The irony of Sony's PlayStation 4 reveal event was the fact that the console itself wasn't shown at all. Yes, Sony did mention the specifications and showed off the controller along with the "social" gaming aspects, but at the end of the day the real worth of any console isn't its hardware, but the software itself. You could bitch about the lack of any info on first-party IPs such as God of War and The Last Guardian (although its exclusion isn't a surprise at all), or crowd favourites such as Uncharted and Metal Gear (what about Ground Zeroes?). However, it's great to see high-profile AAA titles such as inFamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Destiny, Watch Dogs and Capcom's Dragons Dogma-inspired new IP Deep Down, in addition to a port of Diablo 3.
The sceptics will argue that Sony's long list of confirmed PS4 developers means nothing because a similarly abundant list of content partners announced during the PS Vita launch, after all, did no favours to that platform in the long run. At any rate, this is definitely a step up when compared to the abject lack of games for PS3 in its early stages. This abundance of games can be attributed to the fact that this is Sony's first console to embrace the x86 architecture. This should make it vastly easier for the developers to create games, as well as optimise cross-platform titles better for the PS4.
The move to x86 is a far cry from the time-tested tradition where each iteration of the PlayStation console has traditionally bested the PC in the graphics game. Sony clearly doesn’t seem to see much value in pumping up the horsepower for pure eye candy. If the PS3 is any indication, we already know that this route doesn't really pay in the long run. Not unless you have the software to harness that sort of horsepower.
There's more, but you'll have to wait till E3 to see the rest of it
I mean, after all, Sony did lose money hand over fist over the Cell architecture for the PS3. It's no secret that Sony had bungled up by spending over $400 million developing the Cell microprocessor architecture—something that very few developers could, or even bothered to, tap its true potential. The running joke back then was how buying a PS3 was the best way to mess with Sony. In fact, all this powerful but complicated architecture ultimately achieved is make most cross-platform games play smoother and look better on the Xbox 360—a console that served as the middle ground and hence the starting point for all cross-platform games.
On the flip-side, this shift to the x86 architecture should make backward compatibility with PS3 games nigh impossible, unless Sony engineers can work up some miracle of emulation. Either that or the PS4 can tap into the newly-acquired Gaikai service's distributed online computing solution offload the processing part and stream PS3 games to the new console.
The inclusion of 8GB RAM on the PS4 is good news not only for the console crowd, but PC gamers as well. This is likely to translate into freedom from the drudgery of low-resolution textures and much delayed high-res texture packs on console-to-PC ports. I guess that’s bad news for Carmack and company, because the PS4 sure as hell won’t need any Mega Texturing business to look good.
The one thing we can take away from the PS4 is how Sony has made on about turn on the brand of hardware extravagance it displayed with the PS3, in order to keep costs down. The various game trailers and tech demos too underscore how the jump from the current gen consoles to the upcoming PS4 will only be an incremental improvement. This is much unlike the quantum shift in performance consoles have shown in the past.
The question is, with games nearing the barrier of photo realism, is it really important to pump up the hardware quotient? Not entirely, if you consider the law of diminishing returns, where every step towards visual realism requires a tremendous jump in number crunching performance.
The mantra for the upcoming consoles, however, seems to be a push for deeper optimisation and integration of social gaming to counter the threat from the new wave of casual games on the smartphone platform. This is already evident from the Gaikai-powered social sharing that is touted to allow PS4 owners to share gameplay videos on video sharing websites at the touch of a button. Then there's the Smartglass-esque integration with iOS and Android smartphones and tablets providing "second screen" capabilities such as access to maps and additional info, in addition to the ability to spectate on others' games. Having said that, the real reason for the success of social gaming on smartphones is their ubiquity, and frankly pulling those numbers won't be possible for the PS4.
The biggest concern, for me, is the inevitable fallout of the server farm-intensive distributed computing and streaming services will have on PSN—a service which has been free as of now. The mind-bending logistics of offloading video game processing and streaming gameplay to users on demand just might force Sony to charge subscribers for the PSN service.
For all intents and purposes, Sony has created an Xbox with a Blu-ray drive, which is exactly what we wanted all along. The PS3’s bespoke Cell processor may have been the Sony fanboys’ coveted argument in a forum war, but it ultimately was too complicated for developers to harness its true potential. At the end of the day, the PlayStation brand has realised the importance of optimisation over pure hardware muscle that’s difficult to exploit.
If the rumoured £300 (Rs 25,000 approx) price tag is any indication, the PS4 seems poised to be on the right path with the rumoured launch pricing strategy. The PS3 couldn’t get away with a $600 (Rs 32,500 approx) price tag back then, and it sure as hell won’t in the current milieu where kids annually spend their lunch money on the latest $600 smartphones.