Sony took today to announce their newest PlayStation, the PlayStation 4, set to launch late this year. While many things were revealed about the system, such as a processor, video chipset, RAM, and more, there was a lot left out, including any hint at what the system would look like. At the end of the day, the announcement left me feeling a bit underwhelmed, and like Sony had lost a bit of the magic from the previous systems, especially as it comes to home theater.
All three of the previous PlayStations had been very groundbreaking in their time. Along with the Sega Saturn, the original PlayStation ushered in the era of optical based video game systems for the mainstream market. The PlayStation 2 included a DVD drive at a time when one cost almost as much as the system itself, and adoption of them was quite low. It also allowed for Component video output, which was itself new at the time. The PlayStation 3 came bearing a Blu-ray drive, helping to send HD-DVD to an early death, as well as HDMI output on a console, and the innovative, though somewhat unsuccessful, core processor. All of these had innovation and new technology bursting from them.
They also carried new technologies that integrated them into your home entertainment system, an area that Sony traditionally has ruled as well. As a member of the DVD and Blu-ray standard bodies, using their game consoles to gain higher adoption rates of those mediums meant they could reap potential royalties from both game and film sales down the road. This also kept competitors to these areas out of the living rooms of those with the PlayStation, as buying another video player didn’t make as much sense when you’d already paid so much for a game console.
Because of this past, I really expected to see Sony unveil something more today. Perhaps a system like Intel is working on for IPTV, allowing the PlayStation 4 to replace your DVR and Cable Box as well. Or included access to Sony’s Music Unlimited service, to help them make inroads against Spotify and others. Perhaps most interestingly, I thought we might see Sony continue their big 4K push that has been going on the past 18 months from them. I expected that games would be scaled to 4K at the least, and perhaps it would work as a content delivery mechanism for Sony, coming in once again to steal the video delivery system standard that they didn’t get with BetaMax but have tried to maintain since.
Instead we got what really looks more like an ordinary PC as far as the specs go, without the AV features that have helped to differentiate it from prior consoles. Now I almost see it competing directly with the upcoming Steam consoles: PC hardware inspired, only the Steam boxes have far more flexibility from the rumors out there. They also might exist in a much more compressed design cycle than the PlayStation 4, which is likely to stay around for 8-10 years from now. With 4K starting to come out this year, and the Sony PlayStation 4 seemingly not ready for it, where does it leave it in 2015 or 2016, when 4K is the standard for anything but entry-level displays, as 3D is now? 4K might cost a ton now, but that price is going to go down really fast, especially with the newer Chinese display companies aggressively trying to make inroads into the US TV market.
Perhaps I’m just out of touch now, as I almost never play a game on a console anymore. Maybe if I was a gamer, or younger, I’d see the PlayStation 4 as the thing I need to have for Christmas, that I have to save up for right now. As I see it currently, I don’t see anything that is going to prevent Valve or Microsoft from swooping in this year in May or June, announcing something 6 months before the PlayStation 4 even comes out, and stealing away all of its thunder. It’s great that it is coming out this year, but that leaves a lot of time for others to come out with something to unseat it from its perch. I may be wrong, but I’ll have to wait and see if Sony has more up their sleeve with the PlayStation 4.