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The PlayStation 3 has enjoyed a long, full life–but now it’s time to move over for the new king of gaming, the mighty PlayStation 4 announced by Sony this February. With specs that sound more like a high-end gaming PC than a console, the new PS4 definitely has some power. So what does it do differently than the current PlayStation? Why should you buy one when it launches this holiday season? We’ve got the full rundown for you below.

Controller

ps4-controller-on-sideThe Controller is one of the defining aspects of any console–it’s the part that connects the player to the game. PlayStation hasn’t changed their design much since the original DualShock came out for the PlayStation 2, and at first glance, it looks like that trend  is going to continue on to the PlayStation 4. The controller still features the iconic dual joysticks, D-pad, and face buttons. Looking closer, however, you’ll see a touch pad taking up much of the space between the D-Pad and face buttons. Underneath the touchpad is a speaker to provide player-specific sound. While Sony didn’t really outline its functionality, there is a lot of speculation that it will also double as a mic. The back of the controller also features a light designed to work with the now built-in Move camera.

The other major addition is the ‘Share” button, which promises to be one of the most interesting features of the new controller. Pressing the button will allow you to instantly share your game screen to social networks, where your friends can comment directly onto your screen. You can even offer to have another player take over for you, essentially replicating the experience of sitting together on the couch playing games with someone you’re hundreds of miles away from. Unfortunately, with all these new features, your current DualShock controllers won’t be supported–so get ready to shell out for all new ones.

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Stereo Camera, Built-in Move Camera

ps4-move-changesFollowing the trend of motion controls, Sony has opted to include a built-in PS Move camera on their latest console. Coupled with lights on the back of the new controllers, the move can track where players are located in the room based on their controllers.

Besides the creepy fact that the console is always watching you, there’s some interesting possibilities here. For instance, the game could automatically position your screen on a split-screen game based on where you are on the couch instead of just your player number.

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Specs

Specs aren’t everything when talking about a console, but they certainly do help developers by giving them the power to run games. The PS4′s hardware spec list reads more like a high-end gaming PC than a home console. Developers had been clamoring for more RAM, and Sony delivered 8 Gigabytes (16x that of the PlayStation 3!). All that RAM enables the instant-on feature, where you can put the console to sleep, wake it up instantly, and pick up playing exactly where you left off.

  • CPU: single-chip custom processor, x86-64 AMD “Jaguar,” 8 cores
  • GPU: 1.84 TFLOPS, AMD next-generation Radeon-based graphics engine
  • Memory: 8GB GDDR5
  • Built-in hard disk drive (Sony didn’t specify how big the hard drive will be)
  • 6X Blu-Ray Drive, 8X DVD
  • USB 3 and Auxiliary ports (Sony didn’t specify how many ports)
  • Gigabit Ethernet port,  802.11 B/G/N built-in WiFi, and Bluetooth 2.1
  • HDMI, Analog-AV, and digital optical outputs

With all that power, it will be interesting to see what developers are able to use it for.

Download Prediction

One of the more interesting features of the newest PlayStation is download prediction. Sony claims the system will know you better than you know yourself, and will start downloading demos and games for you in the background, so you’ll never have to wait for a progress bar again. Sounds like a great feature to have, although many (including myself) are a bit dubious as to how well it will work.

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Cloud Services

Remote play was one of the features I was most excited about with the PS3 and PSP, and was severely disappointed by the limited support developers showed for the feature. With their purchase of Gaikai, Sony has promised to make much more of a push with remote play. In addition, they’ve promised playable demos being able to be streamed directly to the system, a sort of Netflix for video games. It’s a cool concept, being able to instantly try out a game without having to first download it.

Sony has stated that the new PlayStation will not be backwards-compatible with PS3 games, a fact that many gamers find disappointing–especially when you consider the fact that it still has a Blu-Ray drive built in. They’ve promised to make a large library of PS3 games available via their cloud service. It remains to be seen whether these will be downloadable titles or streamed via Gaikai. One downside: in an odd move from Sony, you won’t be able to move your data over from the PS3, so any saved games you have will be lost in the transition.

4K Video

4K is being touted as ‘the next big thing’ in television. Just as HD flat panels were replacing the standard-definition TV around the time the PlayStation 3 came out, Sony is expecting 4K to be next and is including the ability to play pre-recorded video at this resolution–but not for games. That’s great if you want to watch TV and movies on your PlayStation, but for gaming you’re still stuck with the same old 1080p resolution. Still, one of the things that tipped a lot of my friends to PlayStation over Xbox this generation was the inclusion of the Blu-Ray drive, so it may play a bigger factor in the next-generation war than we know yet. And with TVs like this just around the corner, who knows what the future holds?

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Playable Offline

A major concern with all next-gen consoles has been whether or not they will be playable offline. Companies have really started cracking down with DRM, with some PC games requiring an Internet connection even for single-player. The fear is that console makers will include this online-only DRM in the next generation of consoles as well, meaning that if a player loses their Internet connection, they can no longer game at all. Sony has eased these fears by promising that offline play will still be available on the PlayStation 4.

Also, on the subject of DRM, a Sony spokesperson has also stated that used games will still be available for their latest system:

 ”We are just now announcing the basic vision and strategy of PS4 and will have more information to share regarding used games later this year, but PlayStation has a long history of keeping its gamers happy and we won’t make decisions that damage our relationship with them.”

The PlayStation 4 is certainly formidable from a hardware perspective, giving developers lots of options they’ve never had in a home console before. The really interesting part of Sony’s new console, however, seems to be in the services being offered. Instant streaming of games, instantly sharing your screen with friends on other consoles, and download prediction are all concepts that are new to the home console, and open up some cool possibilities for the future of the entire ecosystem. Of course, Sony has promised much in the past that was never quite delivered…so we will have to see when the system launches later this year.