Sony unveiled its PlayStation 4 video game system this week — sort of. It didn’t display the console itself or reveal its physical dimensions and form factor. It also left unanswered a raft of questions about its capabilities. How compatible — or incompatible — will the PS4 be with Sony’s current-generation PlayStation 3 system, for example, which was launched in November of 2006?
Given that the PS3 has an install base of about 77 million, it is unlikely Sony will stop supporting its aging console anytime soon. However, what isn’t clear is which PS3 software — whether discs or PlayStation Network purchases — will actually work on the PS4.
The PS4 will take advantage of cloud-based services, and Sony has said that games purchased through PSN could carry over to the PS4.
It is possible that Sony could either provide a direct transfer of PSN titles or allow owners of both systems to access their downloads via the Gaikai-powered cloud server. The big question is why would Sony make it impossible for PS3 packaged software to play on the new system? When it launched, the PS3 could play PS2 titles, just as the PS2 could play original PlayStation games. This type of backward compatibility shouldn’t be that hard to provide.
While many questions remain, what is known is that the PS4 promises to be a far more robust machine — and this could mean more titles out of the gate. “The system is built on a PC chipset, so it will be far easier to develop for,” Pachter told TechNewsWorld. “Easier means lower cost, and lower cost presumably means more content.” The system could be friendlier to smaller developers as well, and that could help ease concerns over the lack of compatibility with the existing software library.
“The nice thing about using the x86 platform is they can get a lot of code from the Open Source Linux world and don’t need to do all of the heavy lifting themselves to do major parts of this,” said Enderle. “They could also do drivers for some of the hardware, but it sounds like they may have decided not to in order to increase accessory revenue and avoid reliability problems.”
However, with the good comes some bad. While the PS4 will feature a new version of the original DualShock controller — with the addition of an LED touchpad — older versions of the gamepad won’t be compatible. Nor does it seem that most hardware accessories, from steering wheels to Move controllers, will work with the PS4.
“Normally you get new accessories with a new console,” Enderle told TechNewsWorld. “For one thing, the newer ones tend to address any problems with the old ones, particularly with the controllers. The old ones don’t have the touchpad or ability to connect with the Sony motion features that will be built into the PS4.”