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Playstation 4 musings


EricBall

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So Sony has decided to partner with AMD to provide the processing power in the next Playstation console. They are sticking in a single chip eight x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" cores and a AMD next-generation Radeon™ based 1.84 TFLOPS graphics engine backed by 8GB of GDDR5 RAM. The single chip "APU" will likely also include a dedicated video encoding & decoding processors.

 

My first question is whether 8GB of RAM will be enough (although that's a leap from the 512MB of the PS3 & XBox360) - and whether there will be bottlenecks trying to feed 8 cores and a modern GPU through the unified connection.

 

My second question is whether the size of the APU would drive down yeilds (and thus increase costs). Then again, it might be multiple chips in a single package. The AMD Jaguar is also the "next generation", so there may be problems there is well.

 

And finally I'm wondering why x86 at all. One of the problems with x86 is the decoder complexity to handle the decades of cruft inherited from the x86 line. AMD might have been able to remove some of this since the PS4 doesn't need to be backwards compatible, but there's still a drag on the overall design. However, Sony might have determined that pressures from the PC world have advanced x86 beyond what Power & ARM are currently capable of.

 

I'm also bemused by the comment "no PS3 compatibility at launch" as if PS3 emulation is a realistic possibility. While the plan may be to provide On-Live style streaming of PS3 games, I'm not certain whether latency issues will ever be overcome enough to make this viable.

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x86 is much more familiar to game developers than the weird architecture of the PS3. I don't approve of zero backwards compatatibity though. I grew up with that expectation. Also, I'd never buy a locked down PC. That's what the next generation from Sony and MS is.

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More analysis: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2013/02/inside-the-playstation-4-a-balanced-approach-to-building-a-game-console/

 

I agree that going with a more traditional multi-core CPU + GPU architecture is a plus for developers. However, the actual instruction set (x86-64 vs ARM vs Power) is less relevant to developers (who use C++), although it might be more significant to engine programmers.

 

I'm not surprised with the lack of backwards compatibility. Because console games are so tightly tied to the specific console, compatibility almost always means including extra hardware. So would you rather:

A. pay $200 more for the PS4 to include PS3 compatibility

B. not pay more, but have a PS3 compatible less powerfull PS4

C. have a PS3 incompatible PS4 and keep your existing PS3 or buy one for <$200

 

The original XBox was a locked down PC, and it seemed to sell fairly well.... Locked down has benefits for content creators, which then benefits us content consumers.

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I see more creativity under platforms with no restrictions. What benefit is there to be heavily fined to get licensed and arbitrarily judged by that same company even before the consumer plays my product? I wouldn't buy a locked down PC. That's what Sony is offering.

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There's a decent (albeit admittedly Apple-biased) article here on the PS4. Most of it is skip-worthy, but the three paragraphs near the end, starting with "250M game consoles vs 500M iOS devices" are pretty spot-on.

 

I watched the whole introduction last night, and the most interesting thing I took away from it was that the PS4's lead system architect - Mark Cerny - worked on Marble Madness and gave a shout-out to the Atari 2600.

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Very interesting Nathan.

 

However, it sounds like the idea of using iDevice + aTV as a console already exists. So why hasn't that combination shown up as a viable competitor to the current consoles (much less the PS4)? Maybe it's just a matter of marketing, but I have to suspect there's other pressures at work - whether it be limitations of the current iDevices compared to the consoles, or people's willingness to pay console prices for iOS games, or maybe the TCO of the iDevice + aTV versus a console, or something else entirely.

 

Note: I am not denying that the iOS & Android game market has had a significant impact on the console (and PC & handheld) game industry. However, even after 30+ years of battle the PC and console game industries still exist. So maybe, just maybe, consoles, handheld, PC and mobile device games all will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. (Although consoles & handheld, being more dedicated gaming devices, will be more affected by lost market share.)

 

Personally, I bought my PS3 to play Blu-Ray first and games second. Thus the attraction of the PS4 (and NextBox) is whether it will bring enough must-have games for me to justify buying one.

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However, it sounds like the idea of using iDevice + aTV as a console already exists. So why hasn't that combination shown up as a viable competitor to the current consoles (much less the PS4)?

My guess would be lag. I've used iPhones and iPads to game on a TV via my Mac mini as well as an Apple TV (at my folks). On both there's enough lag to throw things off. An example of that would be in the Pac Man games - if I start to turn just before getting to the intersection then more often than not I'll miss the turn. On some games the lag doesn't matter, but on others it makes the game unplayable. Faster WiFi and/or better video compression might help. Current iOS devices use a .264 encoder to stream the video, switching to .265 would cut the bit rate almost in half.

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If games are written for it, it seems to work fine. I've played Real Racing 2 on my iPhone+Apple TV, and it works great. For other games though, you generally just turn on mirroring, and then the lag makes any game completely unplayable. So it's something the developers have to make a conscious effort to support.

 

Some developers are now weighing in on the PS4. While most of it seems to be "Oh thank you Sony for the privilege of letting us develop for your awesome new console!", David Goldfarb of Overkill made the comment: "I think the irony for me is that "next-gen console" is mostly playing catch-up with PCs". More to the point, that within a very short time after its release, PCs will again leapfrog the performance the PS4 will be stuck with for years to come.

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I meant to add that I don't think iDevices will completely replace consoles. But I think the market for consoles is going to greatly diminish, as portable gaming continues to improve. I picked up an iPad Mini recently (blog entry coming soon!) and it's a spiffy little gaming device. I'll admit, my PS3 is already beginning to lose some of its plasticky luster.

 

The only reason I bought my PS3 was because I was able to get it for what I considered a fair price (sub $200), and most of the games I wanted for it had dropped in price as well ($20 or less). Even though the new Tomb Raider (for example) looks promising, there's no way I'd pay $60 (!!) for it. I can wait a year or more for the price to drop. At the same time, I happened to be looking for a better (faster) Blu-ray player, since mine was quite old. However, I could have just gotten a new Sony Blu-ray player for a meager $80 at Costco - including built-in streaming and Wi-Fi. (They're really nice - I picked one up as a Christmas present for family.) So the appeal of the PS3 (or PS4) doubling as a Blu-ray player really isn't there any more. If I hadn't already been looking at the console, I would've saved myself $120.

 

I'm all for gaming on the cheap. I don't mind spending more money on an iDevice, because I'll use it for far more than just gaming. But for a dedicated console, I can't justify spending more than $200 on one, and I don't see the PS4 hitting that price point for years (look how long it took the PS3 - and those were just sale prices, not permanent reductions). Admittedly, I'm a bit spoiled. I've owned four PlayStations now (a PS one, PS2, PSP and now a PS3), but only paid for the last one. :D The first one was bought with various gift cards I got for Best Buy one year, and the next two were gifts from some friends who I'd helped out with their computers (a lot). They were earned in a sense, but didn't cost me anything out-of-pocket.

 

Except for the games... of course. ;)

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Both of the MAME emulators I have were written to support it. When I turn on AirPlay a popup appears with something along the lines of "external display detected, 1920x1080". The game display goes to the TV while the iOS device screen shows the virtual controller.

 

Maybe it would have less lag if my TV were 720, but it doesn't support that resolution.

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"I think the irony for me is that "next-gen console" is mostly playing catch-up with PCs". More to the point, that within a very short time after its release, PCs will again leapfrog the performance the PS4 will be stuck with for years to come.

 

I'm not sure any console has ever outperformed PCs of the same era. When each major component of the PC costs as much as the console, I would hope the performance is better. However, it's tough to buy a PC which costs the same as the console but delivers similar performance.

 

The real question for the PS4 is whether developers can create games which leverage eight lower horsepower processors along with any available GPGPU capabilities.

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I'm not sure any console has ever outperformed PCs of the same era. When each major component of the PC costs as much as the console, I would hope the performance is better. However, it's tough to buy a PC which costs the same as the console but delivers similar performance.

 

The real question for the PS4 is whether developers can create games which leverage eight lower horsepower processors along with any available GPGPU capabilities.

 

Since most can't handle multi threading on a PC the answer seems clear :)

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