Sony’s Second Screen Future and the PlayStation 4 Controller

Every couple of years there seems to be a new gimmick pushed by manufacturers of videogames hardware. Ever since the 8-bit days we’ve seen robot buddies, light guns, balance boards, motion controllers and attempts to popularise 3D. Most recently, as the cost of the technology has plummeted, we’re seeing a big push for what has become known as “second screen” devices.

The technology as it relates to videogames might have its earliest foundations in the Dreamcast’s VMU but we’ve come a long way since then. The rise of smartphone use to look up salient facts via wikipedia, IMDB and similar information sources while playing games or watching movies and television programs on home consoles has informed the desire to shape that second stream of related content – no doubt with an eye to controlling the message (and any advertising revenue) that’s displayed.

[drop]My initial reaction to the idea was that it would just be another gimmick which would rise and fall, with certain entertaining or interesting – but ultimately disposable – elements along the way, before it became a side-note in videogame history. But the Wii U GamePad is in the process of changing my mind.

It’s not that I’m finding every use of the GamePad to be useful or even comfortable. There are plenty of times when it’s awkward to split my attention between two screens which are relatively far apart. But when it is used well, it’s a game-changer. It’s more useful than motion controls have ever been and it certainly does more for a game than 3D ever could. This gimmick might just be useful enough to stick around.

At this time, each of the three platform holders is approaching the problem in a different way. Microsoft expects you to own an expensive tablet or smartphone to use the system they’re calling “Smartglass.” Sony expects you to buy another expensive handheld gaming device – the Vita – to partake in any second screen action. But there’s a change coming. There’s a new generation expected from Microsoft and Sony – second screens will, I believe, have a notable presence in this new generation.

I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect users, who are putting down the sort of sums of money that a new console generation will demand, to spend more on another device. So I don’t think Sony will continue with the Vita as their second screen. At least not solely – allowing it as an option, or for use as extra controllers in multiplayer games, would potentially be a smart move to help aid the handheld’s poor sales so far. But the PlayStation 4 is going to have to ship with a second screen in the box. That means a significant change – or at least addition – to the DualShock.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to PlayStation fans. We know that Sony looked at redesigning the DualShock before the PlayStation 3 was launched, the prototype boomerang controller’s presence in early appearances of the console implies that the idea of a change in design might have gone quite far before eventually being abandoned in favour of sticking with the much loved ergonomic design of the PS2‘s DualShock in their SixAxis controller which remained rumble-free for the first phase of the PS3’s life.

[drop2]I believe that the Vita holds the key to Sony’s strategy here. The usability experience, developer familiarity and patents they hold with regard to the two touchscreen surfaces on the Vita will stand them in good stead when trying to put together a new layer of control surfaces on the PS4’s controller. The experience and infrastructure they already have in place for manufacturing the Vita’s screen will potentially make that aspect of a new home console controller much more manageable during research and development too.

The second screen on Sony’s future PlayStation controller will, I think, be smaller than Nintendo’s but, with a higher resolution and multi-touch capability, it will have more uses and a more premium feel than Nintendo’s cheap-feeling GamePads. Hopefully it’ll have a better battery life too.

It’s all conjecture at the moment but we’ve seen rumours that there are big, radical plans for the new console’s controller and we know that Sony (and Microsoft) is also looking at biometric controllers that can sense reactions from nerves (this Sony patent published as recently as October). My experience with the Wii U’s GamePad has begun to make me much more comfortable with the idea of a “baked-in” second screen and Sony’s experience with the Vita puts them in a unique position to really get the implementation of it just right.

The next generation of Sony hardware – the PlayStation 4 – is only a few months away but the box that goes under your television might be the least striking thing about it. The thought that the next generation of console hardware from Sony might not be sold to new users purely on the graphical power it can display but on the widening in scope of experiences is incredibly exciting. A second screen offers precisely that kind of space for innovation.



  1. For me the Wii U is great not because you can split the screen, but because you can play full console games /off/ screen, with no TV. It’s fantastic, and suits me perfectly.

    PS4 has to have this on the controller. Has to.

    • kinda like remote play? ^_^

      • And if you want to play more than Lair?

      • I get the joke, but the Wii U is nothing like Remote Play. No lag, no compromise, no extra hardware, no complicated setup, instant switching, own-screen multiplayer, etc.


      • I think they promoted remote play too early. It was working with a cable but they never got it to properly work without lag without one so they kept quiet about it ever since.
        I really hope they tune it and make sure the PS4 comes with such a feature out of the box, supporting all games. It’s not going to work, though unless they bundle the PS4 with a dumber, slightly modified Vita (less CPU/GPU and for ergonomics), because with the current adoption rate of the Vita, devs are not going to bother. Sony also needs to grow some balls and push devs/publishers into making these things available in their games instead of trying to sell us the same game twice.

      • Tried Pixeljunk shooter remote play on my Vita; PSP resolution and still horribly laggy and frankly useless…

    • @Alex

      You’re talking about about a portable console, except it’s not so portable.

    • I hope they don’t have a controller like the Wii-U – it’s a bit too large for extended play.

      And the Vita will be a proper companion to the PS4 unlike the ps3 which is holding remote play back because of memory constraints.

      • Not so, the PS3 hack and its resulting ‘backed up’ games revealed that Remote Play was just about as simple as a tick box in the game’s code.

        So people with ‘backed up’ games can select it, or change the text to ‘yes’ or whatever and that’s it, Remote Play is enabled. Apparently.

        It’s more like developers/publishers would sooner sell two copies of the game, rather than one copy & have you Remote Play it.

  2. ‘The thought that the next generation of console hardware from Sony might not be sold to new users purely on the graphical power it can display but on the widening in scope of experiences is incredibly exciting,’

    Definitely agree with this. The idea of a PS4 being just an upgraded PS3 has meant that I’ve taken next to no interest in news and rumours of the next-gen Sony console so far. Techies can throw GPU’s and CPU’s and GBH’s and A2M’s at me all day, but I want new FEATURES, not shinier and sharper games.

    Remember the excitement about the PS3 as compared to the PS2? For me, that excitement was mostly based on how much more it could DO…sometimes it actually IS quantity, and not quality, that matters.

  3. Whatever they do, if it’s not included in the box it won’t work as far as being a sales success goes which will mean developer support will be limited or have vastly reduced budgets, which in turn will make it even less of a success.

    Whatever Sony’s strategy is, it has to be available to everyone just like HDD was to PS3 devs, Wii Remote was to Wii devs etc.

  4. My 2P’s worth.

    Sony:You really HAVE to start pushing ANY new device or technology you come up with as far as PS4 goes (and it HAS to be a standard feature, not buy later, patch support in for type approach as we’ve seen with Move+3D TV support) and i’ll explain WHY, as a Playstation owner, you’ve been a constant source of frustration.

    The Eye Toy, did wonders on PS2 and you HAD Move up+running (tech.demos) in your R+D labs at the very same time, remember when you invited Edge over, they did a big feature on BOTH?……

    Yet when you launched PS3, was Move included as a standard controller? NO.Was it even avaiable to buy along side the console, like the Eye Toy 2 was? No. And what,pray tell did you really do with improved Eye Toy tech? Eye Of Judgement, support in Burnout Paradise?, you basically let Eye Toy 2 (and Move) fester away until OMG, Wii is massive and MS rolling out Kinect on 360…cue knee jerk reaction, out comes Move, needed re-calibrating each time you changed a game etc.It was in R+D for SO long, yet still launched with flaws like this? pathetic.

    The PSP-PS3 link up, early demo.showed PSP being used as a rear-view mirror in a racing game, sweet, how many games really used the link up? i had Resistance 2 and Resistance on PSP, but you needed to set everything up, each time you booted the game up and did any other games use it?.

    PSP-Vita link up-you’ve shown Dust 514 using Vita as means of calling in orbital strikes etc, fantastic! but..we’re STILL waiting for the game and just how many people going to buy Dust 514,let alone own or intend to buy a Vita. The odd game here and there IS NOT going to get Vita’s jumping off the shelves.

    3D TV, the 2 Player, 1 3D TV tech.demo on PS3 sounded amazing, you done anything with it Sony? think not.

    With PS4, i really do fear your going to launch with some kind of ‘Me Too’ device, either in box or, if looking to keep prices down, sold along side, ohh it’ll do everything Wii U and Xbox Next do, i’m sure, but would’nt it be fantastic if you offered something that gave the same exp.offered by your rivals, but REALLY pushed the potential, you know something you could ONLY get from Playstation 4 and it took gaming to entire new level.

    You had the stones to keep beliving in the Playstation when it was nothing more than a combined SNES+CD and you had the vision to see 3D was the future, when the likes of Sega, Nintendo+Atari were scoffing at your lack of experience in the industry, i’d love to see you return to those visonary days, looking past the ‘me too’ type devices.

    Your seriousily going to need something special to bring gamers old and new to your table Sony, rather than them sticking to the Xbox brand, with it’s superior online services and away from Android/iPad tablets for gaming.

    • things get patched because there being worked on to give the console life in its later years, the PS3 was full of great things when it launched. this year is Sonys they have the games, PS+ is taking of big time & it will be the number one selling console pretty soon. Sony were first remote play they had motion gaming first to they just don’t rush them out.

      • He has a point. They have great exclusives but the fact that they have sold a heck load of PS2s does not make up for the mistakes they’ve made this gen. Dwelling on the past gets us nowhere.

      • They may have had Remote Play first, they may have had motion stuff first, but as is often the case for Sony the implementation was half-assed and another company came along and hoovered all the sales up.

      • sorry but Sonys motion control is way better than what the wii had the remote play feature will be very good on PS4. a console that launched a year later was called doomed by everybody is about to over take the 360 is bad?

      • What cc_star meant is that while the Eye Toy came first, the Wii completely owned it when it came to motion gaming. Sure, the Movie is much more accurate but it’s just a small niche for Sony that hardly gets any serious support. We’re not saying the PS3 is bad. We’re saying Sony is far from perfect and if they keep giving us half assed stuff, they will get stung sooner or later. Remember how they showed off Killzone on a Vita via Remote Play? I bought a Vita thinking they were seriously working on getting Remote Play out of the door for a majority of games. Instead they left it up to the devs/publishers who obviously would rather release a second game on the Vita (half assed ports) than let you stream it from your PS3.
        I really hope the PS4 supports remote play with the Vita…

  5. There’s no point in having a second screen though if Devs won’t support it fully. And I doubt they’ll fully support it on multi-platform games if the Xbox doesn’t have something similar. We’ve all seen how much remote play has been used by Devs, they just can’t justify / be bothered to add it in.
    Plus you also need to factor in the cost of adding the screen in, it will drive up the prices of the console – something that will put off many people if they don’t think it will be worth it.

    • A very good point, fella. Cripplingly so.

  6. Sorry forlong post above, but too see Sony screw up so much in space of 2 console generations….head shake moment.

    IF they starve the PS4 of Ram, don’t bring the online side up to scratch and get some god damn honest to god exclusives secured….then lord have mercy, the market probably won’t.

    • 6 years ago it was a lot of ram your thinking in today terms of course the PS4 will have loads of ram your not thinking about it properly. you have lost me on exclusives secured they have loads of them & game studios to match. Sony have a loyal fanbase.

      • The PS3’s split Ram architecture (256 MB Ram+256 MB Video Ram) is more constrictive than that of say the 360’s, plus the PS3 O/S leaves a larger ‘footprint’, so PS3 HAS struggled in areas where 360 has fared better.

        As an owner of BOTH, i gave up on games like Fallout 3 on PS3 and bought 360 versions instead and you’ve only to look at PS3 Skyrim to see how such a Ram intensive game struggles on a more constrictive Ram system.

        Then there is cross-game voice chat, a feature Sony themselves admitted is impossible to ‘Retro-Fit’ via patch on PS3 as, again, due to the split Ram, there is’nt the Ram avaiable for it to be implemented, games get the priority of Ram allocation.

        The exclusives side, well, last gen, i moved from a PS2 to an Xbox and had to wait for likes of GTA3, Vice City+S.A to appear, never saw Project Zero 3 etc.

        This generation? who secured exclusive timed rights to DLC on things like Modern Warfare/C.O.D map packs or GTA 4 DLC? Microsoft.

        Where is Vita’s Monster Hunter gme? a franchise that did wonders for PSP in Japan?

        Demon’s Souls, fantastic PS3 exclusive, did Sony keep it as a PS3 exclusive? no, follow up came out on 360, with it being a PS3 exclusive only in Japan.

        Fantastic as they are, how have series like:Killzone, Uncharted, SOCOM, LBP/Infamous/Resistance compared to likes of GTA/COD? or what of things like Forbidden Siren/Warhawk/Starhawk or Valk.Chronicles, sold compared to say Halo, or Forza or Gears Of War?.

        I bought my PS3 PURELY for it’s exclusives and they have’nt dissaponted, but sad fact is, they are’nt the HUGE sellers, other franchises are and nor are they shifting the hardware units.

        So many folks i know bought a PS3 purely because of the Blu ray play back+free online play.Games wise? they’ll buy latest COD or Fifa or Tiger Woods, Need For Speed etc.IF i asked them about any of the PS3 exclusives mentioned above? utter blank looks.

        Some of that you can put down to Sony’s lack of promotion on it’s very best works.

      • for them to be exclusive they would only be on 360 even Mass effect is on

      • PS3 now. MS do timed on DLC packs pointless Sony make proper games that the Xbox will never see. the ram thing seems to be fine when people who no how to work the PS3 make games for it. the ram configuration was a bit strange I agree.

  7. What is the obsession with 2nd screens? Why go from big screen to little and back mid game? Talk about eyestrain. And power consumption. How about great games that look&play great….. My phone gives me small screen shenanigans. My PS3 gives me epic.

    • I’m with you on this one. There are benefits to it but not so much in single player campaigns. However, it’s not all about me so I have to allow for others to want something completely different to me. :-)

    • Because home consoles are a niche interest and to expand that niche into a multi-billion dollar industry & bring it out of kids bedroom and into living room it has to do more than just add a few more pixels & a nice smoke effect than the last console someone bought.

      • Gaming in the UK is anything but a niche as it eclipses both music sales and film sales.

      • Consoles aren’t a niche interest. A large percentage of UK households have them. I think the biggest problem is that the wider audience (beyong gamers) aren’t aware of the other functions/services they provide.

        My 59 yr old mother (she’d kill me if she ever read this) resented my dad having a ps3 under the tv cluttering up their living room; until I showed her how she can use it to watch the BBC iPlayer. Now it’s as accepted as the Sky box. In fact neither my mum or dad were even aware they could watch DVDs on a PS3! They thought it was blu-ray only.

        I think Sony already offer something for the ‘wider audience’ , I think they just need to educate people as to what they are.

  8. :-) if the Vita logic is anything to go by (hmmn, what’s better than 1 touch screen…why 2 touch screens of course), then i really do fear what they’ve deemed as ‘The Answer’ for PS4 controllers.

  9. considering the PS3 doesn’t even include a headset for voip I highly doubt Sony will include a second screen controller with the PS4. And if they do they’ll just increase the MSRP to a level where the PS4 isn’t comparable in price with the XBox. I actually prefer MS’s approach, even though tablets and phones are expensive they’re multi taskers and alot of people already own one. Sonys inability to create a viable web browser conveniences me that any second screen device they create will be used primarily for gaming so people will still need tablets and phones anyways. IMO the only ace Sony has are it’s first party games. And frankly their track record at implementing tech into their games makes me believe everything they develop is a gimmick until they can prove otherwise. I’ll buy a PS4, but I’m not going to invest in a PS4 second screen controller until there are many good games that implement the tech as well or better than Nintendo. At least with the XBox I get to try it out for no additional costs.

  10. I think the PlayStation brand, having largely left local multiplayer behind, is in a cracking position to ship a touchscreen controller with every console and not ruining the way we play games. In fact a more ergonomic Vita that also plays Vita games would be absolutely perfect as a second screen controller. Don’t forget to support the Dualshock3 though Mr Sony, some of us like throwing them around in a rage :)

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