- It's no secret that Sony has been working on the PlayStation 4 for a good two years now, and rumors abound that Sony will bring forward its launch to 2011/2012 to directly take on Microsoft's proposed launch of its next Xbox.
All this talk of will it, won't it? or 'will PlayStation 3 be Sony's last PlayStation?' are largely irrelevant. It's happening, the real question is: what form will the console take?
What follows is a list of possible functions based on what experts inside and outside of Sony have been saying, both current and future trends in the videogame, multimedia and Internet markets, to quote:
Sony successfully pioneered the first truly mainstream games console with the PlayStation 2 by first appealing to an early adopting customer and then, later, opening up the console to a wider market with aggressive pricing, marketing and a range of products (EyeToy, Singstar) that appealed to your non-traditional gamers.
In this regard, PlayStation 3 has failed to learn the lessons that Sony itself once taught. It appeared that only Nintendo was listening.
Nintendo's Wii has proved that the games/software market is much bigger than anyone had previously imagined - PlayStation 4, therefore, needs to appeal to geeks and grannies alike or it will simply be relegated to a specialist gaming machine.
Sony's past business success has been founded on mass market products like Walkman so Sony will want desperately to take (reclaim?) a large chunk of Nintendo's business.
Price then is a key point but how will Sony keep the price down to the impulse buy level that served it so well with the PS2? The technology that was once cutting edge in PS3 has now become standard. The 1080p output, the Blu-ray drive, the built-in wireless intenet connection - all of these features and more have quickly become, or will quickly become, industry standard.
TVs, for example, now come with wireless internet connections and web functionality. This means that the cost of the technology has and will continue to come down. Likewise, the production cost of the Cell processor (reportedly the most expensive component in the PS3) has been slashed recently, with cost to fall further in the coming years.
It's likely that PS4 will be powered by Cell, or a variant of. Not a single chip but several working together - this is, after all, what the Cell chip was designed to do in the first place. And with a price tag of over $3 billion, it had better have more than a five-year lifespan.
Graphics processing, the other expensive chip in the PS3, is likely to come from another joint venture with nVidia or another chip manufacturer, keeping costs down. The visuals won't need to be that much better than what we've got currently.
Naturally, graphical fidelity will increase with photorealistic textures (this is possible on current PC cards) and polygon processing will increase - although not dramatically. 1080p, 60fps native output on all games is a must.
The PS4 is also likely to be able to process real 3D imagery (both for movie playback and real time graphics) but, as demonstrated at the recent CES the PS3 can already run several games in 3D, albeit at a reduced resolution. So again, this wouldn't need a huge leap in processing power to achieve.
In terms of television resolutions (the jump to TrueHD prompted Sony's inclusion of 1080p in PS3 in the first place) the next big thing will be Super High Definition, which is reportedly 10 times the resolution of current HDTVs. This probably won't be available commercially for another 10 years so it's unlikely that the PS4 will need to support this resolution, again saving on costs.
First there was analogue, then there was EyeToy, then there was the Wiimote. With each development of control systems comes a revolution in the type of games that we play. Sixaxis failed to be a substitute for Nintendo's game control revolution so it was back to the drawing board for both Sony and Microsoft.
Both companies came up with viable solutions to the problem and I suspect that the future of game control lies in motion tracking, motion control and voice control. Whatever the PS4's primary control system is, it won't be a DualShock controller.
The real battleground, if you like, will be with the software. True voice recognition for games and software that facilitates better community, social and sharing and creation aspects of gaming will be of utmost importance.
I'm not going to predict what that might be here but all the major console manufacturers are currently experimenting with different ideas in these areas. Time will tell which will be successful. The point is that these ideas will have reached fruition when the next generation of consoles launch.
So that's it. The PlayStation 4 will be a leaner, meaner version of the PS3. It will have state of the art community and internet-enabled functionality right out of the box; you'll use it to stream both games and movies down your fibre optic broadband.
It will support 3D TV but may not be a similar graphical leap as we had from PS2 to PS3. It will appeal to the whole family with its wide selection of software and interactive entertainment and be affordable from day one. In short, it needs to be an Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii and a PlayStation 3 all in one box.