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Sony announces PlayStation 4

Ground-up build promises richer content; cloud, mobile play key roles in expanded ecosystem

Sony announces PlayStation 4
The PS4 controller includes a 'Share' button that allows players to upload video of their exploits to the cloud.

Sony Computer Entertainment Inc (SCEI) today introduced its next-generation PlayStation 4 (PS4) system at a press conference in New York City, US.

Combined with PlayStation Network (PSN) and cloud technology, PS4 will represent an expanded gaming ecosystem for Sony, at a time when the gaming landscape makes continuing strides towards the mobility sector.

PS4 will be available this holiday season and game titles and content and service information will be announced in the interim period as it becomes available.

The PS4 constitutes a complete redesign, as Sony seeks to connect players to a range of products and services spread across the console and mobile spaces.

"The PS4 system architecture is distinguished by its high performance and ease of development," said Sony. 

The system build is based on a custom chip that folds in eight x86-64 cores and a new graphics processor. According to Sony the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) has been enhanced in a number of ways, principally to allow for easier use of the GPU for general purpose computing (GPGPU) such as physics simulation.  The GPU contains a unified array of 18 compute units, which collectively generate 1.84 Teraflops of processing power that can freely be applied to graphics, simulation tasks, or some mixture of the two.

PS4 is equipped with 8 GB of unified system memory, which is intended to ease game creation and increase the richness of content achievable on the platform.  GDDR5 (Graphics Double Data Rate - a memory standard for graphics processing designed to balance power consumption with performance) is used for the memory, giving the system 176 GB/second of bandwidth and providing a further boost to graphics performance, Sony said.

Social interaction also plays a significant part in the PS4 platform. New features have been built into the architecture to provide always-on video compression and decompression systems that enable seamless uploading of game play. For the first time ever, gamers can share their exploits with the press of a single "share" button on the controller, scan through the last few minutes of game play, tag it and return to the game. The video uploads as the gamer plays.  Gamers can share their images and videos to their friends on social networking services such as Facebook.

PS4 also enhances social spectating by enabling gamers to broadcast their game play in real-time to friends using live Internet streaming services such as Ustream.  During live broadcasts, friends can make comments on the streamed game play and, if a gamer gets stuck on a challenging level, friends can also join the game.  For example, friends can offer health potions or special weapons when a player needs them most during actual game play.

Furthermore, users can connect their Facebook account with their Sony Entertainment Network account. 

PS4 integrates second screens, including PlayStationVita (PS Vita), smartphones and tablets, to wrap gamers in their favorite content wherever they are. A key feature enabled by second screens is "Remote Play" and with PS Vita, gamers will be able to pull select PS4 titles from their living room TVs and play them on PS Vita's 5-inch display over Wi-Fi networks, bandwidth permitting.  SCEI said that long-term it hoped to make most PS4 titles that don't rely on specific console peripherals (such as PlayStation 4 Eye) playable on PS Vita.

A new application from SCE called "PlayStation App" will enable iPhone-, iPad-, and Android-based smartphones and tablets to become second screens.  Once installed on these devices, users can, for example, see maps on their second screens when playing an adventure game, purchase PS4 games while away from home and download it directly to the console at home, or remotely watch other gamers playing on their devices.

PS4 seeks to reduce the lag time between players and their content.  PS4 features "suspend mode" which keeps the system in a low power state while preserving the game session.  The time it takes today to boot a console and load a saved game is expected to be a thing of the past.  With PS4, gamers just hit the power button again and are promptly back playing the game at the exact point where they left off.  Additionally, users can boot a variety of applications including a Web browser when playing a game on PS4.

S4 also enables games to be downloaded or updated in the background, or even in stand-by mode.  Digital titles will even be playable as they are being downloaded, according to Sony.  When a player purchases a game, PS4 downloads just a fraction of the data so gamers can start playing immediately, and the rest is downloaded in the background during actual game play.

On the newly designed PS4 menu screen, players can look over game-related information shared by friends, view friends' game play or obtain information regarding recommended content, including games, TV shows and movies.  SCEI said the long-term goal of PS4 is to reduce download times of digital titles to zero: if the system knows enough about a player to predict the next game they will purchase, then that game can be loaded and ready to go before they even click the "buy" button.  PS4 will further enrich users' entertainment experiences, by meeting their potential needs.

Launched in November 2006, PlayStation Network, a network service for PlayStation users, operated in 67 countries and regions around the world, as of 31 December, 2012.  In addition to a variety of games available in PlayStation Store, PS4 users will have access to a variety of services offered by PSN, such as Sony Corporation's Music Unlimited, a cloud-based music subscription service and Video Unlimited, a premium video service, as well as various content distribution services. 

By combining PlayStation Network with Gaikai Inc's cloud technology, it is SCE's goal to make free exploration possible for various games. In the future, when a gamer sees a title of interest in PlayStation Store, they can immediately start playing a portion of the actual game rather than a stripped down version of the game. Long term, SCE also hopes to build cloud-based PlayStation libraries, including a catalog of more than 3000 PS3 titles.

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