Tuesday, February 19, 2013

PS4 release date, specs & price rumours

Posted on 15 Feb 2013 at 17:56

UPDATED 15/02/13: Additional updates ahead of 20/02 reveal

With 2013 upon us, we thought it about time to create a PS4 release date, specs and price - rumours article. We'll be updating this article in the future, and we expect a lot more information to come out as we approach the launch this year, as the industry will then have little reason to protect sales of current-gen devices and software.

There's an awful lot of rumours pieces online, all of them picking over the titbits of supposedly leaked information. Having read practically every such rumour there's frankly not a lot of solid information to go on. Rather than pick one rumour over another, we'll be looking at the most probable scenarios, discussing what they would mean to you the gamer, and supporting them with quotes where needed.

Most websites are still referring to the device as the PlayStation 4 or PS4, and you'd have to be a fool not to have it in the running as the final name come release day. However, two other names have surfaced: Orbis and Thebes. Most sources seem to think that Thebes is the internal codename for the Sony PS4 project, while Orbis is potentially the final name for the console. No one knows for sure though – after all, the Dreamcast was once Katana, the Gamecube was Dolphin and the Xbox 360 was Xenon

The Dreamcast was codenamed katana, so maybe Orbis is just a codename too

There are clues though, it could be that after naming its new handheld console – Playstation Vita, rather than PSP2 – that Sony has a taste for something new sounding and Orbis could well be the final name for the new console. Then again, maybe it was just because the PSP was rather a disappointment for Sony in most territories. For now we'll be calling the console PS4, because it's quicker to type.

[UPDATE] - Sony has put out a video, which sets the 20th of February as the date for some kind of huge announcement. Read PS4 expected to debut at Sony's February 20th gaming event for more information, and watch the video below from Sony's official YouTube channel.

Nothing is stated explictly, but from the tone of the video we're certain that this will be the PS4 unveiling, Leaving E3 open to publishers to show off their games, and for Sony to talk prices and precise release dates.

We'll be updating the rest of this release date section as we get more info.

We might have a reveal date for the PS4, but no release date has been leaked from a reputable source, it's a matter of piecing together information from the usual sources to make an educated guess. Such sources include developers (who will have development kits to start on launch games), publishers (who need to know what games they'll be selling and when) and of course leaks from within Sony itself.

E3 seems to be a safe bet for console unveilings, but there's no evidence

Website Kotaku claimed that a reliable source told it that the console will launch for late 2013. Which will be good news for PlayStation fans - though maybe not those in the UK if a European release is staggered back from Japanese and US launches - which is common for PlayStation products.

To support this idea, we recently heard that Sony PS4 could be delayed until 2014 in UK, developer claims. An unnamed developer talking to Edge magazine said that stock issues meant the launch would have to be staggered across the regions.

It's been widely-known for some time that the PS4 will be based around AMD technology, both for its CPU and GPU elements. A fact that's been discussed for some time: PS4 spec rumours - AMD A10 - a new approach or just plain wrong?. Given how much money Sony sunk into its Cell processor for the PS3 – to little apparent benefit – it makes sense for the company toswitch to an off-the-shelf design for this generation.

AMD has proved itself most capable at producing decent processors at a reasonable price of late, it's also shown that its can combine CPU and graphics elements on the same chip – essential for producing a console at a low price. Its PC graphics parts have long impressed us too. There's no doubt then that AMD would make a good hardware partner for PS4.

As to the nature of that hardware, the bottom line is fairly obvious. Any next generation console must be able to run graphically detailed games at 1080p and 60fps, and preferably also cope with the processing overheads of 3D as well.

What is unusual is that both the PS4 and the next-gen Xbox are now widely believed to use very similar hardware. With both having the same 8-core 1.6GHz processor inside and a GPU based around 7-series hardware, likely to be akin in power to a card like the AMD Radeon HD 7850.

The PS4 is widely understood to have just 4GB of memory, however all that memory is a single lump of super-fast GDDR5, making it easy to access and develop games upon. This is different from the Xbox 720's more complicated memory architecture, which looks to be 8GB of slower memory with a small fast cache. The former looks better for graphics performance, while the latter might be superior for running multiple apps at once.

In terms of the GPU, the PS4 looks to have 50% more compute units than the Xbox 720. Some of these may be reserved for 'compute' functions, though these could still be used for special graphical effects and physics calculations. Even considering this, the PS4 looks, at present to have the graphical edge over its rival.

Blu-ray is a must for PS4, the PS3 came a little too early for Sony to comfortably include the hardware, but it still pushed ahead with it at great cost. These days, Blu-ray is one of the defining parts of the PlayStation brand and we can't see it being dropped. All the usual unattributed sources touted by major gaming sites agree with this.

Sony filed a patent late last year that could mean the PS4 won't play used or second hand games. The patent, US Patent Application 20130007892, describes "a game playing system [including] a use permission tag provided for use in a game disk for a user of a game, a disk drive, and a reproduction device for reproducing the game." Essentially, this means that a device similar to an RFID or or near-field communication (NFC) tag built into the game disc would tie it to a particular console or console user.

Second-hand sales are a serious problem for the games industry - in some ways, even more so than piracy, with none of the money going to the publisher or developer. By blocking second-hand sales, Sony thinks that a high percentage of those who would have purchased the game second-hand will instead pay full price.

Many current generation games come with single-use codes that let the original owner download extra content, while digital distribution services like Steam, Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network tie purchases to a single user account.

Sony's proposed system goes significantly further: once a game disc is inserted into a console featuring the patented technology, it would be permentantly tied to that user or console. If the disc is sold, the game could either be a demo version limited to a specific section or a pre-set number of plays and requiring the purchase of a code to unlock or - if Sony goes the whole hog - simply not work at all.

The shape of the PlayStation controller may have been iconic once, but it's now a makeshift one, with the thumbsticks simply clamped to the bottom of the original PS1 controller. With analogue control now key to gaming, rather than an optional extra as it was when the Dual Analog/Dual Shock controller launched back in 1997, the design is well overdue an overhaul.

PS controller
The PlayStation controller is showing its age

A recently leaked snap of a PS4 development kit has given us a good look at what is probably a prototype model of the new joypad - at least we hope its a prototype as it looks pretty cheap and nasty at present, like a cheap third-party Dualshock knock off.

The controller shown has a small touchpad above the analogue sticks and a coloured light on the front. In this repsect it looks to include functionality we've seen on both the Vita (which has a rear touchpad) and in Sony's motion-based Move controllers. A speaker is also built-in, allowing for local audio effects and a headphone socket too - probably for headset use, but we're hoping for Bluetooth audio for easier headphone use while playing - very handy for split-screen gaming.

Sony PS4 controller prototype

In addition, it appears that the console may have upgraded motion controls, with Sony hiring a top executive with Kinect experience from Microsoft. You can read more about that in Sony hire suggests PS4 motion control plans. Furthermore, we recently reported that the PS4 could get dual-camera HD EyeToy bundle at launch, giving it a beefed-up motion-sensitive control system in combination with its new controller.

There's very little doubt here, as there's little space for manoeuvre. The PS4 will have HDMI output, built-in Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port and that's probably that. We suppose there might be a card reader or an S/PDIF output, but they are hardly essentials these days. Given that Sony will likely be keen to maintain compatibility for older controllers, Bluetooth we likely remain as well – as that currently is used for all PS3 controllers.

Sony Bravia
Sony is keen enough to sell 4K sets it is giving away content on a hard disk with them to watch

One website, BGR, has claimed that PS4 will support 4K video resolutions. With Sony keen on the Ultra HD TV format, we can see no reason why this wouldn't be true. Playing 4K video shouldn't be too taxing for a next-gen console and the HDMI 1.4 support the resolution required – up to 4,096×2,160p at 24 Hz, the same as in digital cinemas. We'd be very surprised if it couldn't manage this, though the big question is how such content would be supplied.

HDMI 1.4 will also bring support for Ethernet channel, so it would be possible for your PS4 to provide a network connection to your TV via HDMI, which would cut down on cabling for those with supported TV sets.

[UPDATE] EA's Chief Financial officer, who probably knows what's what, has said PS4 and Xbox 720 are likely to lose backwards compatibility. This is due to both differences in CPU architecture for both machines compared to their predecessors, plus the inevitable costs in developing and adding backward compatibility to the console. Far better for publishers to re-release favourite games, either as downloads, or in enhanced editions.

Next-generation games are certainly in development, as Dave Cook intelligently argues in his piece The dog track: Q1 and the next-gen countdown. The sheer lack of big releases pencilled in for the middle of next year shows that something is afoot – all those developers must be working on something, they just can't say what.

L.A. Noire Phelps and Berkowsky
Team Bondi, of LA Noire fame, is working on a next-gen title

One company has broken ranks, with Team Bondi of LA Noire fame saying that its upcoming game – the delicately titled, Whore of the Orient – will be launched on PC and "next generation games consoles". Unfortunately the game has no release date announced, so there's only so much you can read into that. Fans of the studio can be certain though, that their current console will not run the company's next game.

It's very hard to put a price on a console as the manufacturers often sell them at a loss, especially to early adopters, in order to get the ball rolling. They make the money back on game sales and online content later. The PS3 was rumoured to cost Sony some $900 dollars to make upon launch, despite that Sony sold it for around $600.

Competition is also a big deal, with companies often forced to price match rivals. So whatever Sony's plans may be, they could be radically affected by Microsoft's or even the success or failure of the Wii U.

Now there are rumours that: PS4 likely to cost $400, according to Japanese sources. These say that the PS4 will cost at least YEN40,000, which translates to at least $400, which in turn works out to at least £310 in the UN including tax.

Now all this speculation is well and good, but the comment in the Japanese press was from an unattributed source, and no it's not any more accurate simply because the source comes from Japan.

Then there's the exchange rate problem. The console was designed in Japan, but the chips were designed in America, and all the parts were manufactured and put together in China. The Yen is a lot stronger against UK and US currencies now than it was when the PS3 came out - by almost 50% in fact. That could make the price higher than some are predicting, but the truly global nature of teh product makes this very hard to predict - even if you knew the Yen price for sure, it would be a guess to calculate a European selling price.

Going on historical facts, the original PlayStation sold for £299, as did the PlayStation 2, the PlayStation 3 price jumped up to a whopping £425. Adjust those prices by the retail price index and you get 2013 prices of - £471, £412 and £504 respectively. Thankfully electronics haven't risen in price in line with RPI, but you still get some idea of how hard Sony will have to try to bring in the console at a competitive £299 - which would be the sweet spot fans are hoping for.

As you can see, information on the PS4 is very thin on the ground. All this article can do is apply a little logic to the most prevalent rumours out there. We'll be updating it though as more information comes to light between now and the launch.

Author: Seth Barton

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