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A very high-resolution image of a 60GB PlayStation 3
Some question the likelihood of PS4 after Sony's shift to more software-focused management

Following the launch of PlayStation 3 and subsequent reshuffling of Sony Computer Entertainment management in November, industry analysts have been busy making assessments and predictions.

Some view the promotion of Ken Kutaragi, which takes him out of the day-to-day operations at SCEI, as a vote of non-confidence. Kazuo Hirai, who is known to have stronger relationships with game makers, takes over the new lead role which some believe to mark a new, software-focused era at Sony.

An analyst said something in a Financial Times report that would shake the world if true. “The appointment of Hirai could be the start of a shift from hardware to software,” said Yuta Sakurai, an analyst at Nomura. “I cannot now imagine a PlayStation4.”

While no one can argue that the PlayStation 3 is a technological marvel, analysts say that Sony bet too heavily on hardware for the latest console generation, and because of that, it has paid dearly for delays in manufacturing and high costs. Sony loses an estimated $240 to $300 on every console sold; and while selling machinery initially at a loss is not uncommon practice for gaming consoles, analysts calculate that it could take Sony five years to recoup the costs of PlayStation 3 hardware because of its enormous R&D costs. The delays and lack of hardware availability also gives competitors Nintendo and Microsoft greater opportunity at grabbing marketshare.

With the above in mind, it’s no wonder that some analysts are pegging Sony to go the way of Sega. Sony, however, was quick on the rebuttal button. Dave Karraker of SCEA had this to say to GameSpot: “Following the launch of the PlayStation 3 just a few weeks ago, and witnessing the huge consumer demand for the product, I think it would be rather short-sighted for anyone to predict there might not be a next generation of PlayStation product.”

Sony’s Phil Harrison said earlier in a Wired article that he would “be amazed if the PlayStation 4 has a physical disc drive,” in response to the Blu-ray Disc issue, hinting that the next-generation console will be a heavily networked device.

Most recently, Sony Europe VP Paul Holman said to Australian-based Smarthouse that a PS4 will be launched by Sony but not until at least 2010. “To say that there will be no PS4 because of a management change is a bit far fetched,” he said.

While comments from a few Sony executives do not officially confirm a PlayStation 4, they certainly deny that there isn’t going to be one. Right now, Sony has too much to deal with on the current generation before looking forward to the next. Holman said that Sony is planning to give PS3 more media centre capacity, while allowing for third party applications and hardware, “such as interactive controllers” like Nintendo’s Wii Remote. Sony recently reaffirmed in an interview that its console was more of a broad entertainment solution, while also admiring Nintendo Wii for its fun and intuitive gaming experience.

Sony also has to deal with several issues surrounding its new machine. For one, those who have HDTV compatible television sets but do not support 720p will be unable to play many new PS3 games in high-definition. This is because the PS3 lacks an internal upscaler, and will automatically downscale high-definition images to 480p, resulting in a dramatic loss of visual quality. Sony said that a fix was in the works, but later backtracked saying that the company has yet to announce any action towards the issue.

Although the PS3 contains the Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer chips that powered the PS2, the new console is having compatibility issues running the previous generation games. Some games are freezing while others are playing without any sound. Sony is currently investigating the matter and is expected to improve compatibility through regular system updates.

For now, talk of a PlayStation 4 seems premature as Sony is likely still completely preoccupied with maintaining the PlayStation 3 population in Japan and North America, and preparing for the European and Australian launches in March 2007. Microsoft said that work on the next Xbox didn’t start until about a year after the launch of Xbox 360, though early development is likely underway, with the possibility that the software giant is designing some of the new silicon in-house.

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RE: NeXT, the PS4, and you...
By wolrah on 12/7/2006 4:32:50 AM , Rating: 3
Today, broadband access is perhaps 50-% of all homes...and perhaps 1% of that is fast enough to download an entire BluRay/HD-DVD worth of content in any sort of reasonable timeframe.

I disagree. At home, I have bad phone lines. With dialup modems, I got 33.6kbit service if I was lucky. I managed to get Verizon to send out a DSL kit anyways, even though I'm about 2 miles out of their official range and I'm getting 864/160 in the middle of nowhere farmland Ohio with no real effort other than running a Cat5 line from the outside box straight to the DSL modem. If I can get this connection, anyone should be able to.

Anyways, even with those speeds, a typical game of today (roughly 6.5GB, average for X360 games and maybe a bit small for PS3 launch titles once the padding is stripped) takes under a day if the console is allowed to whore the connection. If it's limited to a reasonable speed which still allows for broadband browsing, it'll take about three days. That's not bad at all, assuming a low power mode is implemented like the Wii's WiiConnect24 where it can be on but clocked down to the bare minimum needed for downloading rather than fans spinning and hundreds of watts flowing as when playing games.

Also, consumer broadband is only getting better. Most cable providers offer something in the 8-10mbit range and some are offering 15 or more to compete with FiOS. I myself have a pair of links at my college apartment, one 8mbit and one 10mbit shared with four roommates. Obviously this is atypical, but it also allows me to queue up 50GB (the maximum capacity of Blu-Ray discs currently on the market) of downloads at 2 AM and have them finished by the time I wake up, while leaving an entire other connection so our gaming is unaffected.

I don't think the next generation of consoles will be able to survive without a removable media drive of some kind, but full downloadable games are already an option for some and could be available out of the box on future machines. My modded Xbox is a great proof-of-concept. I can browse a selection of backups stored on my media server, select the one I want, and watch as it gets FTPed over. About 5 minutes later (remember, 100mbit LAN here) I back out to the Applications menu and can play my game. Given a 10mbit pipe to the Internet, this could work in about an hour.

The technology is there and it all works. We just need the console makers to provide us with the ability. Sony did one thing right with the PS3, and that is allowing user upgradeable hard drives. That's the worst part about the Xbox 360, after being used to 160GB in my Xbox the 20GB drive my 360 has is puny and useless by comparison. If I could attach a 500GB hard drive to my 360, all it would take is a software update from Microsoft and they could offer a full blown game download service.

RE: NeXT, the PS4, and you...
By masher2 on 12/7/2006 9:34:31 AM , Rating: 2
> "If I can get this connection, anyone should be able to."

Many people, however, still cannot. And you're asking the wrong question's not *can* people get that connection, its *will* they. Half the US still doesn't have broadband. Will people rush out and subscribe, simply to be able to use their new console?

> "a typical game of today ...if limited to a reasonable speed [will] take about three days.

And I suggest that waiting three days for every game is not reasonable, especially when thats your only delivery mechanism. How does Mom and Dad buy Johnnie five games for Christmas? It'll take half a month to download them all.

> "Also, consumer broadband is only getting better..."

Very true. However, the games are getting larger as well.

> "I don't think the next generation of consoles will be able to survive without a removable media drive of some kind"

Which was, sir, my original point.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton

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