PS4 will be the last to the market, and for three good reasons: the PS3’s 3.2 GHz Cell processor, its high-capacity Blu-ray optical drive and the fact that developers are just starting to tap the full potential of the system. Still not convinced? Take the word of SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton, who said, "PlayStation 3 is really just hitting its stride. And technologically, I don't think it's possible to provide any advancement beyond what we have."
Tretton went on to say that PS4’s release date wouldn’t be effected by the Wii U announcement. However, I suspect that Sony executives are going to be closely watching the words and actions of Microsoft leading up to the company’s E3 2012 press conference. If Microsoft does intend to unveil the next console, Sony may move up its announcement of PS4 just to steal some of the E3 limelight. Regardless of this tit-for-tat, expect the PS4 release date to be a one of these two: “Q4 2013 inevitably delayed to First Half of 2014” or “First half of 2014 inevitably delayed to Fall 2014.” You know Sony.
Controller & Console Design:
The PlayStation controller has stayed pretty consistent from the original DualShock in 1997 to the DualShock 3 today. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar, it works. And, correct me if I’m wrong, the last time, Sony tried to radically redesign its controller, it turned out to be shaped like a silver boomerang. Like Nintendo, and I suspect Microsoft, Sony may opt to add a touchscreen to its potential DualShock 4 because it has wanted to use a second screen ever since Sony President and CEO Kaz Hirai showed off the “Grand Turismo rearview mirror” using a PSP. That E3 2005 tech demo never came to fruition, but it was an interesting idea that more developers besides Polyphony Digital might want to run with.
As for the system’s design, with the economy the way it is (and may be in 2014), Sony may opt to launch a toned-down console that reflects the current Slim design. When PS3 first came out in 2006, it had unnecessary bells and whistles like a multi-memory card reader as well as extras we did like - namely PS2 emulation - but Sony didn’t enjoy. That was axed for cost purposes (read: “Buy more of our current games”). Hopefully, PS4 is backward compatible, even if it means releasing a higher-end SKU.
Finally, fully expect a 3TB or 4TB hard drive to store all of your PSN downloads. 3TB sounds like a lot right now, but it currently costs $120. Imagine those prices (and the size of PSN files) by the time 2014 rolls around. Despite the larger drives, though, expect Sony to unwaveringly support Blu-ray, as it has invested too much money into the high-def optical disc drive to move onto full digital distribution.
Under the Hood: More Tech Specs
PS4 is almost certainly going to be the more powerful system of the three, and while there are fewer rumors about the next Xbox’s tech specs, forums and unscrupulous sites are filled with supposed “leaks” about Sony’s next-gen console. The reason behind this may be because of Sony’s use of the Cell processor. It makes it easier to guess the PS4’s configuration. Sony likes to stick with things to the end (Cell, 3D, Blu-ray, i.Link), so a shrunken version of its current microprocessor is expected. You may recall that PS3 Fats started out with a 90nm Cell CPU, and now PS3 Slims are packing a 45 nm microprocessor. A 32 nm processor is the next progression, so depending on the shrinkage over the next two to three years, expect 32 nm or smaller.
In case you’re wondering about the difference, smaller chips lead to lower power consumption and a cheaper manufacturing process. Seeing the success of Nintendo’s Wii strategy where it actually made a profit off of systems, Sony will be inclined to do whatever it can to reduce the losses it’ll incur by selling PS4 hardware.
The last thing Sony can do under the PS4 hood to improve its chances of success is prevent developers from having to retrain on the unfamiliar system. It’ll want to keep the changes developer-friendly, something the company failed to do according to multi-console teams that claim to have more trouble making games with PS3 included in the mix. Sony, after all, not only makes money from its own games, but receives royalties from third parties with each game sold.
A lot more to come...
Expect Sony to continue to make a big deal about 3D gaming, maybe even go as far as to pack a pair of 3D gamer-marketed glasses with the PS3. After all, that sort of push worked when it needed to sneak Blu-ray into a majority of high-definition households. The real question is whether or not PlayStation Move will come as an integrated part of PS4 or if an enhanced version of motion control accessory will be announced for the system. I was already duped into Wii MotionPlus, I don’t need a PlayStation Move Plus in 2014.
More than 3D and enhanced Move support, Sony has bring a sense of security to its online network so that gamers are reassured its safe this time around. Although free, PSN’s 24-day outage was a letdown and not knowing if everyone’s credit cards were compromised was a confusing experience for a lot of users. That being said, once security it up in place, PS Plus benefits may make their way to the mainstream, non-paying crowd by the time PS4 rolls around. I can’t imagine not being able to download in the background in the year 2014 or being cut out of the cloud saves phenomenon. Unless “The Great Gmail Loss of 2013” occurs, I fully expect cloud saves to be embraced by everyone in the next few years.
Finally, PSN could use cross-game chat and clan support. We recently found out the much-requested cross-game chat feature is impossible on the PS3, so building PS4 with this in mind would be a smart idea. Likewise, cross-game clan support would allow a tight group of gamers to eschew forming a clan in each and every game and encourage friends to pick up new games once more clan members move to the next multiplayer experience.
The Next Generation Is Already Here:
Whether or not you’re ready, the next-generation technically started earlier this year when the Nintendo 3DS became the first handheld of the eighth console generation. It’ll continue when the PS Vita launches next year (or, this year in Japan... if the December 17 release date sticks). But don’t worry if you’re not ready to switch over just yet. PS3 and Xbox 360 remain strong. And given the 3DS’ lackluster launch, all three companies may wait until they have the software to back up the hardware. That should give you just enough time to finish at least half of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.