Sony’s PS4 videogame console will get a new game-playing cousin in the U.S. and Canada this fall, the PlayStation TV, a $99 video device that can play older PlayStation and PS Vita games on a TV set with a standard Sony game controller. A bundle including the device, a controller, an HDMI cable, a memory card and a voucher for the Lego Movie game will cost $139. It will also be able to play the next installment of Disney’s massively successful Infinity hybrid game, which uses physical figurines to unlock a variety of different kinds of game play, when that launches early next year. The PlayStation TV, under a slightly different name, has been available in Japan previously.
It was announced at Sony’s big pre-E3 presentation tonight to media and analysts, but it could lead to a much wider reach for Sony’s PlayStation platform in North America by giving access to many games from Sony’s PS Vita handheld platform, plus the upcoming PlayStation Now service that will provide access to hundreds of older games from previous PlayStation consoles. The device’s launch in the U.S. also thrusts Sony into the already crowded race with Apple, Roku, Google, Amazon and others selling inexpensive Net-enabled devices that can bring new kinds of content to a dumb traditional TV screen. The difference for Sony may be the access the new device will provide to a deep library of hundreds of older video games, which also will become available over the coming months on all of Sony’s existing game devices as well. You can watch just the part of the two-hour announcement focused on the PlayStation TV here:
But news of the PlayStation TV was one of a seemingly endless procession of announcements from Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House and others, made in between a series of frustrating video freeze-ups that locked out many online viewers of the announcement event. Among the other announcements of likely interest to the entertainment business:
- YouTube will become available on the platform this fall, with new tools to make it easy to create, share and see friends’ video made while using the PS4. Tied in with the PS4’s new Share Factory video-editing software, which now comes with every console, the flood of game-play videos already all over the Internet should be hitting tsunami levels by the holiday.
- The console is also ramping up its game-spectating capabilities, which already have been used 150 million times since the PS4 launched, to let people watching an online game either help or hinder a player directly. This piggy-backs on the huge rise in gameplay video that has, for instance, driven the growth of Twitch, uStream and other online video companies, as well as a significant chunk of the YouTube universe. “When you’re watching some schlock horror movie, have you ever had the desire to scream out, ‘Look behind you,’ or, ‘Don’t open that door?” House said. Now you can do effectively that on PS4. This is another way we’re going to define what social gaming can mean.”
- The PlayStation Now service will be available for open beta testing on the PS4 on July 31 and roll out to other PlayStation devices thereafter, providing access to hundreds of titles. For the first time, the games also will be available to play directly on some Sony-made (presumably smart) television sets, provided you have a game controller. The service will “test a range of rental durations and prices” during the open beta period.
- Powers, an exclusive digital video series based on Marvel’s comic book/graphic novels, has been greenlit to series and is in production. It will arrive at the end of the year from Sony TV and PlayStation in concert with Marvel. The first episode will be free to everyone on a PS4, and subscribers to Sony’s PlayStation Network Plus will get the entire series for free. “It’s also going to show us what a world with people with powers would look like,” said executive producer Brian Michael Bendis, who is also the comic’s co-creator. “I know that as gamers and comic book lovers, we love our genres hard-core. One of my jobs as exec producer of the show is to make sure that the TV show gives us what the comic book gave us, with all the authenticity we can muster.”
- A new Batman game, Batman Arkham Knight, is coming from Warner Bros. Interactive and developer Rocksteady. Arkham Asylum, its predecessor, was a massive critical and commercial hit. This one looks even better, with what appear to be similar gameplay mechanics. All they need is a compelling story.
- An animated movie featuring Insomniac Games’ classic characters Ratchet & Clank is being made, and the original (and delightful) R&C game is being remastered for the PS4.
- Grim Fandango, a much-loved and very quirky 1990s-era game from LucasArts, will be revived and remastered for the PS4. Disney deep-sixed the LucasArts videogame team when it bought the Star Wars franchise and other George Lucas assets, but Fandango now will dance on.
- House also touted both enhancements to the PlayStation Camera, a video device that plugs into the PS4 for various game enhancements and experiences, and said the company will show its Project Morpheus virtual-reality headsets at E3 during the show. “We’re pursuing new innovative technology that takes gaming to an entirely new direction,” House said.
Sony came into the presentation borne on very strong sales of really all of its game devices, including the older PS3 and the Vita. Japan’s Nikkei business site reported that, in 2013, for the first time in eight years, Sony has sold more units of game hardware than Nintendo, whose two-year-old Wii U console has flagged badly in the market but whose various hand-held DS descendants of the Game Boy continue to be strong sellers. Overall, Nikkei reported after compiling various public filings by the two companies, Sony has sold about 18.7 million units compared to about 16.2 million for Nintendo. The third console competitor, Microsoft, doesn’t have a handheld option to complement its Xbox One and Xbox 360.
Technical headaches showed that Sony once again can’t figure out how to provide adequate video streams to its own ardent fans. Not very encouraging when you’re trying to own the next generation of entertainment. uStream transmission of the event repeatedly froze with a few seconds of logging in, making it nearly impossible during the first 45 minutes to an hour for lots of fans around the world to see the feed, at least so it appeared from the reactions on Twitter:
Can’t get a decent stream on any machine, screw it. I’m watching Hannibal. #PS4E3
— Jim Rion (@EasternSmooth) June 10, 2014
The #PS4E3 conference should be a lot slicker than this, there is masses of awkwardness
— Joe Stanley (@yosagojimbo) June 10, 2014
When the signal did come through, though, it was clear the company was willing to showcase a remarkably wide range of titles, even very small ones from indie game designers, such as the ethereal Entwined, which requires a player to control two characters, one with each hand, to overcome a series of obstacles. That broad-ranging showcase was quite different from what Microsoft did in its E3 presentation earlier in the day, when the No. 2 console maker stuck to the big “event” games coming to the Xbox One in the coming months.
Sony also unveiled a “Glacier White” special edition of the PS4 for its upcoming sci-fi game, Destiny, which looks a lot like the Xbox’s Halo franchise in its trailer (perhaps that’s no surprise; it comes from Bungie, the company that created the original Halo. That said, there does seem to be a bit of self-plagiarism in what still looks like a terrific game). Lots of people online and off were immediately charmed by Little Big Planet 3, the latest version in the lovely and amusing platform game and creation tool that has seen users upload more than 8.7 million levels of additional content. It should be a huge hit.