Sony's PlayStation 4 announced after long wait

Sony's PlayStation 4 has an x86 processor and other new hardware to provide better gaming and streaming services

After a seven-year wait, Sony's PlayStation 4 has finally been announced.

Sony introduced its latest game console at an event in New York City on Wednesday evening. The PS4 will focus on "multidimensional" gaming and has superior hardware to improve the player experience, said Andrew House, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, at the event.

The goal is to put the PS4 at the center of the living room by offering the latest in console design, connected gaming and services, House said.

The PS4 runs on an eight-core x86 CPU and an improved graphics processor, delivering a combined 2 teraflops of performance. The console includes 8GB of memory and a local hard drive. Sony also introduced a new DualShock 4 gaming controller with a range of tracking and connectivity features to improve gaming quality on PS4.

The PS4 now effectively carries the system architecture of gaming desktop PCs, which are largely based on x86 chips. The x86 CPU is a big change from IBM's Cell processor used in the PS3. That should close the gap between PCs and gaming consoles, which for a long time have been incompatible as Playstation games could not be run on PCs. Sony did not announce the chip supplier for the PS4, but it is rumored to be Advanced Micro Devices.

The PS4 console succeeds the PlayStation 3, which started shipping in 2006. Sony introduced a new PS3 model with a slimmer design and new hardware in 2009.

The event in New York was ongoing at the time of this report, and pricing and availability details hadn't yet been announced.

Sony's other flagship console, the handheld PlayStation Vita, has struggled since its worldwide launch last year. Earlier this month, the company slashed its sales target for portable games by 30 percent, to 7 million, and has announced it will soon cut the price of the device by a third in Japan.

The PS4 will also carry a specialized processor that speeds up the delivery of online games. It will also have a new social networking interface and be able to interact with tablets and smartphones. A remote play feature allows games to be transferred to the PlayStation Vita console, and Sony said it wants to make every PS4 game compatible with Vita in the future.

In the PlayStation Network (PSN), users will be able to try games before they download them. Facebook and Ustream are also being integrated into the network, which Sony executives said will make PSN the most social gaming network available. Gameplay can be broadcast through Ustream, and a broadcast button on the controller will allow users to interact with PSN friends, who can assist or even take over gaming.

Sony will deliver movies and music through its Sony Entertainment Network, and is working with online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon to stream movies and other content to the PS4.

The PlayStation 4 is a rare Sony gadget that still generates the kind of buzz that made the company famous. CEO Kazuo Hirai, who previously oversaw Sony's game division, has promised more hit products and said he personally selects and oversees promising projects.

In July of last year, Sony said it had agreed to acquire Gaikai for about US$380 million. The company said at the time it would use the purchase to deliver a "world-class cloud-streaming service" for its games and other content.

The company has made Sony Entertainment Network a core part of its future. Home gaming consoles increasingly share duties with set-top boxes -- Nintendo's Wii U, launched last year, can be used as a universal television remote and has a free app for browsing programs.

The PlayStation 3, which caused deep losses for the company after its launch in 2006, has recovered to become a hit product. Each console was initially sold at a loss to consumers, but they are now profitable. The PS3 contains custom components including the Cell processor, which Sony spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing along with IBM and Toshiba.

Sony's main rival in consoles, Microsoft, is rumored to be gearing up for the launch of its own next-generation console, the successor to its Xbox 360. Nintendo released its lower-spec Wii U last year. All three are increasingly competing with games on PCs and tablets, as well as new devices from game companies like Steam.

Sony is in the midst of a restructuring after booking a record annual price last fiscal year. The company has stuck to its target for booking a small profit this year, selling off assets including its U.S. headquarters in New York City.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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