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Sony’s February event may bring PlayStation 4 news, but history should temper expectations

Sony is promising to show off the “Future of PlayStation” at a media event in New York City on Feb. 20. The expectation is that Sony plans to give a look at its tent pole PlayStation 3 games coming throughout the rest of 2012 like Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us, as well as substantial new first party games for the PS Vita handheld like Killzone Mercenary. The immediate future doesn’t seem to be the main event at this function, though. Sources tell the Wall Street Journal that this will be the moment that Sony unveils the PlayStation 4 (whether it’s called Orbis or not) to the public.

Just because Sony plans to give a glimpse of what the PlayStation 4 is, that doesn’t mean it will show its full hand. Far from it. Sony has a long history of early home console coming out parties, and they have by and large come almost a year before the actual device hit shelves.

The most famous of these was Sony’s March 1999 event announcing that the development of the PlayStation 2 was complete. At the time, Sony showed off a series of tech demos that took more advanced polygonal characters from FMV sequences in PSOne games and rendered them in real time. The cinema sequences from games like Final Fantasy VIII and Ridge Racer 4 were purportedly what PlayStation 2 games would look like. It then showed what industry figures refer to as “target demos,” footage of games like Namco’s Tekken Tag Tournament and Squaresoft’s The Bouncer that looked far more advanced than the games that were ultimately released. Sony didn’t announce the price or release details for the console for another six months, and the PlayStation 2 didn’t release for another six months after that. Even then, it only came to Japan with a US release following in October 2000.

The E3 2005 announcement of the PlayStation 3 echoed that announcement as well. PlayStation creator Ken Kutaragi showed a prototype version of the console itself while confirming basic technical information (the machine will have Blu-ray drive, etc.) and then showing off not games, but technical demos, many of which became infamous. The early footage of Unreal Tournament 3 shown demonstrated what Sony believed the console would be capable of. Other early demos shown for titles like Killzone 2 and Motorstorm were again not actual game footage but target renders.

This history doesn’t necessarily preclude Sony from announcing the price and release date of its new gaming machine, but it does demonstrate why industry pundits and fans should temper their expectations before February 20 rolls around.