Wednesday was a big day for events where journalists attended press conferences to applaud advertisements for new products: Not only did Apple write a whole new chapter ofProfiles in Courage by removing features from its iPhone, Sony got into the act, too, revealing its new lineup of PlayStations at an event with the aggressively soul-deadening name of the “PlayStation Meeting” in New York.* The company unveiled two new PlayStation 4 models: a smaller, slimmer standard PlayStation 4 and the upgraded PlayStation 4 Pro. Both systems are designed to work with the same games as the original PlayStation 4, but the PlayStation 4 Pro has more processing power and will support gaming in 4K resolution. What’s more, both of the new PlayStation models and the original PlayStation 4 will now support High Dynamic Resolution. Of course, both 4K and HDR require a television that supports these features, although reportedly the PlayStation 4 Pro will provide better performance even for users with now-ancient 1080 pixel screens. For lucky 4K TV owners, however, the PlayStation 4 Pro will also support streaming 4K video from Netflix (and eventually other services like Amazon and YouTube). What it won’t do, however, is play 4K Blu-ray discs.
That’s a disappointing move from a company that nearly single-handedly won the last format war by including a Blu-ray player in the PlayStation 3. And the PS3 didn’t just play Blu-rays as an afterthought, like Microsoft’s Xbox 360 external high-definition DVD player, the platonic ideal of half-assed format support. Sony’s last console was a great Blu-ray player in its own right, so much so it was the reference Blu-ray player for the company screening room at the offices of the Criterion Collection. Still, leaving out 4K Blu-ray support seems to fit in with Sony’s larger strategy of late: After fighting a losing price war with Microsoft’s Xbox 360, the company has moved away from all-in-one entertainment devices, first dropping features like SACD playback and memory card readers from the PS3, then designing the PS4 around gaming rather than entertainment. Meanwhile, Microsoft is going in the other direction: Its already-released Xbox One S, though it doesn’t support 4K gaming, plays 4K Blu-rays as well as supporting 4K streaming and supports infrared remotes for easy integration into a home theater system. The company was quick to remind users its current system already has features Sony isn’t offering:
Microsoft’s hilariously named “Project Scorpio” will deliver 4K gaming and 4K Blu-ray playback (at least, it’s supposed to—presumably we’ll find out for sure at the “Project Scorpio Meeting”) but won’t be in stores until the fourth quarter of 2017. Sony seems to be making the same bet Microsoft did on the last generation of consoles, hoping that getting to market first, even with a less-powerful device, will give them the edge. The PS4 slim will be released on Sept. 15 for $299; the Pro on Nov. 10 for $399. (Sony’s PlayStation VR helmet comes out on Oct. 13, for $399, making this an expensive fall for PlayStation completists.)
Meanwhile, with a few exceptions, developers are using the mind-boggling power of these new systems to continue their inspiring focus on player choice: Gamers will be able to choose whether they want to shoot people in the head in New Orleans, Europe, or even deep outer space. Hold for applause.
*Correction, Sept. 7: This post originally identified the day of the week as Tuesday. It was Wednesday.