Analysing Playstation 4 rumours

By Mike on 10:48 am

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Sony had some big news for the Playstation faithful. All signs are pointing towards a PS4 reveal on February 20th. The Wall Street Journal claims inside sources confirmed this to be true. Gamers are hungry for the next generation of TV top console. It's been seven years since the Xbox 360 first launched. In an industry where generations usually last five, this has been long one. On top of that, hings haven't been good for Sony lately. The Vita flopped and revenues have taken deep cuts. Despite statements to the contrary, Sony seems poised to get the PS4 in the public eye before Microsoft makes their move. It's in their best interest to.

Lets take a look at what we can expect. Just some forewarning, this is a little more technical than my other posts. Keep reading after the break.


We've heard a few rumours trickle out about the PS4, known internally as Orbis. This may in fact end up being the actual name of the console, like Sony did with the PS Vita. Sony obviously likes Latin names. The most common translation for orbis is "disk" or "world". Which makes sense in the grand scheme of things given that vita means life. Sony wants to be an entertainment hub, all encompassing, global. I'd be willing to put money that the system will be called the PS Orbis in final production.

A cool yet implausible early fan mockup of the Orbis

Processor and Graphics

Like the Vita, all signs point to Sony using off-the-shelf PC components for the system.

There's been a few different rumours on what kind of CPU the Orbis will have. Most say it will be an AMD Fusion processor. Some earlier reports suggest it will be a quad core chip running at 3.2ghz. VGLeaks' latest specs, say it will be an eight core processor based on the Jaguar architecture. It will run at 1.6ghz. According to them, it should push out a theoretical 102.4 GFLOPS. For comparison purposes, this puts it roughly on par with Intel's fastest i7 Ivy Bridge chips. That's faster than any CPU in AMD's current desktop line.

The graphics chip is said to be based on AMD's R10 "Southern Islands" GPUs. VGLeaks claims it will run at 800mhz with 14 usable Computing Units (cores). It will punch out 1.843 TFLOPS. This would put it roughly in line with the HD 7850 line. It will be a custom "Liverpool" architecture. It's possible Sony may opt for a mobile "Radeon M" chip for the Orbis, to keep power consumption and heat down. Heat was a major problem in the early days of the last generation, which is why so many launch PS3s died prematurely.

For memory, the PS Orbis is said to use 4GB of GDDR5 shared between the GPU and CPU. 3.5GB of this will be available for games. Once again Sony has opted for faster memory but less of it. Memory performance is rumoured to be 176GB/s, which probably pegs clock speed somewhere around 1300-1400Mhz.

Assuming these specs are true, it's a major coup for AMD. All rumours coming out about the Xbox Durango say it will also use a Fusion processor and Radeon GPU. This puts AMD in all three major consoles, which will be a big boost for the struggling chip maker.

All signs point to the Orbis being an all-AMD system
Specs for the CPU do seem a little optimistic though. Jaguar is a direct descendant of AMD's low power Brazos chip. I've used the dual core E-350 before in my HTPC. While better than the Atom, it's not a powerhouse at 1.6ghz. It manages 7.46 GFLOPS between two of it's cores. Assuming it scales evenly up to 8 cores, that only puts it on par with current A6 Fusion and older Core i5 chips. It's very unlikely that AMD has produced a processor faster than any of its current line, at half the clock speed. So either the original rumour of the 3.2ghz A8 based quad core is correct, and the benchmarks are wrong; or it will have a 1.6ghz Jaguar and the benchmarks are wrong.

Either way I don't think it's going to be as powerful as many people are saying it's going to be. What you'll get is something akin to a contemporary mid-range gaming PC. That should please a lot of gamers and it will be significantly more powerful than the current PS3. Just don't go expecting miracles.

Storage, Connectivity, and Online

Storage is the other big question on everyone's mind. Will this generation finally herald the death of the optical drive. Lots of rumours have pointed to a download only console. Some even suggest we could see flash based storage. We now know that the PS Orbis will indeed feature a standard Bluray drive. Performance has been upped to 6x speeds, making it up to three times faster than the PS3's.

Nobody should be surprised that optical discs are making it one more round. Internet capacity hasn't evolved enough to make download-only consoles practical. Especially considering ISPs are imposing stringent caps. Right now it's faster and cheaper to drive to the store and buy disc based games than it is to download them. Fast internet is still too expensive for much of Middle America. Optical discs cost next to nothing to mass produce and storage is only limited by shelf space.

What you can expect is simultaneous launches for both Bluray and download copies. The entire catalogue of games will be available both in-store and online. This isn't exactly an Orbis specific rumour but rather the direction the winds have been blowing for years now. Sony already does this with the Vita.

One worrying thing about our disc based future is Sony's recent patent that would tie discs to a user's PSN account. Sony has been at war with the used game industry for some time. Just because they patented it doesn't mean it will get implemented. However, it is in the realm of plausibility. Such a decision would devastate budget and future retro gamers, as well as small shops. With rumours that Microsoft also has the same idea, Sony could benefit greatly by not restricting pre-owned games. Though biased, a recent poll by GameStop says that two thirds of gamers will not own a console that restricts used titles.

If you do choose the download route, Sony is offering up generous storage this time. The system is said to feature a 500gb hard drive. SSDs are still too expensive, though VGLeaks says they may be an option on some models. Hopefully Sony will continue to allow users to upgrade their own storage with standard, non-proprietary drives. In other words, hopefully they've learned their lesson from the Vita.

The downloading and streaming junkies will be pleased to know that connectivity has improved. Expect to see 802.11n WiFi and gigabit ethernet. I think we can safely say those rumours are true.


There's been a lot of rumours swirling around what kind of controller the Orbis may have. Namely that the DualShock, which has been around in some shape or form for almost 20 years, may be on it's way out. Some say it may be Move controlled. Others have said we may see a tablet style controller like the one used for the Wii U. Edge-Online has posted perhaps the most credible rumour on the new controller to date. The controller replacing the DualShock will be... the DualShock.

Destructoid's alleged spyshot of a prototype PS Orbis controller, with developer system
That's not to say that it will be identical to what we have now. One of the rumoured features is a touchpad on the back of the controller. Given that this is featured on the Vita makes it highly probable. Sony is very interested in touch gaming. Another touch pad is said to be on top replacing the current start and select buttons. Aside from that the new DualShock will be pretty much the same as the current model. It might be a bit bigger to accommodate the touch surfaces. So in the end it may be closer to the Xbox 360 controller. Spy shots of a prototype controller released by Destructiod show this to be the case.

Given the Wii U's tablet interface, I wouldn't rule tablet control features out completely. With the Vita treading water, Sony will most likely incorporate it into the Orbis. Expect functionality comparable to the Wii U's tablet. Remote Play is a fantastic though greatly underutilized feature. There's no reason why the Vita shouldn't work as a controller. Sony should really start pushing this functionality.

Software and OS

We've heard next to nothing about the software on the Orbis. So talking about it is going to boil down to pure speculation. We can go off the Vita and recent Sony mobile devices to get some idea about how it will look.

One thing is for sure, the Orbis will likely not feature the XrossMediaBar used in the PS3. It's a dated interface that Sony has been slowly phasing out.

The good money would be on a user interface similar to the Vita's LiveArea. One key indicator was a firmware update late last year that added button control to the touch interface. Its big icons and multitasking support would make it a good fit on TV or portable. Adding Move support wouldn't be too difficult.

Another thing to expect is enhanced media and social functions to compete with set top boxes and smart TVs. This will include better Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter integration and a wider variety of media channels than what's available now. Just as with the last generation, the goal is a one-stop-shop for all your entertainment needs. Expect your console to be more social and connected than ever.

If you are heading online for a little gaming, I don't expect many changes to the Playstation Network. Playstation Plus has been a huge success for Sony. One of the few they've seen in recent years. Expect online gaming to remain pretty much the same is it is now. Free to play with plenty of juicy perks with a subscription.

Games are what people really care about though. To that, there's just not enough information to suggest how games will look, play, or even what will be coming out for it besides the obvious franchises. Your best guess is to run some current PC games on a typical gaming system. That's probably how they'll look and play.

4K Gaming

If you were paying attention at CES this year, you'd think 4K video was the wave of the future. It has four times the resolution and clarity of a 1080p display. Sony is one of the companies leading the charge to get this technology into homes. Naturally you'd expect the Orbis to have 4K support, and a lot of people in the rumour mill expect it will.

I'd be very surprised if it actually does. For starters, the HD 7850 rumoured to be in the Orbis simply isn't powerful enough to handle rendering at that resolution. It can't quite handle 1440p gaming at high detail while maintaining the industry standard of 30fps. At 2160p, frame rates would be far too low to make the game playable. This was a persistent issue with the current generation. While they could output at 1080p, most games were limited to 720p, simply because the console couldn't handle anything higher.

That's not to say that the HD 7850 couldn't do 4K video, but there would be too many tradeoffs that would render the higher resolution useless.

The other problem is the practicality of 4K. Without going too much into depth here, 4K only makes sense on really big screens. We're talking at least 80''. It's a limit of biology, not technology.

Carlton Bale's HD viewing chart shows 4K only matters on TVs 80'' and larger. Click the link for a full explanation.
Personally, I'd rather see system makers focus on image quality and higher frame rates than resolution. Take Sonic Generations for example. There is a huge difference between how smooth the game is on PC and the PS3, simply because the PC doubles up the frame rate. Aliasing, the stair step edges of 3D rendered objects, are also a big issue on the PS3. The Orbis needs to include better anti-aliasing than it does now.

However, there's more to Playstation than just gaming. Current specs make the system perfectly capable of playing both 4K streams and Bluray.  Sony has talked about getting a streaming service available for ultra high definition video. The Playstation brand was critical to the success of Bluray and DVD, so 4K video support for the Orbis is likely if Sony is serious about it.

Keys to Success & Final thoughts

So far we've seen decent systems planned from both Sony and Microsoft. I think they're trying to avoid many of the issues that plagued the previous generation. The decision to go with PC based hardware is probably the biggest standout.

The major issue with the Wii U, Vita, and 3DS has been finding developers to actually make games for them. Studios have gotten comfortable developing for the current crop of consoles, and have been resisting the transition. Especially given that hardware sales have been low for the first eighth generation systems. Unfortunately, the cause of these low sales is the lack of games. So it's a vicious cycle. Using an x86 processor partly bypasses this problem, because Sony and Microsoft can leech of PC as an existing and stable platform. It also eliminates issues porting multi-platform games across consoles.

The key to winning the next console race won't be who has the best hardware or the best launch titles. It will be the company who can build sustainable growth through the system's first year. This means a steady stream of quality games. The advantage is, in theory, heavily in Microsoft's favour as Durango will most likely be Windows 8 based. This should make PC games very easy to port. The question is what Sony will do to counter this, if anything.
Orbis can't be the Vita: too expensive and with too few good games
So far Sony's recent track record hasn't been good. The Vita is treading water. Mainly due to its high cost, hidden added costs, and string of mediocre games. The problem with Sony is they think they're still a boutique electronics manufacturer. That their products are high end, and something special. This is reflected in the design, style, marketing, and especially the price. Sony has to get out of this mindset or it will sink the Orbis. Success in the 80's and 90's isn't going to translate it success today, especially if the products don't stand up and stand out.

Sony can no longer charge boutique prices for their products. The PS3 was a great console and in my opinion was worth the higher price at launch. That was for its Bluray capability alone. The Orbis, as it stands, isn't anything special. They can't go around charging significantly more than the competition and expect it to sell because it's a Sony. That tactic didn't work for the Vita and its not going to work for the Orbis. So far, all rumours are pointing to a $400 launch price. This seems to be the sweet spot. Though if the Durango is any cheaper, Sony will find themselves struggling once again.

However, until February 20th, this is all pure speculation.

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