2006 might still seem like a far off sci-fi future date, but that was seven years ago. Until the PlayStation 4 comes out tomorrow, that was also the last year Sony released a new videogame console. (Yeah, there have been four of these things already.) Videogame consoles have changed greatly since the PlayStation 3 was released. They’re no longer just videogame machines that might play CDs or DVDs—they’re living room centerpieces that could easily replace whatever other entertainment devices you might own. You don’t even really need cable anymore, unless Parks & Recreation seems funnier to you right at 8 PM on Thursdays. All that change came gradually during the last console cycle, though, so the PlayStation 4 may not seem like a dramatic leap forward at first. You’ll be able to tell tomorrow, or perhaps tonight at midnight. Before then, here are nine things you should know about the PlayStation 4.
1. It costs $400.
That’s a lot. It’s still $100 less than next week’s Xbox One, though, and maybe your definition of “a lot” differs from mine.
2. It plays games.
Well, of course. Sony might tout the variety of streaming entertainment services that will run through the PlayStation 4, but odds are most of those are already available through multiple devices that you already own. (There are probably more screens that can stream Netflix in your house than mirrors.) You should buy a PlayStation 4 because you want to play the games that you can play on it, and not because you need a sixth option for watching Orange Is The New Black.
3. It will also play other things—ie, streaming video.
As we mentioned last week, the PlayStation 4 will launch with 11 different streaming video services. The stalwarts will be there—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video—along with the NBA and NHL and the Asian-media focused Crunchyroll. YouTube is oddly missing and HBO Go remains an Xbox exclusive, but you’ll probably find something worth watching on whatever Vudu is. Sony’s own Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited services will also be available on day one.
4. It’s not backwards compatible, so it doesn’t play PS3 games.
Backwards compatibility might as well be a dead issue at this point. The Wii U can play Wii games, but the PlayStation 3 dropped that feature shortly after it was released, the Xbox 360 required downloads to play a select number of Xbox titles, and the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One won’t play any older discs at all. Some PlayStation 3 exclusives are being rereleased for the new system (two of the best, Sound Shapes and Flower, are PlayStation 4 launch titles), and many recent multi-platform titles will let you “upgrade” from the PS3 to the PS4 versions for ten dollars (including Assassin’s Creed IV and Battlefield 4), but if you want to make sure you can still play your PS3 favorites you’ll have to hold on to the PS3 itself. A cloud-based service that will let you stream older PlayStation games through the internet on the PlayStation 4 and Vita was announced earlier in 2013, but few details have been released since.
5. The PS4 launch lineup is a bit light—as usually happens with launch software lineups.
The initial batch of first-party games includes the latest in the uninspired Killzone series and a platformer called Knack that’s received middling reviews. PS3 games flOw, Flower and Sound Shapes will be available through the PlayStation Network tomorrow, as will the highly praised shoot ‘em up Resogun, from the designers of Super Stardust HD. A variety of third-party games that already exist for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 will also arrive alongside the system, including the latest Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, Need For Speed, Skylanders, NBA 2K, Madden and FIFA. Gone are the days when a new system launches with a game that makes a major statement, as when Super Mario 64 arrived alongside the Nintendo 64. The systems come first for the early adopters and holiday shoppers, and the so-called “killer apps” start to trickle out months later.
6. Online play is no longer free.
Up until now online play was free on PlayStation systems, and PlayStation Plus was an optional subscription service that offered free games to subscribers. With the PlayStation 4 PlayStation Plus becomes Sony’s true answer to Microsoft’s Xbox Live—you need to subscribe at $50 a year if you want to play online multiplayer games. New consoles come with a free month of the service, but after that you’ll have to pay to play your favorite shooter or sports game online.
7. All games will need to be installed.
It doesn’t matter if you still buy your games at a store: You’ll have to install much of the data from any game onto the system itself before you play. Installing a game from a disc won’t take as much time as downloading from the PlayStation Network, and if you ever need to clear up space on the hard drive you’ll have a physical copy for the reinstallation instead of having to download it again. And you’ll probably be juggling hard drive space a lot, as…
8. The hard drive could fill up quickly, and external hard drives aren’t an option.
The 500 GB hard drive might sound like a lot of space, but only about 400 GB of that is actually usable, and these new-fangled videogames are massive. A single game can devour up to 50 GB. It’s possible to replace the 500 GB hard drive with a bigger internal drive, but you can’t use external USB hard drives. Eventually you’ll either be spending more on a larger drive or else regularly deleting older games.
9. You will need an HDTV, as it only outputs in HDMI.
This might be a moot point in 2013, but the only way to play a PlayStation 4 on a standard definition TV right out of the box is if you own an HDMI to RCA converter box or cable. Those are relatively cheap and relatively easy to find and might lead to one of those weird moments when you realize that Radio Shack still exists.
We’ll have more coverage of the PlayStation 4 next week, so feel free to come by anytime.
Garrett Martin is Paste’s games editor and the games critic for the Boston Herald. He feels very old right now.