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PlayStation 4: Why Sony's plan to turn PS4 into a PC makes sense

Developers are moving onto next-gen - whether Sony is ready or not...

The new issue of PSM3 is on sale now.

Sony US boss Jack Tretton has downplayed the possibility of "trying to launch new technology any time soon." According to Tretton: "when you announce [next-gen hardware] really depends on the health of the existing platform and the other things you have going on. And right now, we're focused on PlayStation 3."

This is a company, though, with a very open policy of not commenting on rumours - and there are plenty. The previous month, a hastily deleted tweet from Crytek senior technical artist Sean Tracy spoke of "interesting talks and great swag" at a London-based next-gen Xbox developers summit. Moreover, there are reports of Durango development kits (the working name for the next-gen Xbox) shipping to developers already. It's now up to Sony to respond, or risk a late start on the next generation.

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Sony Europe boss Jim Ryan echoed that "there's still a lot of unfinished business on PS3," but that "we could consider it undesirable to be significantly later than the competition [with a new home console]." Sony made that mistake before with PS3, and few would dispute that it handed the initiative to Microsoft.

"We talked about how difficult it was to get hold of PS3 devkits early," Sony Computer Entertainment product developer Shuhei Yoshida told CVG. "Part of the problem was that they were gigantic machines - very intimidating, noisy and hot."

The timing of PS3's release and the architecture of the system itself worked against Sony. Built upon the often wild rhetoric of former Sony boss Ken Kutaragi, the Cell processor was just as unorthodox as the PS2's Emotion Engine. After 2005's crazy talk of 120fps becoming "the benchmark for the coming generation," PS3 struggled to deliver multiplatform titles that could favourably compare to Xbox 360's in its early days.

The arguably weaker 360 uses a PC-style DirectX-based platform that's just a stone's throw from common PC development. Its unified RAM, furthermore (PS3's is split into two 256mb banks) encouraged assets that didn't sit comfortably on PS3, often requiring brutal optimisations. Developers had to think and work twice as hard to catch up with PS3's unusual architecture.

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THE PC CROWD
All signs now suggest drastic changes to the rumoured PS4. A profile of chip manufacturer AMD's new ambitions in US business magazine Forbes mentions a "hush-hush effort to put its graphics chips in Sony's still-unannounced new game console." Other sources suggest a fundamental, pragmatic shift in Sony's whole approach to console architecture, not least Sony themselves; the evidence is right there in Sony's new handheld.

"When Kaz Hirai took over he demanded that the SCEI hardware team integrate with our studio teams, specifically for the process of developing the hardware," Yoshida told CVG. "Because we were involved with designing the hardware for Vita, our software teams worked very closely with the hardware team to make the devkit very small, like the actual Vita. That was a challenge for the hardware team, and they did a great job."

Sony have teamed with IBM and Toshiba to fashion Vita's quad-core, ARM-based processor, but a new programmer-friendly ethos underpins it. "We took the experiences from PS3 and decided to go out there with a great developer environment that is compatible with the third party tools that developers normally use," said SCE CTO Richard Lee to industry mag Develop. "There's never been anything like this on a PlayStation platform."

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