published Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

PlayStation unveiled with social, remote features

Mark Cerny, lead system architect for the Sony Playstation 4 speaks during an event to announce the new video game console in New York.
Mark Cerny, lead system architect for the Sony Playstation 4 speaks during an event to announce the new video game console in New York.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NEW YORK — Sony unveiled its next-generation gaming system, PlayStation 4, at an event in New York, saying the console will be part of a new ecosystem focused on hardware, software and “the fastest, most powerful gaming network.”

“Our long-term vision is to reduce download times of digital titles to zero,” said Mark Cerny, Sony’s lead system architect on the PS4.

The new console is the Japanese electronics giant’s first major game machine since the PlayStation 3 went on sale in 2006.

Wednesday’s unveiling is Sony Corp.’s attempt to steal the spotlight, at least until Microsoft Corp. unveils its next Xbox in June, as expected, at the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles.

Among the PS4’s revisions is an updated controller that adds a touchpad, motion control and a “share” button. The controller also features a light bar, which means a new PlayStation camera can more easily track the device.

Sony has struggled lately to keep up with Microsoft and other powerful rivals such as Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. The company is promising nifty mobile devices, sophisticated digital cameras and other gadgetry as part of its comeback effort.

The new device arrives amid declines in video game hardware, software and accessory sales. Research firm NPD Group said game sales fell 22 percent to $13.3 billion in 2012. One reason for the decline, analysts believe: It’s been years since a new game machine was released. Most people who want an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or a Wii already have one. But people also have shifted their attention to games on Facebook, tablet computers and mobile phones. Sony and other game makers face the task of convincing people that they need a new video game system rather than, say, a new iPad.

Last fall, Nintendo started selling the Wii U, which comes with a tablet-like controller called the GamePad. It allows two people playing the same game to have entirely different experiences depending on whether they use the GamePad or a traditional Wii remote, which itself was revolutionary when it came out because of its motion-control features. The GamePad can also be used to play games without using a TV set, as one would on a regular tablet.

The original Wii has sold more units since its launch than both its rivals, but it has lost momentum in recent years as the novelty of its motion controller faded. Nintendo said it sold 3.1 million Wii Us by the end of 2012. It was a disappointing start for the first of a new generation of gaming systems.

In some ways, notably its ability to display high-definition games, the Wii U was just catching up to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, the preferred consoles to play popular games such as “Call of Duty” and “Red Dead Redemption.”

All three console makers are trying to position their devices as entertainment hubs that can deliver movies, music and social networking as they try to stay relevant in the age of smartphones and tablets. The Wii U has a TV-watching feature called TVii. With it, the console’s touch-screen GamePad controller becomes a remote control for your TV and set-top box. But Microsoft and Sony were ahead of the game in this front, too.

When the PlayStation 3 went on sale in the U.S. on Nov. 17, 2006, the 20 gigabyte model had a $500 price tag and the 60 GB version went for $600. They are now cheaper and come with more storage — $270 for 250 GB and $300 for 500 GB. Comparable models of the Wii U and the Xbox 360 both start at $300.

Sony, meanwhile, started selling a mobile gaming device, PlayStation Vita, last February. The Vita connects to the PlayStation 3, so players can play the same game regardless of whether they are using a console or a handheld system.

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