Are you ready for the next-generation video game console wars to heat up? Sony is all set to unveil the long-rumored follow-up to the PlayStation 3 today starting at 6pm Eastern, and we'll be there liveblogging and covering it from all angles, of course. Before things get going, though, we thought it would be worthwhile to look at what the rumor mill has been saying about Sony's next system, and we'll offer some analysis of what's likely to be revealed today—and what's likely to stay secret for a little while longer.
Price and release date
Price and release date are the biggest unknowns, and they're least likely to be discussed publicly today. Sony didn't reveal the details of the PlayStation 3's launch until the May 2006 E3 show. The Xbox 360 wasn't priced until August 2005, and the international release dates weren't confirmed until that September. The release date and price for the Wii and Wii U were both closely guarded secrets until press events less than two months before their November releases. February is just too early to expect confirmation.
So we're left with rumors. The system is widely expected to be available worldwide this holiday season, but Edge is reporting that distribution concerns might push that back to early 2014 for Europe. Price is hard to gauge without knowing just what kind of hardware the system will be packing, but it's a pretty safe bet that Sony will do what it can to avoid the "FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE US DOLLARS"-style mockery it received last time around.
This is another area we shouldn't expect too much in the way of details today. Console makers tend to play this information close to the vest in public, prerelease roll-outs, partially to let the games speak for themselves and partially to avoid using technical jargon that many laymen will misinterpret anyway. We might not get confirmation on the precise hardware configuration until the system is actually in our hands.
That said, various reports based on development hardware and anonymous insider sources all seem to be converging on the same basic set of facts: an eight-core, x86-based CPU running at 1.6Ghz, an AMD "Southern Islands" level GPU, and 4GB of RAM. Whatever it is, the hardware is supposed to be powerful enough to run games at 4K resolutions, or full 1080p games in stereoscopic 3D (the PS3 is limited to 720p 3D).
Sony is also widely expected to introduce a new, more advanced PlayStation Eye with its next system, possibly integrating Kinect-style 3D body tracking to match Microsoft. It's hard to say if this will be an integrated/packed-in bit of hardware or just an optional accessory, but we're leaning toward the latter.
Now that multiple leaked pictures have removed most of the mystery surrounding Sony's supposed redesigned controller, it would be a bit silly for Sony to continue playing coy and not simply publicly unveil the "DualShock 4" today. Expect talk of the touchpad, motion-tracking light, built-in speaker, and redesigned thumbsticks, but also expect one or two surprises that weren't revealed in the leaks. Also, don't expect that the final, consumer controller will look exactly like the development prototypes. Anyone remember the PS3 boomerang controller?
This should be the focus of any big console unveiling, and it probably will be today. Sony has scheduled a roundtable discussion with a group of "first-party developers" for just after the announcements are done tonight, so it seems pretty likely that we'll see a few new games from Sony's internal studios announced for the PS4 today (even if they aren't shown as anything more than a logo). New Uncharted and God of War games seem like immensely safe bets, as well as a new Gran Turismo that uses the PS4's power for ever more detailed and realistic car porn (hopefully this one won't take forever to actually be released). A new shooter to continue the Killzone or Resistance franchises also seems pretty likely, even though neither of those exclusives carry as much weight as they used to. A new Singstar game will be a huge draw for European audiences as well.
Sony will also probably trot out a few selected third parties to talk up the power and promise of the PS4, but predicting just which ones is a little harder. Big names like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft have been frequent guests at previous PlayStation press events, and both likely have next-generation games they've been itching to show off on new hardware (such as Watch Dogs, perhaps?) I wouldn't be shocked if some engine makers are on hand to show off their next-gen tech as well; Konami's Hideo Kojima is set to present his "photo-realistic" Fox Engine at March's Game Developer's Conference, but today's event could be a good preview for that. And what of Singularity, the game that's seemingly behind the singularityps4.com domain name Sony recently registered? Will it be the next game from David Cage's Quantic Dream?
Don't forget dark-horse game predictions. If Sony really wants to make an impression, it will announce that the oft-delayed The Last Guardian has been moved to the new system and will be available at or near release. Personally, I'm hoping for a new Crash Bandicoot game to launch the PS4. It's just about time for the eight-year-olds that grew up with those titles to be nostalgic, right?
Sony has been extremely tight-lipped about its plans for cloud-gaming service Gaikai, for which it paid $380 million last year, but we can probably expect that silence to end today. Gaikai recently registered Web domains for ps-cloud and PlayStation-Cloud websites, and the Wall Street Journal recently reported that streaming technology would play a key role in the new system, so make sure your Internet connection is up to the challenge.
One obvious use for the Gaikai service would be as an extension of PlayStation Plus that lets players stream a wide selection of classics from previous PlayStation systems, without the need for a lengthy download or emulation. This would help solve what many see as a problem with traditional backwards compatibility on the next PlayStation, thanks to its rumored x86 chipset. There's an outside chance we could see some sort of Netflix-style subscription service to get all-you-can-eat PS4 games, but an à la carte model for these titles seems more likely.
Used game blocking
Technology to block the play of secondhand games seems to be the hot rumor surrounding the next generation of systems, and it will likely remain so after today. Even if Sony is planning to put up some sort of wall to block the used-game market, it's not the kind of thing it would trumpet from the rafters so far from launch, given the seemingly inevitable consumer backlash.
But will Sony actually do it? Well, the company patented a method for blocking secondhand game sales without an Internet connection, but that doesn't really prove anything other than "we're thinking about it." There's some hearsay about SCEA President Jack Tretton saying Sony was "totally opposed" to blocking used games, and most industry watchers seem to agree that Sony won't pull the trigger. Still, there are a few that seem just as sure that the company is determined to finally kill off the GameStop business model.
Even though we've been casually calling this system the "PlayStation 4" in our coverage for a while now, Sony has never actually officially acknowledged that product name. After naming the past three PlayStation's sequentially, jumping off the bandwagon for number four would be a little unexpected. Then again, the Vita could have easily been the "PlayStation Portable 2" and... it wasn't. The codename Orbis does have a nice ring to it...
And the rest...
I'd be surprised if the press is allowed hands-on time with the in-development demos at this early date. More likely, we'll get a lot of video footage and a chance to look at a proposed shell for the system and the controller behind glass.
The presentation is scheduled to last two hours, which leaves plenty of time for unexpected bloopers. Internet remixers will be keeping a keen eye out for this year's "Giant Enemy Crab."