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Sony PS4 Conjecture: The Good, The Bad and The Fugly

The details of Sony’s Playstation successor has hit the airwaves and while they are answering a lot of questions – they are neatly tiptoeing around far more.  In this article, we’ll look at what we know and discuss the good, the bad and fugly for each one.  Note: This information is accurate at the time of writing and may not represent future information.  There are no assets due to the timely nature of the content.

The Specs

Here is what we know about the hardware specifications:

  • Single-chip custom processor, with eight x86-64 AMD Jaguar CPU cores and 1.84 TFLOPS next-gen AMD Radeon based graphics engine
  • 8GB GDDR5 memory
  • Built-in hard drive
  • 6x Blu-Ray and 8x DVD drive
  • USB 3.0 and auxiliary ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1
  • HDMI, analog AV-out, and optical S/PDIF audio output
  • DualShock 4 controller, with two-point capacitive touchpad, three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer, vibration, light bar with three color LEDs, mono speaker, micro USB port, stereo headset port, extension port, 1000mAh battery
  • PlayStation 4 Eye camera, with two 1280 x 800 cameras, f/2.0 fixed focus lenses, 85-degree field of view, 30cm minimum focusing distance, four-channel microphone array

What does this mean?

The Good

Sony is dropping back to x86 technology.  Forget about “cell processors” and “emotion chips”.  All that crap is out the door.  This is a high end PC, with a PS4 stamp on it.   This is FANTASTIC for developers; since the x86 “PC” architecture is easy to work with.  It will allow easy porting to and from the PC platform.   Sony is playing nice with others – and that is a good thing.

The Bad

Developers will have an opportunity to “back port” older games to the PS4 – a practice which has earned jeers at Nintendo with the Wii U. Of course, since it isn’t Nintendo – the bashing probably won’t extend to Sony over 1+ year old games coming to a brand new next-gen console – but time will tell.  Porting is a double edged sword – we’ll see how it works out for Sony.

The Fugly

The PC architecture made the Xbox one of the most hackable consoles of all time.  Sony has been able to mask security through proprietary hardware and software; but this time?  An x86 architecture could lead to “hacked PS4s” – and this time, it won’t  be to play free games (okay, not JUST to play free games) – it will be to make into a powerful PC.

The Controller

Sony brings us a new-yet-familiar controller; DualShock 4 controller, with two-point capacitive touchpad, three-axis gyroscope, three-axis accelerometer, vibration, light bar with three color LEDs, mono speaker, micro USB port, stereo headset port, extension port, 1000mAh battery

The Good

Everything is in there – including the kitchen sink.  The touch pad (while stillborn on the Vita) will open a few doors, the “Move” built-in will reduce controller overhead and they chose to go with standard ports for headset and USB.

They managed to keep the DualShock look and feel (very smart on their part) considering how much new tech is in there – making it more acceptable and accessible by existing players.

The Bad

The touch pad size will make it largely impractical for almost everything; inventory control, drag and select for RTS games … I see it as being about half the size of a standard laptop track pad area – and about 1/4 as useful.  The Vita’s use of a track pad didn’t exactly set the world on fire – I suspect developers will have a hard time making this a practical feature.

The three color LEDs are probably necessary for Move functionality; the question is – will they have to be on ALL the time?  That would kinda suck.  Showing player feedback (health is low, etc) has been mentioned – yet gamers complain about having to look down at the Wii U’s gamepad for information – so that might be a lost cause.  Again, what will developers do with them?

I wonder how much a second controller is going to cost?  If the current DualShock is $50, I would have to assume $75 to $100 for a second PS4 controller.  That’s a tough purchase.

The Fugly

Sony seems desperate.  They don’t want to pick a tech to back – so they just put them all in there … and they made sure they cloned as much of everyone else’s tech as they could too.  Sony loves to borrow after the fact (we’ve seen it before) and this franken-troller is just that.

That battery is going to take a beating – I wonder just how long that 1000mAh will last; more importantly, how heavy is the controller and how much heat will that battery give off?

Gaikai Streaming Technology

Sony is betting the farm on Gaikai; since MOST of the “big bullet point” items they mentioned yesterday revolve around it.   With it, they promise to allow you to stream games you buy online and play them while they download.  This tech will be used to allow you to “screencast” your game in real-time while others watch.  I assume this is the same tech that will stream SOME games from PS4 to the PSVita.   Since PS3 games are not backward compatible (read more below), this appears to be how they are going to make the PS4 “backward compatible” with PS1, 2 and 3 games.

The Good

OnLive has proven that this streaming gameplay is possible and is an attractive feature to many users.  I have a feeling they are very close cousins – and that isn’t a bad thing.  Couple it with the fact that it is NATIVE to the device and not an “add on” could prove a good match.

This means that Sony could provide you with ANY content; movies, TV – and any games they want – only limited to the server power.  Technically, they could have games running on Cray super computers; all you’re seeing is the screen and sending input back to the server.  This really blurs the line of what you’re getting delivered.  They could even put up a server farm of Xboxes and stream THOSE games over to you.  The sky is the limit.

If they can pull this off – and do it right – they will have a HUGE advantage over every other next-gen console.

The Bad

Streaming gaming takes away a lot rights from the consumer; even more so than “Steam” style gaming.  Nothing is stored locally, nothing can be tangibly owned.

If ANYTHING is wrong in the pipeline – your experience quickly goes in the crapper.  Anyone with Netflix knows what it’s like when you get a little broadband congestion (aka “buffering”).  This sucks when watching a movie; but it is totally unacceptable when playing a game.

I think it will require a perfect synergy to make this work – and I don’t believe MOST users will have ideal conditions to make this work.

You know good and well that Sony will not let you play the games you ALREADY OWN on the PS1, 2 and 3 via the streaming service – which means a couple of things.  First, not EVERY game will be available; only select ones will.  Second, you’ll have to rebuy every game you want to stream – and there will be NO other option.  Forget about your dreams about playing through God of War PS3 again on the PS4 with all those “upscale” enhancements; unless of course – you’re willing to pay again.

BTW, most broadband users have relatively crappy “push”; great download speeds but horrid upload speeds.  I’ll be curious how “sharing while you play” impacts performance.

The Fugly

This is how Sony is trying to embrace the digital age – but it is even worse than the “digital locker”.  You’re fully reliant on every leg of the journey to be ideal.  Sony’s servers have to be up.  Gaikai’s servers have to be up.  All the pipelines to the internet have to be clean.  The user has to have decent broadband too – and if you’re relying on wifi connectivity to your router, there is another part that can go wrong.  Sony isn’t known for their fantastic, secure up times on their servers.  This is a Three Mile Island scenario waiting to explode.

My prediction?  This will quickly drop from a selling point to a “back page of the manual” feature that works about half the time.  Unfortunately, this looks to be where Sony is really betting the farm.

Part of console play is a GUARANTEE that the same game plays with the same performance and specs no matter where you are.  This changes things and puts too much burden on the end user to have an “optimum environment”.

Remote Play to Vita

The ability to play your PS4 games on the Vita screen sounds pretty sweet.  This “remote play” has been a dream of Sony’s for some time.

The Good

I am a huge fan of off-screen play; and right now Nintendo is the only one doing it right.  However, if Sony has figured out how to do it right, this will really help the PS4 and even more important – help drive sales of the PSVita.

They are also saying they are working on making this work for tablets and mobile devices too – meaning you wouldn’t have to buy more into the Sony ecosystem to use it.

If Sony is using Gaikai to “stream” the Remote Play (using the PS4 as sort of a proxy server), that could be AWESOME – because then you would really only need a WiFi connection anywhere – and you could play your PS4 games on the go on the PSVita anytime, anywhere.

The Bad

Sony’s implementation of Remote Play has been poor in the past (to be generous).  As with previous attempts, I think we’ll see a handful of games work this way (mostly first party games) and a lot that will not.

If Sony’s Gaikai solution turns out to be problematic (and I believe it will) and they are using it for Remote Play?  All the issues mentioned above will plague Vita users too.

The Fugly

Sony will try to compare this to Nintendo’s Off Screen play – but when push comes to shove – it simply isn’t the same thing; nor can it POSSIBLY ever be.  Nintendo spent a YEAR optimizing and creating the tech that makes asynchronous play on TV and Gamepad possible.  Wifi will never have low enough latency and reliability for this to work – which means if you’re hoping to capture some Nintendo magic on a Sony product – this isn’t going to do it.

I believe that if the PS4 is used as a conductor between Gaikai and Vita, that you will see lags, controller input issues and more – depending again on your own home set up.

New Interface and Social Reliance

Gone is the “Award Winning XrossMediaBar” and what we have now looks a lot like PSN (or honestly, a lot more like Windows 8/Metro – not a good move in my book).  Focus on social media is apparent.

The Good

The XrossMediaBar never won any awards from me.  I’ve never liked it – so I’m glad Sony is dragging the PS4 at least up to Xbox standards of interface.  Users like fresh new things.

The Bad

Anytime I see anything that looks like Metro/Xbox/Win8 I cringe.  To me, Xbox 360 died when ads started appearing in the main console UI.  This is RIPE for abuse.

The Fugly

Sony is again offloading it’s own responsibilities in connecting gamers to a third party.  I’m not sure why Sony even built a console; they should have just built a PC and slapped the Playstation brand on it.  Or better yet, call it the Playstation Xperia.

I mean, I’m not in love with Miiverse like so many people are, but at least Nintendo is trying.

Backward Compatibility

It’s gone.  No PS3 games.  No PS2 games.  No PS1 games.  BTW, no prior PSN purchases will be supported.

The Good

It should lower the initial cost of the console.  Without having to provide software or hardware layers to handle emulation, the overall cost should be lower.

The Bad

Who are we kidding?  There will be no cost lowering here.  You get no backward compatibility – not for a long time; if at all.

The Fugly

What a kick in the teeth.  Sony’s first major plunder on the PS4 and the thing isn’t even out yet.  I have to keep my George Foreman machine in my media center AND find room for the PS4?   So many great and compelling games are supposedly out for PS3 – yet I don’t get to play any of them on the PS4?  Oh, and thanks for flushing all the money I spent on digital purchases down the toilet too (frankly, I don’t buy digital content very often – so no big deal to me – but people are pissed).

Sony better hope and pray that Microsoft follows suit on the Xbox720.

The Games

Sony showed a handful of game demos that looked pretty good!  The upgraded hardware looks to be pushing some impressive visuals that only up until now have been seen on high end PCs.

The Good

The pixel counters should be happy.  Those that live and die by texture map sizes, lighting capabilities and other eye candy will most DEFINITELY benefit from the PS4’s latest tech.

The Bad

Most of what I saw could easily be cut scene or pre-rendered stuff – or just nicely constructed proofs of concepts that are manipulated and streamed to the box.  Until we see a game running on actual hardware that ISN’T being streamed from the internet (plenty of opportunity for smoke and mirrors there) – I don’t believe anything I see.

The Fugly

There are a lot of possibilities for abuse here.  Streaming games can be manipulated before video delivery – meaning you can’t believe ANYTHING; especially game DEMOS delivered by streaming.  They could be considerably different than what you ACTUALLY download and pay for.

Plus, I smell some ugly undertones coming.  That is – some PS4 games will NOT be playable without being online; mixing LOCAL content with STREAMING content – meaning you can never REALLY be sure what that PS4 is truly capable of.  They will also make some PS4 titles either EXCLUSIVE to streaming play only – or have exclusivity windows where you can ONLY play say, the new God of War online because the box itself couldn’t deliver – it has to be augmented by their servers.  Imagine what nonsense could be afoot if you’re relying on streaming textures over wifi.

The Console

Sony failed to show the console.  At the console’s event.

The Good

Not showing the console is probably a good move because the design is probably not finalized.  It also keeps hype up and gives them something big to show at E3.

The Bad

Not even showing a mock up means only one thing; we’re not going to like the product’s final incarnation.  More George Foreman style?

The Fugly

This has everyone abuzz.  Nobody likes the fact we’re not seeing the console.  That could mean a bunch of things; but very few reasons are positive.

Used Games Not Blocked

Sony has given a statement that used games will not be blocked on the PS4.

The Good

This should be obvious.

The Bad

The statement wasn’t exactly what I would call “iron clad”.   Besides, they could change their minds.  You know, when Xbox does it.

Besides, if they find ways to keep you digital, you can’t buy, sell or trade digital content – so as long as they manage to tether you to in the internet?  They have options.

The Fugly

Read the statement for yourself… then come back. I don’t like it.  Something is fishy – and believe me, we’ll find out soon enough.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot we don’t know.  Chances are – a lot of it isn’t going to be GOOD news.  Based on what I see here?  Sony doesn’t have a winner on their hands – and here are my bullet points as to why.

1) Heavy reliance on things they cannot control.  Like user’s broadband set ups.  The internet.  Streaming content. Social networks.  This spells disaster.

2) No sidetech to hold them over.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again.  The Playstation brand has avoided being stillborn because they had “sidetech” to keep them alive while the games eventually came … while the price eventually came down … etc.  PS2 had DVD.  PS3 had Blu-ray (the only reason I bought one to begin with – knowing that God of War would eventually come – but I would have waited without Blu).

3) Using PC architecture.  The box will be hacked running Linux or Windows in under 12 months.  Write that down.

4) Their Me Too path.  The controller is a blatant nod to desperation.  They are doing everything they can to hedge bets on tech – instead of innovating and disrupting with something new.

5) Their Past.  Sony is the routed ex-champion.  Since PS1, their influence and power has gone down.  Their flagrant ego.  Their failures with handhelds.  Their reliance on proprietary technology.  Sony has done NOTHING but prove they have lost their way in the gaming market – and this event has shown me that this hasn’t changed.

The fact is – it is too soon to know anything or pronounce the PS4 “DOA” or “stillborn”.  Sony still has time to make changes and answer questions.  E3 will either rip the doors off the coffin, or drive the final nail into it.

We don’t  have long to wait.

About Shane Monroe

Shane R. Monroe has been doing technical and social commentary writing for over 20 years. Google+

2 thoughts on “Sony PS4 Conjecture: The Good, The Bad and The Fugly”

  1. Great writeup. I agree with most points. Some of the games look great but especially with that Capcom Down Under (I believe) felt very tech demo / cut scene to me but I hope I am wrong. Gaikai and Onlive my biggest beef with them is the video quality has never been great compared to local content. I have loaded demos on both streaming services and there is a HUGE difference. So that to me will not be great unless they found a way to improve that. As to them not showing off the console I seem to remember doing the same thing with the WiiU. They showed off the tablet controller at the first E3 but it was a full year later almost when the actual console was shown off. But overall I agree some ideas seem good but I have to see more to be convinced.

  2. this was awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thanx for dis info n stuff mannnn :DDD now im nevurr gonna buy dis cuz’ o u so tanx for helpin’ me doood.

    -The chillun’ factory

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