Early thoughts on Sony’s PS4 unveiling: the company’s processor choices give them the edge

Sony held a press conference in New York City to provide some new detail for their next gen PS4 code-named Orbis. The new machines will use processor cores similar to PC processors making the porting process easier and pushing the performance ahead of current systems.

Sony has always been bold in selecting the processor used in a PlayStation, starting in 1994 with the first CD-ROM based console using a 32-bit MIPS CPU. They followed that in 2000 with the 128-bit (MIPS-based) Emotion Engine PS2 and the first DVD-based console. The PS3 came out in 2006, the first machine with a blue ray player, and a remarkable new IBM-Power-based SIMD CPU structure they called the Cell. Now, in 2013 Sony introduced the PS4 with an X86-based architecture that looks like a PC.

Playstation introductions
Playstation introductions: Game consoles have to have long lifetimes to help sell enough games to pay back the R&D spent developing them.

In addition to the new processor, Sony also revealed details about the new hardware. The PlayStation Orbis introduces the wireless Dual Shock 4, a new controller that includes a touchpad as well as a light bar on the top with three color LEDs that illuminate in various colors to match the color of characters in a game and offer a way of identifying players, even when playing side by side.

The PlayStation4 Eye is a new camera for PS4, which incorporates two 85-degree diagonal wide-angle lenses 1280 x 800 cameras that can sense depth. This enables the PS4 Eye to cut out the image of the player from the background, or to grasp players’ position in front and behind, increasing the ways to enjoy games. PS4 Eye also has four microphones for accurate sound position location.

PS4's realtime rendering
Real-time realism on the PS4

Sony has definitely raised the bar for console suppliers. The eight X86 CPUs will give the PS4 long legs in the market. The Orbis CPUs will have plenty of headroom for physics and AI, so this machine is not going to get trounced by PCs in 3 to 5 years like past consoles.

Porting from PC to PS4 and vice versa will be much easier with this architecture, and that will appeal to developers and increase their ROI by reducing their costs and time to market.