A little over two months remain until the PS4’s release date here in the US, just in time for the holidays. Gamers and gadget nerds alike are eagerly waiting to get their hands on this new shiny. Many have already pre-ordered theirs. Many others (myself included) have put one on their wish list at Amazon or other sites, just to make sure everyone knows they wants it, preshussssss…
But why are we so excited? What does the new generation of Sony’s venerable gaming platform bring to the table that we can’t get already? The PS3 isn’t going anywhere for a while yet, so what are the compelling reasons to upgrade? Let’s take a look.
The PS4 is an extremely powerful console, sporting a 64 bit 8 core AMD Jaguar processor. It runs at 1.6 GHz base clock speed, but has intelligent speed boosting that can jump it up to 2.75 GHz when needed. I’m hearing some eyes glaze over here, so let me explain. Most of you are reading this on a computer that runs a dual core processor. Basically, your single processor chip in the computer functions like it’s actually two individual processors, allowing it to perform tasks simultaneously. Some folks have systems set up for gaming, and are running quad core chips, where the single processor has 4 cores that can act independently or together to do a lot of work really fast. Pretty cool thing to have, right? Now think about it. The PS4 has 8 cores. Essentially, 8 processors built into one chip. But the speed seems low, right? 1.6 GHz? Netbooks are faster than that. Remember that each core is processing at that speed. So you’re doing eight calculations for every cycle of the processor, as opposed to two or four. Even with a slower base speed, the processor does more in the same amount of time. And when the system needs additional number crunching power, it can boost that speed up to 2.75 GHz, generating a huge boost in processing ability. 1 GHz is one billion cycles per second, by the way. At max speed each of the 8 cores in this processor can run 2.75 billion instruction sets per second. That’s 22 billion instructions per second, or, as I like to call it, a metric frak ton. And that’s just the start.
The system runs 8 GB of dedicated GDDR5 RAM operating at 5500 MHz. In comparison, the PS3 only had 512 MB of RAM. Why does that matter? More RAM means that the system can handle larger levels, better textures, more complicated AI instructions and a host of other benefits. This memory is shared between the processor and video card, but since it’s GDDR5 (the G stands for graphical), it makes this sharing much simpler from a programming standpoint. Add in the fact that the whole thing is running off a standard x86 architecture (just like the computer you’re reading this on), and programming for PS4 is much easier than for it’s older brother.
On the video front, the system also sports an AMD graphics processing unit (GPU), which is capable of pushing 1.84 TFLOPS, which puts it about in line with the AMD Radeon 7850, a popular mid-range video card for PC gaming. It’s actually better than the video card in my current gaming PC, as much as it pains me to say it. In laymans terms, this thing will generate very pretty graphics at high frame rates in both 720p and 1080p. We’re talking almost photorealistic graphics. Don’t believe me? Check this out. And bear in mind, the graphics you see at the beginning of a console’s life pale in comparison to how good they are a few years down the line.
So, we know it’s fast, we know it can do a lot, and we know it will be pretty. What else is there? For starters, a 500 GB hard drive, which means plenty of space for storing games, videos or music. As an added bonus, Sony is keeping their policy of allowing hard drive upgrades, which means if you do run out of space, you can just buy a bigger hard drive and install it. Even better, the PS4 uses a standard 2.5 inch drive, rather than a proprietary format, so you can get the drive from anywhere, just like upgrading a PC. The PS4 will also be sporting a 6x BluRay drive, allowing for much faster load times than we currently see on the PS3. Rounding out the feature set is an 802.11a/b/n wifi card and built in Bluetooth, as well as HDMI, analog AV and optical video outputs.
The Dualshock 4 controller is an improvement in almost every way over the Dualshock 3. It’s got larger handles for a more comfortable grip, convex R2 and L2 triggers (meaning your fingers won’t slip off when holding down the trigger in a shooter or the accelerator in a driving game), and a capacitive touch pad that also features a mechanical button. If you’ve got an iPhone or Android phone, you already know how responsive capacitive touch pads are. Adding this to the controller gives developers additional ways to let you interact with the environments they create. Plus, it looks really cool. Additionally, it has a built in headset and speaker jack. The system will even reportedly allow you to tie a specific controller to a specific Playstation ID on the console. So if I’m playing, and my wife wants to join in, all she would need to do is turn on her controller. The system would recognize it as being tied to her ID, sign her in and then she could join in for some co-op (or head to head) fun. How cool is that?
Let’s face it. A console without good games is just a doorstop. Fortunately, Sony knows this, and has an impressive lineup of launch and launch window titles, including multiplatform games like Watch Dogs and Call of Duty: Ghosts, as well as platform exclusives like Infamous, Second Son. IGN has a full list here. And let’s not forget Playstation Plus. Some gamers are upset by Sony’s decision to require Plus for multiplayer games, but considering Microsoft has been charging $60 a year to play multiplayer on the XBox 360, it was bound to happen. Thankfully, Sony appears determined to give players their money’s worth. Video applications such as Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime will not require Plus to function on the PS4, unlike the XBox. Same for the social media and sharing features of the console. The price is $50 per year, but for that (still cheaper than Microsoft) amount you get quite a few benefits. Plus subscribers get free downloadable games with new ones being added each month, and they remain playable as long as you have a subscription. That trend will continue with the PS4, with the first free game for Plus subscribers being DriveClub.
So that’s the PS4. At $399, it’s a pretty sizeable chunk of change, but considering how much machine you get out of it, I think it’s a reasonable price, especially when you consider that a mid-range gaming computer will run you between $500 and $750 to build (and I should know. I’ve built several). It’s also $100 cheaper than Microsoft’s new Xbox, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice. Sadly, I probably won’t be getting one at launch without winning the lottery, but it is definitely on my list.