Sony PS4 announced for Christmas 2013 – but design and pricing remain a mystery

New PlayStation 4 will place social gaming at the forefront, with Share button, live streaming and PS Vita Remote Play

The Sony PlayStation 4 will hit shelves this year – Holiday 2013 – but the look of the device is still firmly under wraps, with no hardware being revealed at its launch event in New York beyond the new DualShock 4 controller and a stereo camera.

Sony PS4 launch – hardware and specs

However, the PS4 isn't a total mystery – Sony was plenty forthcoming with features and specs for its next-gen gaming console. The PlayStation 4 will pack in an X86 processor with eight CPU cores, an "enhanced PC GPU" and 8GB GDDR5 RAM.

What does that mean for gamers? Sony claims an "exponential leap over its predecessors" in terms of processing power, with the PS4 able to suspend and resume gameplay simply by hitting the power button; the console will boot up immediately when you switch it on and restore your game state. The PlayStation 4 will also be able to upload and download games in the background – even when the power button's off – while you'll be able to play downloaded games as soon as you purchase them, as the game files are downloading.

The PlayStation 4 will also feature always on video compression and decompression – letting you seamlessly upload gameplay recordings. The idea, according to Sony, is to make sharing videos of gameplay as ubiquitous as screenshots are now. You'll also be able to share live streams of ongoing games – more on that later.

Sony PS4 launch – DualShock 4 controller

The one piece of PS4 hardware that Sony was willing to share was the DualShock 4 controller. Closely resembling the layout of the current PS3 controller, the DualShock 4 adds enhanced rumble capabilities, a Share button and touch pad along with a headphone jack and light bar. The latter lets the PS4's stereo camera track and identify the controller in 3D – the console will also play nice with existing PlayStation Move controllers.

Sony PS4 launch – Sharing is caring

The DualShock 4 controller's Share button is central to Sony's bid to position the PS4 as a social gaming machine. Your PlayStation 4 profile will be tied to your real-world identity – Sony's announced Facebook and UStream integration for the console – with a tap of the Share button letting you broadcast your games in real-time to your friends. They'll be able to view your game "over your shoulder" – doubtless to offer friendly advice and not to belittle your abilities.

If you're finding a particular bit of the game challenging, you'll be able to pass control onto a friend. Other possibilities include your friends intervening in your games, manipulating events rather like a Dungeons & Dragons games master by adding new items and changing the layout of a level.

The PS4 will tailor itself to your tastes – as well as suggesting titles based on your existing library of games, it'll preload new games that it thinks you'll enjoy to your console.

Sony PS4 launch – PlayStation Cloud

Sony's partnership with cloud streaming service Gaikai has borne fruit in the PlayStation Store – their PlayStation Cloud tech will be used to let you instantly stream game demos for free, before you download the full title. It's also set to encompass "past, present and future games." Although the console hardware won't feature backwards compatibility with past generations of PlayStation, the PS4 will be able to stream PS One, PS2 and PS3 titles – the entire PlayStation back catalogue, eventually.

Sony PS4 launch – PS Vita Remote Play

As widely anticipated, the PS4 will be compatible with the PS Vita handheld console – you'll be able to stream games direct to your PS Vita, as demoed above using cartoony adventure Knack. Take that, Wii U! Sony has also promised integrated phone and tablet apps – with one launch title, DriveClub, letting you create and post racing challenges to players worldwide using your mobile device, before taking part in them with your own racing club.

Sony PS4 launch – games

Although the look of the PS4 itself remains a mystery, Sony revealed plenty of new titles in the works – including the aforementioned DriveClub, Ubisoft's hotly-anticipated cyberpunk thriller Watch Dogs, Infamous: Second Son, new Capcom swords n' sorcery property Deep Down, gorgeous-looking FPS KillZone: Shadowfall and open-world indie puzzler The Witness. Square Enix, meanwhile, has announced that a new Final Fantasy title is in the works, with a full reveal coming at E3.

Sony PS4 launch – verdict

Although Sony has played its cards close to its chest regarding the look of the PS4, that's really the least important aspect of the console (as the PS3 Super Slim has ably demonstrated). At first glance, the PS4 looks to be a confident riposte to the Nintendo Wii U, with an array of social gaming features that look set to – potentially – enthrall and irritate in equal measure. Microsoft, the ball's in your court – roll on the Xbox 720.

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