At GDC 2013 at the end of March, a room full of would-be PS4 developers and press got some new details about the hardware, controller, online and social functions of the forthcoming PlayStation 4.
Senior Staff Developer Support Engineer Chris Norden unveiled the news under an overarching theme of a "frictionless and seamless" gaming experience.
We've known that the PS4 will track both the controller in a gamer's hand, as well as their face, since the console's launch in Feb. But during his GDC talk Norden revealed some interesting ways that this technology will be implemented in games.
For example, the old multiplayer standby of split screen, divvying up television real estate when two or more players go at it, will be aided by this tracking tech. If a gamer gets up and moves right or left, his section of the screen will automatically be swapped.
So here's everything we know about the PlayStation 4 so far...
PS4 release date
The PS4 release date is "Holiday 2013" for the USA. That's the only official detail Sony revealed at the launch in February and it's unclear which other territories it applies to, if any.
However, latest rumours regarding the PS4 release date are that the console will in fact launch globally in 2013, not just in the USA or Japan. This comes from GameStop's Michael Hogan who said the only question is whether the Xbox 720 will also launch this year.
Indeed, in an interview with editor of Outside Xbox and TechRadar contributor, Mike Channell, Assassin's Creed 4 boss Gene Guesdon hinted in March that his game would launch on all platforms simultaneously... at the end of October this year.
When discussing the PS4 and the next Xbox, Guesdon said: "We have a strong engine and we are always pushing the limits so this year again we are ready to support such new capacities, new abilities so the game will be ready for that but also you know we make it for current gen obviously from a starting point," said Guesdon.
At that, Channell asked, "Is there going to be any delay in the versions or are they all going to release at the same time?"
"Same ship" was the definitive response.
After the internet melted at the news, Ubisoft rushed out a clarification saying that Guesdon was not talking about PS4 or Xbox 720, but was instead referring to Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
We asked Mike what his view of it was and he had this to say for TechRadar: "If you look at the answer in context, from 5:05 onwards, it's part of a discussion that's specifically about PS4 and equivalent next generation consoles. I don't think there's any misunderstanding there. He's saying both current and next gen versions will ship at the same time, which implies the consoles will launch before the game's publicly announced release date."
Make your own mind up by watching Outside Xbox's video - skip to 5 minutes in:
Officially, Sony has said it wants the PS4 release date in Europe to be as soon as possible but makes no promises on whether the UK and other European countries will get a release date in time for Christmas this year or whether it'll be an uncomfortable wait until sometime in 2014.
Stock issues might be the reason for this, and that's exactly what happened back in 2006/2007 when the PS3 launched. It went on sale in the US and Japan in time for Christmas and Europe and the rest of the world had to wait for March the next year.
Zavvi has actually listed a UK PS4 release date of 31st December which seems extremely unlikely - launching a few days after Christmas? Surely that's retail suicide.
Until Sony gives more details then, it's all just speculation. Even the retailers don't seem to know when the PS4 will release - so maybe Sony doesn't either. It could depend on how quickly they can get manufacture going on retail models, what yield rates are and the capacity of the factories.
Until we know more, we'll quietly pray to the gods of silicon that the PS4 release date will be Christmas 2013 worldwide. Or better yet, tomorrow!
Check out our PS4 reveal video:
PS4: Hardware specs
AMD, as we guessed all along, is coursing through this new system's veins.
Post-event, Sony revealed the system runs on a single-chip custom processor and utilizes eight x86-64 AMD Jaguar CPU cores, with a next-gen AMD Radeon based graphics engine powering the way.
So it's very much a PC-based system then, which is great news for developers who will find it much easier to code games for the next gen consoles and for PCs. However, that CPU is hardly next-gen - it may have been modified for this system but the AMD Jaguar platform is by no means the fastest of its kind - indeed it's slower than Intel's fastest by orders of magnitude.
However, with fewer redundancies than a PC has, the PS4 will certainly be able to make use of every single Watt of power it draws.
The "highly enhanced PC GPU" is another story. It's another AMD part - something along the lines of a Radeon 7850 card - and packs 18 GCN units. That may sound a like a lot of techy mumbo jumbo but what it essentially means is that the GPU packs 18 processing clusters, each packing up to 64 cores. That provides a lot of parallel processing power, and will thus handle the majority of the PS4's grunt work. It hits 1.84 TFLOPS of processing mojo. This is a far more powerful component than the Jaguar CPU and is rumoured to have the edge on the GPU inside the Xbox 720.
Sony announced at the NYC event that the console will even use GPU compute features to take advantage of the GPU's raw power - it'll be used for general computation tasks as well as making games shiny.
The PS4 will ship packing 8GB of GDDR5 memory. That's some super-fast stuff right there and should enable lightning fast performance.
Indeed, Sony has revealed that you will be able to power down the PS4 mid-game and then switch it on again in seconds and pick up right where you left off. That's the sort of loading power that this memory enables.
We're also looking at Blu-ray disk support plus good ol' DVD, plus HDMI output support as well as Analog-AV out and an optical digital output.
PlayStation 4 Eye
What's really grabbing though is the development of the PlayStation 4 Eye, a newly developed camera system that utilizes two high-sensitivity camera equipped with wide-angle lenses and 85-degree diagonal angle views.
Sony said the cameras (amounting to 1280 x 800 pixels) can cut out the image of a player from the background or differentiate between players in the background and foreground, enhancing game play handily. There's also mention of logging in using facial recognition and using voice and body movements to play games "more intuitively."
We don't yet know what the PS4 price is going to be in any territory, but in the UK at least, retailers are clambering all over each other to take £20 deposits in return for guaranteed PS4 consoles on release date.
PS4 controller: DualShock 4
If you have an eye for details you may have noticed that the PS4'sDualShock 4 controller has no Start or Select buttons. Norden confirmed this, saying that it will have a so-called Option button instead, as well as the much bandied about Share button on the rear.
The analogue sticks have been tightened up to be more precise, and the controller also features a brand new three-axis gyroscopic motion sensor with three-axis accelerometer which should be great for getting you immersed in the games. The camera continuously tracks all four controllers with precise accuracy. Rotational tracking is provided by the internal components and.
The controller has a two-point Vita-like touchpad on the front with a 1920x900 resolution, and a tactile clicking sound letting you know you've pressed it. The light bar on the front will glow different colours depending on whether you're player 1, 2, 3 or 4 and will be tracked by the new PS Eye camera. It also has an Xbox-style headset jack and a mono speaker inside it.
Video-watchers take note
This new PS4 controller won't accidentally fast forward when you set it down. Norden said this was one of the biggest complaints his team heard about the PS3's DualShock. The PS4's controller has triggers designed not to depress when set down. What's more, Norden even said he'd been dropping controllers without skipping a single frame.
That touchpad on the DualShock 4 will be capable of two simultaneous inputs. The light on the controller will glow blue, red, green or pink light, depending on whether you're player one, two, three or four.
The Share button
The PS4's ardware encoder always records the last several minutes of game play without using any additional resources from the game, by pressing the Share button you can then upload or save your gameplay and show your friends or keep it just for your own amusement.
PS4 streaming lets you stream out live gameplay to your friends. This is all built into the hardware and does not need to be supported by developers. Users can react to the video by typing comments in real time. You can do this to friends, or public.
PS4 user interface
The XrossMediaBar (XMB) interface of PlayStations past has been completely ditched in the PS4, with Sony instead choosing to design a new OS that looks a lot more like that of the Xbox 360 than the PS3.
Will the PS4 be 4K capable?
In a chat with Kotaku, Sony has revealed that the PlayStation 4 will be able to playback 4K/Ultra HD video. However, it will not upscale to 4K or play games at 4K resolution.
Sony has also confirmed that it will definitely launch a 4K movie service on the PS4 and is looking at ways it can get around the 100GB downloads required.
The PS4 will definitely not offer native support for PS3 games. However, there will at some point be a service on the Sony Entertainment Network that offers server-side emulation and streaming of games from PS One classics right through to PS3 Platinum Editions.
Sony has confirmed that PlayStation Move will play a big part in the PS4 ecosystem. However, it has not yet been revealed whether the PS4 will launch alongside a new PS Eye camera and new Move controllers or whether the peripherals are staying the same with all the enhancements made console-side.
By tracking the light bar on the DualShock 4 pad and associating it with faces in the image, the game can identify which player face is connected to which game avatar. By using facial recognition the game can associate a face with a PSN profile.
- High sensitivity, dual color cameras. Two cameras here.
- 1280x 800 12 bits/pixel, 60hz
- Higher frame rates at lower resolutions
- Wide angles – diagonal field of view is 85 degrees
- 3 axis acceeletromter, tilt sensor
- Wide baseline 4 microphone array
- Dedicated port, exclusive SCE connector
- Game-loop sync can be changed, depending on framerate of game
PS4 Blu-ray drive
Not only will the PS4's 64-bit x86 architecture and 8GB of GDDR5 memory blow its predecessor out of the water, its Blu-ray drive will be three times faster.
"If you're coming from the PS3 you're probably quite used to the headache of having to split memory arhchitecture, you can't quite use all of it, the speeds are really wacky on some of it - we don't have that with PS4," said Norden.
He added that this would offer developers "crazy high bandwidth".
Synergy with PlayStation Vita
Sony has revealed that the PS4 will launch with the ability to stream games directly to your PS Vita. In exactly the same way as the Wii U allows you to switch off your TV and continue playing on the tablet controller, the PS4 will wirelessly send your games to the Vita.
There will be similar synergy between "all Sony devices" which means Xperia handsets and tablets, Bravia TVs and BD players.
Sony hinted that there will be more announcements in this area, too. We think the obvious next reveal in this area is the ability to play PS4 games on your Vita from any location using a wireless connection.
PS4 Instant On
The PS4 will be one nippy device if Sony is to be believed. It will have an instant on/off feature allowing your to shut down during a game and then boot up from scratch in seconds and resume where you left off. The days of waiting 60 seconds as your console loads up are about to end.
What's more, Chris Norden has stressed that Sony has three tenets of PS4 design: simple, social and immediate. Gamers will be able to start playing titles before they've even finished downloading.
And with one button sharing, Norden says the goal is to make it so simple users will "do it without thinking about it."
PS4 price: how much will it cost?
We really don't know what price the PS4 will fetch. Some rumours suggest a figure of around $450/£399. But it's pure speculation at the moment.
The sake Zavvi page which lists the UK release date as 31st December 2013 has a pre-order available for £399. Again, we'd take that with a pinch of salt, but if it's their best guess, there might be a grain of something in it.
PS4 launch titles
A number of games have been revealed for the PS4. They Are: Deep Down (Capcom), Destiny (Bungie), Diablo III (Blizzard), Driveclub (Evolution Studios), Final Fantasy (Square Enix), Infamous: Second Son (Sucker Punch), Killzone: Shadow Fall (Guerilla Games), Knack (Sony), The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt RED), Watch Dogs (Ubisoft).
US talkshow host Jimmy Fallon was the first to get near Killzone 4...
Second-hand games on the way out?
Sony has yet to discuss this area of the PS4, but you'd think it would dispel the rumours if they're not true.
The rumours suggest that Sony is going in the same direction as Microsoft in that it wants to kill off the second-hand games market. Current industry wisdom suggests that future PS4 games might be tied to your Sony Entertainment Network account and will thus have no resale value. That's a similar approach as used by PC developers using Steam so we reckon this is a likely development. Doesn't mean we're happy about it, though.
What will the PS4 actually be called?
It's the PS4, of course!