Playstation 4 – November 15th 2013:
The slow adoption and negative attitude towards Sony was caused by a variety of factors, a more expensive launch price with two SKUs didn't help. The less expensive 20 GB version was priced at $499 USD and a 60 GB version at $599, additional discontent was caused by the fact only the more expensive model had an HDMI port while the 20 GB version did not. As the life cycle wore on this confusion only worsened as a slew of further SKUs hit the market some backwards compatible during the initial “Fat” version’s launch and others were not. With a multitude of SKUs littering the consoles lifecycle especially at this early date it was not particularly consumer freindly. Compare this to the two SKUs offered by Microsoft (one at $299 with no hard drive and as second at $399 with a 20 GB hard drive) just driven by price alone the Xbox was a more enticing offering at launch (though it did suffer SKU bloat as the lifecycle progressed). Add to the mix an almost hostile tone from executives taking a “you get what you pay for” attitude when addressing the cost difference, a lack of compelling launch titles, and a struggle on the part of developers to really showcase the PS3’s technological advantage it took a while to gain some ground.
Both Sony and Microsoft announced their entry in to this generation with stand alone announcement events, Sony’s was first in February of 2012. During this information session a much more humble Sony put developers and gamers first, accentuating the involvement of Mark Cerny developer of the classic Marble Madness game who led the design of the platform’s architecture and API. The goal of this developer centred gaming experience was to ensure that developers were working with a known architecture as well as with tools that were comfortable and easy to use. Unlike in the last generation where real show stopping software wouldn’t hit until late in the hardware cycle and only truly highlighted by first party developers they were able to ensure third party developers felt comfortable using the hardware, operating system (ORBIS a custom fork of version .9 of FreeBSD) and API ready to showcase the platform’s abilities out of the gate.
The PS4 once again had the biggest and baddest slices of silicone under their angled black casing. The system using an AMD x86-64 Jaguar 8 core custom APU clocked at 1.9 GHz. This chip has been customized to prioritize and share tasks with the GPU more efficiently than your off the shelf AMD processor allowing for good solid performance. The biggest take away here is the X86-64 architecture, this is the same architecture used on Windows and Linux boxes meaning the architecture is well know and optimizing for that architecture will be far more convenient for developers.
Add to this the AMD Graphics Core Next custom GPU rated at 18 Compute Units and peaking at 1.84 teraflops processing power. To put that in layman’s terms, it draws things very well very very fast. Now you may think this is some kind of fancy new graphics chip, it’s not, in fact it’s not even a new technology. Based around the AMD Radeon Southern Island Architecture the card is roughly equivalent to the current market R7-265 a $150.00 USD video card. Sony had the card optimized to work with their hardware so don’t expect to be able to go out and pick up an R7-265, stick it in your machine and get the same kind of performance as a PS4 but it really does speak to the long term complaint of PC gamers. Console technology had been holding things back for some time. Even though based on a mid-range budget gamer card the custom AMD GPU in the PS4 is able to output 4k monitor resolutions, 3D video, and present images far clearer, crisper, and with better visual effects than the previous generation. In short, this is nothing short of a beast and comparing your gaming experience to your last gen console or even most mid range gaming PCs built in the last few years you’re going to see a marked improvement.
When it comes to memory Sony did something a bit unique, instead of using the industry standard DDR3 ram they moved to 8 GB of GDDR 5 memory. This is a type of memory primarily used in graphics cards and allows for much faster calculations at 176GB/s transfer speeds. Normally this would bottleneck at the processor but given the customizations to both the APU and the GPU I suspect there may be some wizardry involved here on the part of Sony to get past these limitations. When it comes to storage though they appear to have maintained their inscrutable stance regarding storage from the previous generation. The good is you are able to swap out your hard drive with any standard SATA II hard drive and it does not void your warranty. This is a great move because the standard 5400 RPM 500 GB hard drive that comes with the PS4 is fairly modest and replacing with a larger drive or an SSD Hybrid drive could greatly improve performance and longevity. The bad is oddly despite using USB 3.0 Sony only partially supports external hard drives. You are able to use an external drive for storing media but are unable to install games on this drive meaning if your hard drive runs out of space you either have to uninstall something or migrate to a larger drive. Given the push for digital distribution with this console generation this is an odd decision to make.
There are a slew of different services, as mentioned Sony Music Unlimited and Sony Video Unlimited are the digital storefronts for music streaming and video streaming for Sony. Added to this is PS Now, a streaming service for games. Miss that old original Playstation game or want to play a PS3 title you missed? Using PS Now you’ll be able to stream the game from Sony’s servers right to your console or Vita. The thing is, unlike Netflix or even EA’s EA Access all of these services are rental services. You can either buy or rent the content similar to iTunes and in the case of PS Now (still in beta) at rather outrageous prices with no guarantee of being able to use the product once rented. What's worse is rental prices are often higher than the cost of purchasing the title from the local brick and mortar stores. The reports of users passing the requirements for playing the game only to get errors and time out once they rent something is still fairly common.
With “Share Play” you can invite a friend to play with you, even if they don’t own the game. They will enter a streamed session from your PS4 and you can either “hand them the controller” letting them take control (great for an instance where you are stuck on a level you can’t get by) or let them join in playing multiplayer even if they don’t own the game. This is means you can have virtual multiplayer co-op without your friends even owning the game! There were many times in the last generation where I wanted to play multiplayer games with friends where they didn’t own the title, this is a great way to play with friends and not have to worry about buying a game that they may not otherwise be interested in! “Share Play” added to the PSTV and Vita can create a whole house game experience and are features that could blow the doors of this generation wide open or have little to no impact, with Microsoft’s answer “Family Sharing”, a shared library among a family of up to 10 people, that has been in limbo since DRM changes (more on that in our next article) it’s hard to tell.
The Sony PS4 is by far the more powerful machine offering up better resolutions and strong solid performance. A year in to the generation they have outsold Xbox almost two to one but it’s still early and last generation the numbers were quite similar just in reverse with Microsoft dominating Sony in North America only to end the generation almost at a draw. The complaints regarding resolution on the Xbox One look like they are already disappearing as developers grow more comfortable with the hardware we are in for an interesting battle and many of the deciding factors like Sony’s Morpheus VR headset and Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Processing haven’t even entered in to the equation yet.