Update, Feb. 21, 2013: We've added several bonus questions, as the more we learn about the PS4, the more we realize we don't know.
NEW YORK--Now that Sony has officially unveiled its next-generation living room game console, it's time to start speculating about all the important details that were left out of the press conference.
We know, for example, that the name of the system is PlayStation 4, and that it will feature a mix of disc-based and cloud-based games, and also that the new controller -- a modified version of the classic Sony game pad -- is adding a small touch panel.
We also know that Sony plans to push a wide-ranging list of games at launch (whenever that is), including Killzone: Shadow Fall, Watch Dogs, and The Witness. That's a deep software bench, and shows a clear emphasis on games and content, but many important questions about the PlayStation 4 hardware and user experience have been left unanswered.
How much will the new console cost, and how many versions will there be?
If we follow recent console history, it's smart to expect two distinct versions of the PlayStation 4. The rumored prices for the basic and deluxe packages are $429 and $529, respectively, which would include at the very least a larger amount of onboard storage in the more expensive version. It's unfortunately typical these days for any new consumer electronics product to go through several waves of announcements, with price/availability info, specs, and other features spread out over many months to maintain a steady presence in the news media.
When will the PS4 be released?
One major break from the game console release cycle standard going back nearly 20 years, is that we're first seeing this new console in the early part of the year, with an expected release date of sometime in the 2013 holiday season. In previous consoles, from the Wii U to the Xbox 360, we'd see a demo or unveiling at an event such as the E3 video game trade show, only to see a closer-to-final version of the same hardware one year later, with an expected ship date still some months after that. Promising same-year delivery for a game console unseen before now is a serious acknowledgment that the annual upgrade cycles of phones, tablets, and laptops have upended consumer expectations.
How big a part will streaming games play?
Sony's acquisition of streaming-game provider Gaikai in 2012 set the stage for the new PlayStation's streaming-game content. A move to streaming games is a far-thinking idea, and one that would reduce the need for large amounts of local storage for fully downloaded games, as well as the need to manufacture, transport, and store physical game discs, although the implementation as described by Sony seems to be a hedged bet, at best. New, A-list games such as Killzone: Shadow Fall and Watch Dogs are still going to come on disc, for now, at least, with the Gaikai streaming technology reserved for instant demos of games in the PlayStation online store. Streaming older PS2/3 titles are a possible future feature.
The real question becomes: when will Sony try to sell a new, mainstream hit game as a cloud-streaming download?
Will nearly every online experience required a paid subscription to the PlayStation online service?
One of the major areas where gamers prefer the Sony model to the Microsoft one is in online play. A paid Xbox Live account is required for nearly every online interaction with an Xbox 360, from multiplayer gaming to Netflix streaming. Sony has always offered its PlayStation Network service for free, although a paid version, called PlayStation Plus, adds features such as cloud saves, automatic updating, and free/discounted online games.
But, the $60 Microsoft makes from nearly every Xbox 360 gamer is too much to leave on the table. A revamped PlayStation online service may mean more gamers will feel the need to pay up, although we're not sure if it will feel like a required annual fee or something you can live without depending on your interest in online community features.
What is the PlayStation 4 going to look like?
In what might be a first for this kind of event, we saw some games, we saw the controller, and we even saw the new Kinect-like PlayStation Eye camera peripheral. But we did not see what the new console itself is going to look like. Will it be a squared-off AV-style box? A small Roku-like puck? A curved bit of plastic-and-chrome design savvy, like the PS3? We have no idea right now, and that might be the oddest omission of the evening.
Will we even need a PS4 console to play future PS4 games?
With server-side cloud streaming of games on the horizon, why do we even need a dedicated console at all? At a roundtable discussion the morning after the PlayStation 4 press conference, Shuhei Yoshida, President of SCE World Wide Studios admitted that any device could theoretically display and run cloud-based games using Gaikai's streaming technology, as long as it could render the video stream and support a controller.
I've purchased a ton of games on the current PS3 version of the PlayStation Network Store. Will I be able to play them on the PS4?
The immediate answer is no, because the two consoles have a different hardware architecture. But, Sony could make PS4-compatible versions of at least some of them and allow owners of the PS3 version to download the new versions. Will they? For some popular games, no doubt, but it's likely to be on a case-by-case basis. And if you want to transfer your old saves, that adds another level of complexity.
How much will PS4 games cost?
Downloadable games have given us a much wider range of game prices for consoles in recent years, from a few dollars to $60 or more. The default for current-gen full retail games jumped by $10, from $49 to $59, with the launch of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Will Sony use its new console as an opportunity to raise game prices again?
Where are much-hyped games such as The Last Guardian?
That much-buzzed-about game, from the creators of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, was absent from the presentation, to the dismay of many. But hey, they've got a new Killzone game, right?
How many games will be able to beam themselves to a PS Vita?
The idea of second-screen gaming is one of the features people love about the Nintendo Wii U. As on the Wii U, not every game on the PS4 will support this, and we do know that it's a feature that will have to be hand-coded into every compatible game, as some remapping is required for the controls on the Vita versus the PS4 controller. Whether it will be a common feature, or one that will only pop up occasionally, remains to be seen.