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PlayStation 4 First Impressions

After months of speculation, Sony officially took the wraps off its next-generation console -- PlayStation 4. But now that the dust has settled, we will take a look back at what Sony revealed that piqued our interest while also taking a stab at what the video game giant might have up its sleeve as the PS4 gets closer to it inevitable launch.

1. The controller: Leaked images turned out to be true regarding the Dualshock 4. Sporting a similar layout to its predecessor, the new controller is more of an evolution instead of a revolution. The major additions are a share button, touchpad, headphone jack and an illuminating sensor. The share button allows gamers to send video clips of their gaming sessions to various social networks -- such as Facebook and Ustream -- while, in theory, eliminating the cost of capture equipment others use to create uploaded video clips of their virtual exploits. The touchpad's functionality was not explained but I would guess it will allow users to control certain parts of the interface using touch gestures. Developers also could add touch-based gameplay elements since this kind of input has become second nature due to the booming popularity of touch screens. The headphone jack was a major oversight on the Dualshock 3 that Sony is correcting in the upcoming iteration. With online multiplayer gaming only growing, this addition was a no-brainer. The sensor on the front of the controller will serve two purposes: provide motioned-based gestures and visually differentiate one player from another (It will change color depending on which player logs in.)

Verdict: Sony made some much-needed upgrades while also adding some potentially game-changing improvements. The combination of the touchpad, share button and motion sensor should allow developers to create new gaming experiences that we have yet to see on consoles. The headphone jack allows Sony to push its online service that continues to be free, giving it a leg up on Xbox Live. But Sony missed a chance to reposition its analog sticks, which have been criticized for being too close together. Sony did address the top of the sticks, opting for a concave feel for better control. Hopefully, the trigger buttons followed this design philosophy.

2. The specs: Sony went away from the proprietary Cell technology it used in the PS3 in favor of a more developer-friendly PC-based architecture. Mark Cerny, the lead creator of the PS4, dubbed it a "supercharged PC" that is packing an X86 CPU an "enhanced" GPU and 8 gigabytes of memory. The PS3 -- in comparison -- has 512 megabytes of memory, meaning the PS4 will have nearly 16 times the capacity. This will be critical for background tasks that the PS3 has struggled to perform. The system has the ability to go into a low-power state, allowing users to resume their play session without any boot up time. Multitasking tasks should also be expedited. Anyone who has tried synching trophies on the PS3 knows how painfully slow this can be. With 8 gigs of memory, these operations should be instantaneous. Game development should also reap the benefits.

Verdict: With these consoles becoming multimedia powerhouses, amping up the specs was a must. With all the tasks the PS4 will be asked to do beyond gaming, it was vital for Sony to make this console as future proof as possible. Though it's tough to give a definitive verdict without getting some hands on, Sony appears to have done a commendable job packing as much punch as possible. Now, will Sony be able to keep the price competitive? 3. Cloud gaming and Vita integration: Sony finally revealed its plans for Gaikai, a cloud-based gaming service. Gaikai's CEO, David Perry, revealed that cloud gaming will be at the center of the PS4. He said gamers will be able to begin playing a downloadable title the second it starts to download. Game updates will be performed in the background while you play so as not to interrupt your gaming. Perry also said that cross-play integration with the PS Vita is a priority. He even demonstrated a newly announced PS4 title, Knack, streaming on the Vita. Perry said the long-term goal is to stream every PS4 title to the Vita. The big question will be if Sony is leaving this up to developers to tack on or will it be a mandatory feature. If it's the latter, it could really boost the Vita's struggling sales. Sony will also be pushing second-screen technology, which uses your tablet and smartphone to provide information -- such as a map or inventory -- to keep you in the action instead of middling through pause screens. Sony did confirm that the PS4 will not be backwards compatible, so previous generations of games will not be able to be played on the new hardware. Sony's workaround is to have these old titles streamed to the PS4. Perry said his company's goal is to have every PS1, PS2, PS3 and PlayStation mobile title streamable to the PS4. Perry also hinted at a try-before-you-buy service. The concept sounds like you would get a timed trial of a game and if you like it, you can purchase the full-fledged game.

Verdict: If Sony can pull off all of these ideas, it will be a major coup. Being able to stream every PlayStation title to the Vita would not only boost sales of its handheld, but give Sony a leg up over Nintendo's Wii U tablet since the Vita is a gaming platform on to itself. But the problem Sony could run into is if developers will take advantage of this feature. Nintendo makes the tablet functionality mandatory in its titles. Will Sony do the same for the PS4? If so, it will make the PS Vita more desirable to gamers who want to take their console action on the go. Sony has promised this before -- this functionality was supposed to be more prevalent with the PS3 games -- but hopefully this time they can fully deliver.

3. The games: With all the tasks these gaming consoles can perform, it's easy to forget that its main goal is to provide unparalleled experiences. Sony showed off a wide array of titles. "Knack" was the first PS4 game revealed. Taking heavy visual cues from Pixar-style movies, "Knack" follows a small robot that can transform into a gigantic fighting machine that must save mankind from a new threat. The title looked similar to "Rachet and Clank" and though it did not scream next-gen visually, the amount of objects used to form larger versions of Knack seemed to be the impressive technical feat. Next up was the latest entry into the "Killzone" universe. "Killzone Shadow Fall" was given a live demonstration. The vast color palate was the first visual difference. The "Killzone" franchise has long used very drab and dreary colors because of the oppressive nature of the story. "Shadow Fall" was visually impressive and was the first glimpse of what the next generation of gaming could provide. The majority of the other titles -- "inFamous Second Son," "The Witness" and "Destiny" -- provided brief glimpses but no gameplay footage. But with the system expected to be released in Holiday 2013, there will be a number of games that straddle current-gen and next-gen console hardware. One of those demoed was "Watch Dogs," which debuted at E3 2012. Though the game was demoed at the conference, it is still unknown what features will be present on the PS4 version that you will not get on the PS3.

Verdict: With this generation of games pushing the most realistic visuals to date, it was going to be tough for any game to be jaw dropping. "Killzone Shadow Fall" was the closest to achieving this effect, but even though that game looked phenomenal, it was not the visual leap that previous generations have shown. But for a launch title, "Killzone" shows what can be achieved on new hardware that has so much untapped potential. The PS4 could further blur the line between fantasy and reality, making games more immersive than ever.

Overall, I thought Sony did a fine job debuting its console, though ironically never showing the box itself. Sony threw out some ambitious ideas, and if the company can pull them off, it will reinvigorate the Sony brand. Sony also debunked rumors that the PS4 would block used game sales and require an internet connection. These were commendable decisions, especially if Microsoft decides to go in the opposite direction in the next Xbox. But questions still remain. What will the console cost and will there be multiple versions based on hard drive size? What will happen with PlayStation Plus, Sony's subscription service that is the best deal in console gaming. What will the games cost? What happened to PlayStation Home? Hopefully, Sony will answer these and more as we get closer to June's E3.

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