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Sony announces PlayStation 4, touts speed and social but media vision unclear

Jeff John Roberts

A lot has changed since Sony last announced an update to its video game console in 2006. Since that time, the era of discs and cartridges has receded and consumers have entered a world of cloud and mobile computing. Meanwhile, the PlayStation has lost ground to Nintendo and Xbox while Sony’s one-time dominance in electronics has long faded.

On Wednesday in New York, Sony announced the PlayStation 4, which comes with souped-up hardware that the company says will virtually eliminate the time video game players must wait for their games to load. The company also touted a new “share” button on its controller that will let players capture video clips, not just screenshots, of their game play to send to friends.

During a presentation heavy with video game demos, Sony also touted its Vita portable device as the vanguard of mobile play. An executive explained how a player, bumped by others from the living room big screen, can immediately continue his game on the handheld Vita — a tablet experience of sorts.

Reaction by video game fans on Twitter and live blogs at Wired and the Verge was underwhelming. This included disappointment that the new PlayStation 4 would not include backwards compatibility via streaming with earlier PlayStation games.

Perhaps surprisingly, Sony spent little time addressing the role of consoles like the PlayStation as an onramp to the larger world of media. In this context, the PlayStation is just one of a growing number of devices — including Roku, Boxee, Apple TV(i aapl) and (soon) Intel — that link consumers to movies, music and more.

A Sony executive did note that the PlayStation was the most popular device for accessing NetFlix. But the company didn’t devote time to expounding a larger media vision such as that of Microsoft’s entertainment and digital media president who, at a recent media event, announced the company is producing its own interactive TV shows.

Sony did not announce a price or even display the console itself during the two-hour long event, but did announce in closing that the device will be available around “holiday 2013,” presumably in time for the November/December shopping season.

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