PlayStation 4: Sony Fires First in Next-Gen Console War
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PlayStation 4: Sony Fires First in Next-Gen Console War

REUTERS/Yuya Shino

The day's finally here. Time to hope out of bed, draw one final big red "X" on the calendar on my wall and head down to my local friendly electronics purveyor for some fresh new video-gaming goodness.

After months of continuous hype, with both Microsoft and Sony slowly revealing more and more about their respective products like some kind of electronic striptease, Sony is officially releasing its entry into next battle of the so-called "console war." The PlayStation 4 hit stores on Friday and retailers are gearing up to handle the influx of excited gamers. Over 4,200 GameStop stores hosted midnight launch parties, catering to the hardcore fans and early Christmas shoppers who will determine whether its latest device is a much-needed hit in an era of rapidly evolving entertainment options.

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Pre-orders for the $399 machine were sold out months ago, but demand has been so high that 444 extra consoles have been distributed to the New York area for first-come-first-serve purchasers (and that lucky customer No. 444 might want to make sure he or she brings a bodyguard).

Sony is battling against history here. While the PlayStation 3 was, on the whole, a successful product, the initial launch of the console was plagued with issues, including a steep price point and some rushed hardware decisions. The bigger problem, though, was the lack of games that left early adopters with what was essentially a $600 Blu-Ray player.

Eight years later, Sony seems to have remembered many of the lessons from those difficulties. The PS4 clocks in at a price point $100 lower than the Xbox One and is – by most accounts – technologically superior to its Microsoft competitor. However, Sony still had to contend with early reports of hardware problems and it must still overcome its biggest hurdle – an unwelcome lack of quality titles. Two of its most anticipated launch games, Ubisoft's Watch_Dogs and Sony's DriveClub caused a stir when they were delayed until 2014, and the PS4's lineup has been diminishing piece by piece since then.

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While Sony's prospects for becoming this generation's favored gaming system looked strong a couple of months ago, when the Xbox One was deluged by fanboy vitriol about its digital rights management decisions, things have since changed. Microsoft has rolled back the most lambasted elements of its console and has managed to spin the mocked TV-and-app integration into a somewhat appealing feature.

More importantly, your Kinect won't watch you sleep, your Xbox won't constantly try to "phone home," and you'll be able to share and sell your games. It's still outperformed by the PS4 on a technical basis, but Microsoft has compensated for that by allying the Xbox One with your cable box – allowing for easy switching between gaming and TV and a full set of well-integrated apps. It will also launch with a wider initial game library and more exclusive titles.

Only time (and sales numbers) will reveal which console has the edge, but for now one thing is clear: the next generation of console gaming has begun. And it looks to be a pretty fair fight.

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