(CNNMONEY) — Sony is set to unveil the PlayStation 4 at a New York event at 6 p.m. ET, and rumors about the video game console are flying furiously. Redesigned controllers with touch sensors. Cloud gaming. Stereoscopic 3D gaming in full 1080p HD. 4KTV support. A new IPTV service. Deeper online gaming experiences. Better motion controls. Eye-tracking. It’s all expected to be in there.
But regardless of what actually pans out and what doesn’t, one thing about this upcoming generation of consoles has become clear: It’s not all about graphics anymore.
In the past, each new video game console represented a major leap in graphical performance. Graphics had been such a huge selling point, Nintendo even wrote that right into the name of its Nintendo 64 game console (“64” represented the console’s 64-bit graphics).
Today, the incremental improvements in graphics processing no longer resonate with the average gamer. Sure, games can now render a ludicrous number of on-screen elements at a rock-solid frame rate, but those are capabilities mostly appreciated by the hardcore audience. It’s not the same awe-inspiring experience that it was 20 years ago.
Nintendo has been downplaying the importance of graphics this since the mid-2000s, emphasizing innovative game play over the quality of the images. The company found great success along the way with the Wii and DS systems.
But when the latest crop of video game consoles came to the market in 2005 and 2006,Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) and Sony were content to ignore that line of thought and continue their battle royale to see who could render the most lifelike graphics.
The sales results were disappointing. Despite having the biggest and most advanced games, the Wii outsold both consoles for years.
Over the past few years, Sony and Microsoft began thinking more like Nintendo.
Midway through the lifespan of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the two companies pulled back from pushing pixels and began exploring other areas of gaming and home entertainment in earnest. Both launched motion gaming systems (Kinect and Move), built out their suite of non-gaming entertainment services (Xbox Live and PlayStaion Network). They also started courting independent developers.
For the latest crop of consoles, that trend is going to continue in a major way. These aren’t just gaming consoles anymore — they’re entertainment systems for the living room.
That’s not to say Sony won’t go all out with graphics — it will. Games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed will always have their place. By all accounts, the PlayStation 4 will be powerful, as purported developer units have been housing an 8-core AMD (AMD,Fortune 500) Bulldozer CPUs and GPUs worthy of PC gaming.
But graphics are not going to be the main feature which draws customers in.
What actually arrives on Wednesday night is still anyone’s guess. But you can expect the company to continue its push towards making the PlayStation less of a singular, recreational gadget, and something more essential — something that fits into the flow of everyone’s day-to-day lives.