox lineup.


The PS3 lost billions of yen for Sony, and it was only after going to the gym to slim down and offer a lower price tag that its fortunes took a turn.


We think Sony has been given enough of a boot up the rear to make the PS4 a real showstopper, and now we hear several internal Sony studios have begun developing games for the next-gen machine.


So how long until Sony unleashes its new console upon the world, and what will be able to do?


Graphics


Call us shallow, but if there’s one big priority on any gamer’s mind it’s the graphics. The PS3 is capable of outstanding visuals — witness this year’s big hits Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 — but some developers are starting to feel the digital squeeze.


Graphics company AMD claims the next generation of consoles will allow for visuals as lush as those in Avatar. If that seems hard to believe, watch this tech demo by developer Epic for a sign of things to come:


If you think that looks swish, you’ll wet your kecks when you see what Final Fantasy maker Square Enix has been working on. It’s been grinding away at something called the Luminous Engine, which promises photo realistic gaming for the first time.


Try guessing which of the following images are real or computer generated:

Pretty close, eh? The top one is the original photo, and the bottom one is pure digital wizardry. The trick is to simulate the way surfaces reflect every grain of light, and it looks marvellous. Gamers could finally play in a virtual world that looks better than real life.


Of course, the PS4 will need some serious processing testosterone to offer those photo-quality graphics, as well as 3D. Sony will achieve this by simply expanding the PS3’s 8-core Cell processor to as many as 32 cores, Kotaku reckons, rather than spending oodles of boodle inventing another new chip from scratch.


But there’s more to a game than fancy graphics, and a beefed-up processor will allow for realism in other ways too. One notable area is in artificial intelligence, where the wits of enemies will be vastly improved. Imagine those non-playable characters in Grand Theft Auto having a mind of their own, each reacting independently rather than running from your grenade launcher all at once like a herd of sheep than a panicked mob.


Launch date


The PS3 was unleashed on the world in 2006, and Sony has long boasted of its 10-year lifecycle for the console. Of course, that doesn’t mean a new iteration won’t arrive sooner. After all, the PS2 was born in 2000 and it was still selling millions in 2010.


When should we expect a new machine capable of those tantalising photo-realistic graphics? Power geeks know that high-end PCs are already capable of that kind of processing, but you’d need a wallet made of gold to make it a casual purchase.


A top-spec PC weighs in at almost £1,500 these days, according to the Tech Report buyers’ guide. Chips and bits tend to cost half as much each passing year, thanks to trusty ol’ Moore’s Law — so you’ve got a fairly plausible £375 price tag for a comparable machine by 2013.


Sneaky sources at Taiwanese manufacturers think it will arrive even sooner, going as far as saying the PS4 is already in production for a 2012 release.


Take these 2012 claims with a pinch of salt, because industry observers think it sounds like bobbins. The handheld PS Vita is coming out early next year, and Sony staff will need a breather before unloading the future of living room entertainment upon the world.


Having said that, tech leaks do tend to come from the factories that make them. It could be that some kind of upgrade to the PS3 is in production to compete with Nintendo’s Wii U, and to get a foot in the door ahead of a new Xbox. Whether another updated PS3 would offer a boost in graphics ability or just a slimmer case is anyone’s guess.


“I think we’ll see a game of chicken between Sony and Microsoft,” industry analyst Billy Pidgeon from M2 Research told Kotaku. “Sony definitely isn’t launching a successor before 2014 and could stand to benefit by having Microsoft launch first.”


He’s quite right. If Sony waits an extra year, it could offer a better console for a more competitive price — something it completely fluffed last time around. But this game of cat and mouse goes both ways, and the stand-off between the two companies could be the factor that leaves us high and dry for a few more years.


What about the supposed PS4 ad which did the rounds just before the E3 gaming event last June?



Sadly, a Sony PR rep quickly made a statement to Game Informer to say it was a fake. So who made the well-polished trailer? 24-year-old Han West cast his classmates in the starring roles and built the set for less than $500. We wish it were real, but bravo nonetheless.


Controller


Sony researchers have been dancing their glasses off trying to improve on Microsoft’s hands-free Kinect interface.


Sony has published a patent (right) describing plans for a floor sensor and controller loaded with gyroscopic sensors, a mic for voice control, and even an ultrasonic sensor to track your distance from the TV and other players. Expect the family-friendly fun of the Kinect, but with the accuracy of a joypad.



Disc-free?


It’s hard to believe the PS4 will ship with a hard drive big enough to replace a full collection of 50GB Blu-ray games, but smart phones have proven that digital-only stores are more convenient and cheaper — a tasty business model.


Blitz Games CEO Philip Oliver agrees, telling Eurogamer that Sony and Microsoft would be crazy to stick with physical media for the next generation of consoles.


Removing the disc drive would certainly make the console much cheaper, and when you consider that the lifespan for the PS4 will run into the 2020s it seems a future-proof option. Cloud storage will be the norm, so you could save your library of older games online. Sony has invested vast sums in the Blu-ray format, however, so we can’t see the next PlayStation without a Blu-ray drive. Besides, we’d miss breathing on a grubby CD and rubbing it on our t-shirt.


Summary


Early tech demos promise an exciting future for gaming, and we’re giddy at the prospect of Avatar-quality graphics. Throw a 3D telly and motion controls into the mix, and you’ve got a pretty good reason to give up on society and stay at home. With full digital downloads you won’t even have to go out to buy games and movies — bliss.


There are rumours that Sony will release an improved PS3 in 2012, but it seems too early for a bona-fide PS4 to be affordable. If it can wait out the Xbox 720 and release a competitor with a better balance of price and ability, it could reclaim the console crown over the long term. Just don’t expect it to be the cheapest toy in the shop.

Slim PS3 is updated frequently each day with the latest Free PlayStation 3 news.

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