It's been seven years since the giant, boxy, expensive, hugely-fun and hyped PS3 first arrived. Seven years is a long time. But the next expensive, gorgeous era of gaming is here: the PlayStation 4. Everything looks better, yes, but it's definitely more of the same.
The PS4, arriving in stores "Holiday 2013," is still very much a PC in terms of guts: an x86 processor, an 8-core combined CPU/GPU, (we're not sure of exactly which one), and 8 GB of unified GDDR5 memory (versus the PS3's 512 megabytes). And for those of you who worry about storage—don't, as the PS4 will have a local HDD (no word if there will be any solid state action). What does that mean for your eyeballs?
A live demo of generic Unreal Engine 4 fiery destruction looked fantastic and fluid, at least on par with a high-end PC from today. A look at the next Killzone title was even more impressive, though we don't want to get our hopes up too much about what's pre-rendered here and what isn't. If it is, lighting effects look absolutely phenomenal, with better flames, glare, and shadows than anything on any console.
But that's the idea, right?
Cityscape scenes and view distance are pleasantly massive.
Overall—and this is based only on demos projected onto a screen, not a real game on a real TV in your real home—the graphics are fantastic, but not of an OH MY HELL, nothing-else-like-it-even-close leap. Like, say, the first time you ever saw Sonic Adventure. A demo of Driveclub for PS4 wasn't appreciably better than the visuals you'd see on the latest Gran Turismo. I'd actually say it looked... the exact same. But we're not disappointed—there are absolutely scenes we've seen so far that could've only been pre-rendered on a PS3 or Xbox 360 and this thing isn't even out yet.
A demo by Quantic Dream showing off realtime facial detail running straight off the PS4 was brilliant. And it was just a demo. Imagine this tech behind the team who made LA Noire. On the other hand, it's just a single guy's head floating in space, and a demo, at that. But his skin looked real, man.
A demo of Capcom's PS4 "Panta Rhei" engine looked like a mix between pre-rendered PS3-splendid, and current-gen PC smooth.
Spectacular lighting and facial graphics, once again.
Some bad news: no native PS3 backwards compatibility. But! You'll have PlayStation Cloud, permitting streaming access to old titles without the need for discs. Sony is frustratingly mum on how PlayStation Cloud will actually work, though.
The DualShock makes a return as well—the DualShock 4—sharing the same general design as its predecessors. But it'll now share a touchpad in the middle, a share button, a headphone jack, and perhaps most importantly, a light bar that'll track movement with a PlayStation Move-style controller.
That means movement gestures baked right into your hand—no need for a separate wand to wave around. Just one controller.
There's also very impressive stuff going on in the background—games will be "instantly" bootable from sleep, and a secondary processor will handle downloading games in the background, giving you the ability to actually play games while they're being transferred from Sony's servers to your PS4. This will be nice for anyone absolutely sick of PS3's historically bad download wait times.
A dedicated video-processing chip will let you stream video from your gaming session without leaving your session, sharable straight from a social-oriented button on your controller. Your friends will actually be able ot watch you play from their won couches, remotely offering tips and banter. Or hell: ask a friend who's just better than you to take over your game from their controller and beat that horrible boss. UStream integration will mean your performance can be a public one if you'd like, too.
All the usual streaming video apps—Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, et al—will be there. Just like PS3.
The new social gaming interface looks decent, but Sony is pushing "social integration" pretty hard here (well beyond finding strangers to kill), and it's questionable how much anyone really wants a social network on their phones and tablets built around gaming. We already have too many. Luckily, Facebook will be integrated inside the PS4, connecting with the PlayStation Network to fill it out with the online life you've already been building, rather than tediously starting from scratch.
Personalization is an interesting emphasis—Sony says it'll study your downloading and playing habits to actually predict the next titles you'll want and download them ahead of time. Unless that's very smart, it's going to be very annoying.
Remote play—continuing where you left off on another screen—will be another bullet point for the PS4. Expectedly, the Vita will be the go-to small-screen, with PS4 titles streaming straight to the Vita's 5-inch display. Unfortunately, it looks like it'll have to be wired, but Sony says the "goal" will be every single PS4 title playable on Vita.
So what does it look like we have here (or will have) in the PS4? The PS3... but... more. Where the PS3 was fast, this is faster, pretty becomes prettier, everything a little expanded. It's a stiffer drink you've had before.