Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sony Unveiled the PlayStation 4 and their Cloud Gaming Plans

At a press conference last week Sony unveiled the PlayStation 4, though how the console looks wasn't revealed as Sony wants to keep some secrets for the upcoming E3 in June. Especially the inclusion of 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM was a surprise. Sony also did held back with game reveals for the PS4, apart from some tech demos the high points were Killzone: Shadow Fall and Watch Dogs.

Sony's cloud gaming plans for the PS4 are a bit more nebulous, which isn't surprising considering that they are cash strapped and it would be a huge risk for them betting full on cloud gaming and providing such a service to tens of millions of gamers. David Perry, the CEO of cloud gaming company Gaikai which was purchased by Sony for $380 million, was prominently featured at Sony's press conference and shared Sony's long-term vision that they intend to offer backwards compatibility for PS3, PS2 and PS1 titles via the cloud. No cloud gaming plans for native PS4 games were mentioned.

Considering that it currently isn't cost effective to emulate PS3 games on PC hardware running in cloud gaming data centers, it's no wonder that Sony is being hesitant to announce any definite cloud gaming plans in the short-term. The Cell chip powering the PS3 can now be produced very cost efficiently, but that doesn't help Sony as the chip isn't suitable for cloud gaming installations because the games have to run with higher frame rates on cloud gaming servers to make up for the latency deficit via the internet and the Cell chip also isn't built with latency in mind and lacks fast and efficient video encoding hardware.

Emulating PS2 and PS1 games on PC hardware running in cloud gaming data centers could be something that would be easily achievable as it's fairly easy and cheap to do on current PC hardware. But doing it for tens of millions of PS4 gamers, and gamers on other devices, can't be cheap or easy.

As opposed to cloud streaming, the plans for digital downloads and leveraging the cloud for gamer connectivity, are pretty much well defined by Sony. They did take a few pages from OnLive's book by stating that they intend to offer subscription packages in the vein of the OnLive PlayPack for games, be it the latest PS4 games or older PS3, PS2 and PS1 games. Gamers will be able to buy every PS4 game via digital download, though retail copies of games will also be sold and won't require an internet connection. Sony also wants to provide free time limited demos for all PS4 games, which is also something that the OnLive cloud gaming service championed.

It's not exactly clear if they want to provide said free demos via cloud streaming or via digital downloads. But at least in the short-term I think that it's nearly a given that they will leverage Gaikai's downloader technology for the free demos.

It looks like at least in the short-term Sony will heavily rely on Gaikai's downloader tech that Sony got with Gaikai's cloud gaming package. The downloader tech uses Gaikai's non-linear progressive download cloud delivery technology which in layman's terms means that depending on their internet speed, gamers will be able to play PS4 games in mere minutes as the downloader first downloads the parts of the games that are needed to start the game and installing the rest of the game while the game is already being played. Since games can be started in minutes this is very usable for gamers to try the games for free before they purchase them.

Gaikai took even more pages out of OnLive's book by including a share button on the new PS4 controller, the functionality of which resembles the record button on the Universal OnLive Wireless Controller. With the share button PS4 gamers will be able to share a livestream of their gameplay via USTREAM that Sony partnered with and invite others to watch the livestream via the PS4, Facebook or on various devices like mobiles. Since the PS4 has hardware that continuously records the last minutes of gameplay the button can also be used for sharing gameplay recordings and pictures similar to OnLive's Brag Clip functionality, again sharing the gameplay recordings and pictures with other people with the PS4, Facebook or on other devices like mobiles. Of course people will be able to chat while spectating or watching gameplay recordings and pictures. It doesn't look like the PS4 can yet mimic the massive live spectating OnLive Arena which is no wonder if they don't feature cloud streaming yet, but Sony is definitely going for the social gamer crowd.

The PS4 has efficient and fast video encoding and decoding hardware. With the help of that hardware the PS4 will leverage at least some of the Gaikai cloud streaming know-how in the short-term by providing remote play options for the PS Vita and other devices like tablets, smartphones and even Smart TVs, that way every PS4 will be able to function as a cloud gaming server. This will work similar to NVIDIA's upcoming Project SHIELD gamepad.

Looks like Gaikai's David Perry copied quite a few things from their former fierce competitor OnLive. I already reported that OnLive founder and former CEO Steve Perlman was not exactly friendly with David Perry. One could imagine that when Steve saw David's presentation at the Sony press conference he wasn't amused to put it mildly, though who knows if this really interests him anymore as he is a man in pursuit of the next big invention and technological breakthrough like for instance the DIDO wireless technology.

1 comment:

  1. wow.Great post. Sony Unveiled the PlayStation 4 and their Cloud Gaming Plans which is very interesting.