Taking a look at those pesky PlayStation Orbis rumors

playstation 4Who’s ready to spend some money? The next console round is revving up, and the rumors are beginning to queue up thanks to the PlayStation 4 recently stirring up a bevy of anticipation this week, and possibly some hard feelings as well.

The Orbis, the tentative name being placed on Sony’s up coming offering, was first unearthed by sources at Kotaku. The game news site seems to be hung up on the “Orbis Vita” pairing, which means “the circle of life,” though its not yet clear if Orbis will just be a codename like Xbox’s Durango. Along with some specs and a closer pinpoint of the release date, possible designs for upgraded motion sensing integrated with smartphones point to another potential focus for the next-gen console wars. One point of contention stirred up by the recent rumors is the way Sony, and possibly all the new consoles, may be approaching game releases in the future. Here’s a brief run-down on the more meaty rumors, what we expect and what we’d like to see here at Digital Trends. Let’s get to the speculating and gossip.

Rumor rundown

While Sony’s Kaz Hirai has denied rumors that we’ll be seeing anything but a 10-year life cycle for the PlayStation 3, as well as definite no regarding a possible E3 2012 debut for the PS4, the new rumors are pointing to the new Playstation being out in time for Christmas 2013, and maybe even earlier if the newest rumors are to be believed. A next year release seems to coincide with the the rumors surrounding Microsoft’s 720 release date—Sony apparently won’t be giving Microsoft a year’s head start to for game development this round. Developers have reportedly been receiving dev kits for the PlayStation 4, and will continue to receive improved versions till the end of 2012 according to Kotaku, ensuring a worthy line-up for the launch.

Southern Islands 7970Hardware-wise, The Orbis will reportedly be packing an AMD x64 CPU and a Southern Islands GPU. Incidentally, rumors surrounding the Xbox 720 say the device will not have a Southern Islands (7000 series) GPU, but more likely an AMD 6000 series GPU. But both consoles will most likely have much better processing power than whatever the Wii U is bringing to the table (sorry Nintendo).

Sony has previously stated that they won’t be looking at as huge an initial investment in the new console as they did with the PS3 with its Blu-ray and Cell processor; hopefully that still means a cheaper console. The abandonment of the Cell processor could mean better gaming options for consumers. As far as the library goes, it might be less annoying for developers to work with the more mainstream chipset, enticing more new games and ports. The Southern Islands GPU will allegedly be able to display games at a resolution of 4096×2160.

Two rumors that seem to be irking fans about the upcoming Orbis is the lack of backwards compatibility from the start – hopefully, you’ve all been weaned from your backwards compatibility hopes with the progression of PS3 versions. Then there is the restrictions that will be put on used games, which somewhat flies in the face of GameStop’s claims to the contrary earlier this month.

PS4 users will be able to buy either a Blu-Ray version (yup, a disc drive) of their game, or digitally through a PSN download. Both ways will require a single PSN network account in order to “authenticate” the new game. Used games will still be usable, but barely, as Kotaku seems to believe that it will be necessary to pay to unlock the used game which will have content restrictions. This wouldn’t be the first time that video games have been implanted with diminished gaming value for used sales.

Keep in mind, of course, that all these claims are unsubstantiated by Sony itself, which has declined to comment (definition = rumors).

Sensory experience and mobile

Another rumor that has cropped up recently is what looks to be an upgrade of the PlayStation’s motion sensing experience. Since its launch in September of 2010, the PlayStation Move has been pushed aside by the Kinect, orbis motion sensorwhich roughly sold the same amount of units in its first two months after launch as Sony’s product had sold by summer of 2011. Rather than the incomplete novelty of the Wii Remote, motion sensor technology could be integral to the gameplay of the generation eight consoles. It’ll be interesting as well to see how both Sony, as well as Xbox, integrate their virtual reality headset projects with motion sensors.

A design firm named Coque Design was caught by Kotaku showing off some sketches labeled specifically for the PlayStation Orbis (which were promptly removed from the design firm’s site). The device being used does not look anything like the PlayStation Move wand–rather more like an Apple device–though the device on top of the television looks like a PlayStation Eye. Could the iPhone-looking device betray a move to better integrate mobile technology with console gaming?

It’s no secret that mobile gaming has been not very nice to the consoles, with critics even saying that mobile gaming will kill the console at some point. Some game developers, like David Plfedlt of Ubisoft Massive, have said that mobile games offer increased freedoms over console development, while others like DICE’s Patrich Bach believe that mobile gaming will create more options for gamers, but won’t ever supplant the core gaming market.  

Finding a way to integrate the two in a satisfying and complementary way will likely be one of the next big steps in gaming.

Game delivery

Backwards compatibility looks like it’ll be a moot point right now, and anyways, the majority of consumer outrage seems to be directed towards the used gaming restrictions. Gamesindustry believes that Sony would be shooting itself in the foot with this move, alienating customers that Microsoft would eagerly swoop in on, though the Xbox rumors point to a similar anti-used game move. Aside from hurting Sony’s relationship with Gamestop, the move could also affect game rental services like Gamefly and Redbox. On the backwards compatibility front, Sony may be looking at selling older PlayStation 3, and older generation, titles via the PlayStation network.

Sony in general seems to preparing for a more digital battle, changing the PSN to SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) and promising to “enhance its unique digital entertainment offering.” That goes along with rumors requiring gamers to lock games to a single PSN account and offering of full retail title downloads. Then there’s PlayStation delving deeper into cloud computing. Sony may be hedging its bets, and may possibly work on slowly weaning consumers off of physical discs themselves, just as it did with the backwards compatibility we had gotten comfortable with beginning with the PS2. The rapid decline of physical vs digital movie watching could possibly be an indicator of a change in video games that Sony is anticipating, though connection speeds across the US, and especially globally, may hamper full realization any time soon.

Further pointing to the digital battleground, is Microsoft’s avalanche of Xbox live digital entertainment updates, you can be sure Microsoft will carry that focus onto the next generation. Then there’s Valve’s rumored gaming console which will use a NVIDIA GPU and will incorporate EA’s Origin game download service. No dev kits will be necessary for the “Steam Box,” and with the right pricing this console could cause a little trouble.

Future tense

On the top of the list, in the face of slumping console game sales, here’s hoping that Sony develops an ingenious new model  (perhaps involving more free-to-play titles). Also, expect a better launch lineup. Based on the way the PS Vita launch was handled, and the rumors pointing to a better relationship with game developers, Sony won’t skimp on the number of games this time around. The earlier launch date makes a lot of sense, despite what Sony representatives say. Letting the other consoles get a toehold again isn’t a good idea. As Microsoft rumors are pointing to Blu-ray, expect Sony to match the Xbox’s digital entertainment enthusiasm as well as a harder push to overtake the motion sensor market. The anti-used game rumors will probably be true (at least to a degree), and consumer outrage will only delay the move at best. Lastly, Orbis will be acceptable as a name, but not as a shape. Let’s hope Sony keeps the new console small, but square.

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