The PlayStation 4: What we don’t know yet

Earlier this week we finally got a look at the next generation of console gaming (sorry, Wii U). Though Sony unveiled some amazing features for the PlayStation 4, the announcement left some of us a little underwhelmed – most likely because of what we still don’t know about the console.

A number of features and specs were announced, most notably the x86 architecture and the admittedly impressive “backseat gaming” streaming functionality. However, even though Sony’s new console will allow us to play a friend’s game (that we don’t own!) over the Internet, the event was underwhelming for a handful of reasons.

Most glaringly, the PlayStation 4 coming out party didn’t include any visual representation of the PlayStation 4 – not one prototype, video, picture, or even render. The controller, dubbed the DualShock 4, was on-hand (pun intended), but the console wasn’t, reminding us of Nintendo’s Wii U announcement. Though Nintendo showed off what the actual console looked like, it didn’t release the specs of the box, which perhaps inspired Sony to not show off its new console.

To be fair, we know the PS4′s specs, so it doesn’t technically matter what kind of black or white box the hardware is stuffed into. Still, a physical unit would be something we can fantasise about putting in our media cabinets, and it’s a lot easier to get excited about something when it’s a tangible object rather than a set of numbers and ideas in a press release.

Aside from allowing your friends to play your games – even if they don’t own those said games – perhaps the most mind-blowing feature announced at the event is also the one shrouded in the most mystery: Automatic game downloads based on AI recommendations.

The feature is mentioned in Sony’s own press release, but essentially glossed over. It’s unclear if this capability will be available right from release, or if it’s just a lofty fantasy Sony wouldn’t mind achieving one day. If the feature is indeed available upon release, the wording of the announcement makes it sound like Sony will have some Netflix-style recommendation system automatically downloading games for you, dumping them into a queue. Then, you can sift through the queue and decide to purchase the games without having to spend time downloading them.

As any Netflix subscriber will attest, though, recommendation engines are nowhere near accurate. If the PS4 automatically downloads Blu-ray-sized games, the HDD could fill up very quickly – not to mention our bandwidth could be tasked round the clock, all so an AI can be completely wrong about what games we care about.

Various options for the user to adjust would most likely alleviate an issue of this type, such as setting a queue limit, but there’s simply not enough information to know how this system works. It could be amazing, doing all of the shopping for us, or devastating, wrecking our bandwidth and hard drive space in a matter of hours.

For some reason, Sony didn’t announce what kind of media PS4 games will use. The press release says the PS4 will have an optical drive and will be able to read DVDs and Blu-rays, but technically didn’t state whether or not that optical media would be used for games, or solely for movies.

We can’t imagine the PS4 not utilising Blu-rays with a large amount of storage capacity, but it’s odd that Sony didn’t mention it. The company also noted that the hard drive would be “massive,” but didn’t give us a ballpark number. It did, however, say the PS4 will utilise a hard drive, so say goodbye to your dreams of an SSD. Though it would’ve been nice to store all of our media on a speedy SSD, the drives are still too expensive to put into an already expensive gaming console – especially when last-generation games needed discs with a storage capacity of 25GB to 50GB.

PlayStation Network

As for the PlayStation Network, we don’t know if it’ll go completely premium like Xbox Live Gold, or if there will be a free-to-play model alongside a subscription structure. Sony also didn’t address whether or not the PS4 would support 4K video, which would be both a boon for a rich graphical experience, and also the 4KTV industry that doesn’t have too much media to actually justify 4K.

We saw a few recognisable games, such as a new Killzone and Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, and Jonathan Blow’s The Witness (see the trailer below). However, we didn’t see any flagship franchises, like God of War, Uncharted, or even Final Fantasy (though that will debut at E3 this year). This was the hardware’s coming out party, though, so you should expect all the megaton game debuts at E3. Sony did have both Blizzard and Bungie come onstage, but Blizzard simply announced Diablo III rather than a new venture, and Bungie showed off Destiny, something the gaming world has known about for a while. It remains to be seen if Blizzard will be working on future projects, and if said hypothetical projects would be ports.

The PS4 will undoubtedly be expensive, with pre-announcement rumours suggesting that the console will come in two models, and the cheaper one will probably run to £300. However, Sony didn’t announce a price, which will most likely be a good move in the long run.

If the price is too high, any impressive feature or game that is announced will be dampened with a “that’s awesome, but man, the console costs too much” sentiment. By not announcing a price, Sony can pile on announcements of impressive features and load up on desirable games without that sentiment creeping in. Then when Sony does finally reveal the price, all of those features and games will have cumulatively built up in our minds, and could justify a high price tag.

With such important information left out of a debut announcement, you might wonder why Sony chose to announce details so seemingly early. The answer, though, is pretty simple: You’re reading about the PS4 right now, and not something else.