The chance of Sony unveiling a new PlayStation 3 hardware revision at Gamescom seems to be becoming more likely every day. We’ve heard rumours ranging from vague assumptions through to today’s appearance of label positioning on a new-looking casing. The PlayStation 3 has, of course, already had a hardware revision. In fact, if you count the downgrade of the launch models to exclude PlayStation 2 disc compatibility, USB ports and memory card slots, it’s had two.
Why would Sony want to introduce a new model now, with the PlayStation 4’s assumed release window looming? It’s all about the money.[drop]The PS3 Slim is – as the oft-repeated mantra at the time of its release informed us – 32 per cent smaller, 36 per cent lighter and it consumes 34 per cent less power than the model it replaced. Many of us consumers seem to have made the assumption that the PS3 Slim was a reaction to the escalating “Yellow Light of Death” issue that was killing off original model PS3s at an increasing rate back in 2009 when the Slim was announced at Gamescom.
If Sony simply wanted to improve reliability, they could have just revised the components like Microsoft did in overcoming their “Red Ring of Death” problem long before their 360S revised the form factor. The reason for making and selling a smaller, lighter machine was because it’s cheaper than making and selling a larger, heavier one.
Production costs, we assume, are significantly less expensive on the PS3 Slim. New components account for that to a degree but seemingly minor things like less plastic being used for casing all add up when you’re shipping unit numbers in the millions. That benefit has a knock on benefit right through the supply chain too. Less packaging, more units per shipment due to the space they take up, cheaper shipping because they’re lighter and more economical use of warehouse space for storage will all make significant savings.
An even smaller and lighter unit would further increase those margins.
That’s the practical benefits to remodelling the PlayStation 3 but what about the more fantastical speculation we’ve seen about a stop-gap upgrade that improves on the hardware’s capabilities as well as the form factor?
Sony’s streaming ambitions are now out in the open. We’ve heard rumours that a new console might be in development that does not have a disc drive. While that seems very unlikely due to Sony’s investment in Blu-ray, not to mention the physical media’s persisting importance in home entertainment, a slight shift in focus is now seemingly inevitable over the coming years. Could Sony begin that shift with an upgrade to the PS3 hardware?
A new PlayStation hardware revision could mark a new approach for Sony. It could present them with the opportunity to put their products and services into an affordable package that has a much wider target market than they can currently appeal to. A smaller set top box with an emphasis on media streaming, catch up TV services and online connectivity would allow them to scale back their extremely costly TV manufacturing business. With an affordable PlayStation hardware upgrade, any TV could be a smart TV.
Sony has an opportunity to do what many suspect Apple and Google to be planning for their living room futures and Sony can do it right now.
We know about game streaming thanks to the recent acquisition of Gaikai but that technology could be put to use for far more than just streaming game demos. Gaikai streaming of Sony’s movie and television business could become extremely lucrative. Consider that alongside the existing streaming services from Netflix, Amazon Instant, LoveFilm et al. and the catch up TV streaming services (and sports apps like MLB.tv in the US). Sony has the potential to become a massive provider of entertainment services via streaming and their PSN infrastructure, perhaps even the largest, almost immediately.[drop2]There are persistent rumours around refined motion control systems and by now you’ve probably all seen the concept sketches that seem to show a Sony system working in a similar way to Kinect. Better cameras, gesture and voice recognition software makes that vision a very real possibility but not necessarily in a new full generation of gaming hardware. With a slight revision to hardware and some new camera technology, they could catch up with Microsoft’s lucrative (if unpopular for some) motion control market and help pioneer gesture controlled television and video conferencing before Apple’s much assumed arrival in that arena.
Sony isn’t only in the business of selling games and game hardware – they’re a massive company with fingers in many pies. They could tie a lot of their business arms – including developments they’ve made in streaming media, television, internet technologies and communication – together with a slight revision to the PlayStation 3 hardware. That product could have mass appeal far beyond what the PlayStation 3 is currently capable of.
A new name (Orbis?) would help the device appeal to the much larger market of tech-buyers who don’t want a “gaming device” but are increasingly looking for media streaming and “lifestyle” devices. Essentially, this is simply what the PS3 was always intended to be, just updated for recently emerging technology trends and not necessarily hampered by the persisting stigma (among many tech buyers) of being a games console.
This revision wouldn’t necessarily split the user base either. The existing PlayStation 3 wouldn’t lose any features (it might even gain some – hardware permitting) and the new revision would be largely focused on other services so future games output would still work on older machines. Those leaked (or hoax) Microsoft documents seem to point towards a similar direction for the Xbox too, with a change in the way they position it to consumers, a possible slight hardware alteration and a focus on services that can be pushed into people’s living rooms ahead of next year’s big console generation change.
Given that the arrival of the PlayStation 4 is widely expected for late next year, and taking into account the losses Sony is likely to need to absorb on that, a new “mass-appeal” hardware unit with low manufacturing costs might be just the thing to help Sony achieve their ambitious financial projections over the next 18 months. A revision to the PlayStation 3 hardware might be just the thing to turn Sony’s fortunes around.