By 11pm this evening, the Hammerstein Ballroom at Manhattan Center Studios in New York will be thronged with specially-invited tech journalists.
Those lucky few have been invited by Sony to what promises to be the biggest launch in gaming since Microsoft revealed the XBox 360: the launch of the PS4.
But the console manufacturer has refused to confirm widespread rumours that the latest version of its PlayStation will be launched.
What will it be? It’s hard to know. The territory is unknown because developers have been so fixated on the PS3 and Xbox 360. But this is beginning to change.
At E3 in 2012 Ubisoft showed Watch Dogs and LucasArts gave us Star Wars 1313. They were games that weren’t possible. Watch Dogs gave us a guy who could control the city’s infrastructure via his mobile phone. His jacket flapped in the wind and as he walked he put his hands in his pockets. It was lovely. The next-next-gen if you will.
Here is what we know for now.
Leaked images show a Dual Shock pad but without the Start and Select buttons. Instead, they have been replaced with a large touch pad. Rumours also suggest that there may be a Share button which enable gamers to take screenshots or short video clips and share them online.
The PS2 ushered in DVD and CD playback. The PS3 let you watch Blu-rays and then, eventually, Netflix and other online services. Last year Sony paid $380m for the cloud gaming company Gaikai. It lets you stream games to a monitor/TV.
It basically could have made the idea of a ‘console’ obsolete. Until Sony snatched it up that is. Superannuation recently dug up domain registrations by Sony for PlayStation-Cloud.com, PlayStation-Cloud.org and PS-Cloud.net. The Wall Street Journal then revealed that the PS4 will stream current PS3 games. It’s logical they will also include PS1 and PS2 games in this. Which makes perfect sense because it’s unlikely that they will have backwards compatibility within the PS4 architecture.
Sony famously created a new processor Cell for the PS3. They’ve since moved towards AMD. In order to achieve backwards compatibility natively they would have to either have a Cell chip onboard or have a way of virtually emulating it – all of which require a lot of processing power. Gaikai may be their answer to this.
The latest rumours suggest that the PS4 will link up with mobile devices as well. Microsoft are currently pushing their SmartGlass features so it would make sense for Sony to follow suit. The implications though are larger than a bull elephant.
What if they use their Gaikai tech to stream PlayStation games to every surface that has a Gaikai app? Suddenly iPads, Android tablets and mobile phones are capable of playing PlayStation games. It’s unlikely, but a tantalising prospect.
VGLeaks also report that the system will come packaged with an upgraded PlayStation EyeToy which can recognise users and track your body, similar to Microsoft’s Kinect.
VGLeaks posted documents which suggest an eight-core processor based on AMD’s Jaguar chip; a GPU based on AMD’s R10XX architecture, which supports DirectX 11.1 and above; 4GB of RAM and of course, being Sony, a Blu-ray drive which will support up to 50GB discs. It’s not quite the specs of a high range PC but remember this is dedicated hardware, just designed for gaming.
Sony have a history of never pinning themselves down on price until the launch. It could be anything - but £299 seems to be the most likely UK launch price.
‘What does our future hold for tomorrow?’ tweeted Sony Santa Monica, the studio behind the God of War games. ‘We heard they may open Pandora’s Box (again) live on stage.’
So what do we know? Well the above has kick-started a rumour that God of War 4 is in development for the launch period. Killzone 4, LittleBigPlanet 3 and Motorstorm are all rumoured, as well as the obvious next-gen games that have been parading around for the last year such as Star Wars 1313 and Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs. Uncharted 4 would be a likely bet. Other reports indicate games which have been long delayed such as The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy Versus XIII are going to be exclusive to the PS4. This would make sense as both games have vanished recently and developers have been unwilling to talk about them. Why? Well, if they were under a non-disclosure agreement because of new tech, it would make a lot of sense.
Whatever goes down tonight, it’s clear it’s something big. Sony have had a shaky time with the PS3. They invested in tech that never really lifted off the ground and created a system that was notoriously hard for developers to work with. Their shift to AMD suggests that they have learnt their lesson. But there’s something more interesting in this. What if the PS4 is the last console?
Potentially, with Gaikai under their hood Sony can upgrade their video rendering servers in six months’ time and suddenly the PS4 will be a PS4.1. Watch this space.