All eyes on Sony ahead of new PlayStation’s launch

FOURTH TIME LUCKY?:Market watchers are speculating whether Sony will just unveil more impressive hardware, or whether it will shift its focus to home entertainment

AFP, SAN FRANCISCO

Mon, Feb 11, 2013 - Page 5

When Sony pulls back the curtain on the next-generation PlayStation video game console, the world will see how much the Japanese consumer electronics titan has been paying attention.

Sony could double-down on hardware to power even more realistic graphics and rich gameplay than the impressive specifications of PlayStation 3 consoles, which are nearing the end of a life cycle started in 2006.

Or Sony may step toward a vision outlined by chief executive Kazuo Hirai by introducing an improved console as part of an ecosystem that weaves the company’s film, music, games and electronics together with the trend toward getting home entertainment online.

“Sony needs a living room experience,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said while discussing expectations that a PlayStation 4 will be showcased at an event being hosted by Sony on Wednesday next week in New York City. “They need more software, not more hardware.”

The PlayStation 3 launched as an engineering triumph complete with Blu-ray high-definition disk player capabilities only to see rival Microsoft score with Xbox 360 consoles for gaming as well as online films, music and more.

“Sony can’t build a company on those few people who are hardcore gamers, so they have to figure out how to bridge to the all-purpose consumer who likes games, which is most of us,” McQuivey said. “If they emphasize how this is really a television set-top box with your favorite channels and Netflix, it will mean Sony has paid attention.”

Sony has remained mum, but that has not stopped talk of hardware upgrades such as improved graphics and controllers with touchpads, and chatter of Sony announcing its own cable-style service to route film or music content to PlayStation consoles.

Sony needs to adapt to changing lifestyles while not alienating video game lovers devoted to its hardware.

Low-cost or free games on smartphones or tablet computers are increasing the pressure on video game companies to deliver experiences worth players’ time and money.

New generation consoles are typically priced in the US$400 to US$500 range, and blockbuster game titles hit the market at US$60 each.

“Sony is under a lot of pressure,” National Alliance Capital Markets analyst Mike Hickey said. “Gamers are desperate for innovation and better games.”

While Sony is tethered to “legacy” hardware, companies such as Apple and Google are driving innovation with tablets, smartphones, and ways to route Internet offerings to television sets, Hickey said.

While ramping up content and services for PlayStation, Sony also needs to motivate people to upgrade from the current model.

“If Sony wants to win it, they need to show some killer games to get people to go out and spend a lot of money for the core game experience,” Hickey said.

He blamed a dearth of compelling titles as a reason for disappointing sales of Nintendo’s innovative Wii U consoles introduced late last year.

“The Wii U is a case study you can’t ignore,” Hickey said. “Sony at least has to nail it with the games; the core market can drive the mass market.”