Sony is expected to unveil its next-generation gaming system at a New York event Wednesday evening, a development that would give the struggling electronics company a head start over Microsoft and an Xbox 360 successor.
The PlayStation 4 would be Sony Corp.'s first major game console since the PlayStation 3 went on sale in 2006. The unveiling would give Sony the spotlight on video games, at least until Microsoft Corp. unveils the next Xbox in June, as expected, at the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles. Although the Xbox 360 came out a year before PlayStation 3, Microsoft's game machine has been more popular, largely because of its robust online service, Xbox Live, which allows people to play games with others online.
Besides Microsoft, Sony has been struggling to keep up with powerful rivals such as Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. The company is promising nifty mobile devices, sophisticated digital cameras and other gadgetry as part of its comeback effort. Underscoring the importance of a new PlayStation and the U.S. market, Sony is holding its announcement event in New York rather than in Japan, as it had in the past.
The new device arrives amid declines in sales for video game hardware, software and accessories. Research firm NPD Group said game sales fell 22 percent to $13.3 billion in 2012. One reason for the decline, analysts believe: It's been years since a new game machine was released. Most people who want an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or a Wii already have one. But people also have shifted their attention to games on Facebook, tablet computers and mobile phones. Sony and other game makers face the task of convincing people that they need a new video game system rather than, say, a new iPad.
Sony has said it "will deliver and speak about the future PlayStation business" at Wednesday's event. Most analysts expect that means the company will be introducing the PlayStation 4. Analysts and gamers will be looking for details such as whether PlayStation will have a better online service to rival Xbox Live and whether it will have non-traditional controllers akin to the ones Nintendo offers. Other unknown details include how much it will cost and when it will go on sale.
Last fall, Nintendo started selling the Wii U, which comes with a tablet-like controller called the GamePad. It allows two people playing the same game to have entirely different experiences depending on whether they use the GamePad or a traditional Wii remote, which itself was revolutionary when it came out because of its motion-control features. The GamePad can also be used to play games without using a TV set, as one would on a regular tablet.
The original Wii has sold more units since its launch than both its rivals, but it has lost momentum in recent years as the novelty of its motion controller faded. Nintendo said it sold 3.1 million Wii Us as of the end of 2012 —a disappointing start to the first of the new generation of gaming systems.
In some ways, notably the ability to play high-definition games, the Wii U was just catching up to the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, the preferred consoles to play popular shooters such as "Call of Duty" and "Red Dead Redemption."
All three console makers are trying to position their devices as entertainment hubs that can deliver movies, music and social networking as they try to stay relevant in the age of smartphones and tablets. The Wii U has a TV-watching feature called TVii. With it, the console's touch-screen GamePad controller becomes a remote control for your TV and set-top box. But Microsoft and Sony were ahead of the game in this front, too.