Sony's PS4 future lies in the cloud

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David Perry, head of Sony's recent acquisition Gaikai, showed off the PlayStation 4's new cloud technology this week.

The new Sony PlayStation 4 is a beast of a gaming console, but its most amazing feature has nothing to do with with raw power.

That shows just how much Sony's priorities have changed over the past seven years since the PlayStation 3 was released.

Oh, sure, Sony (SNE) talked about its eight-core AMD (AMD) Jaguar CPU, PC-style graphics processor, and eight gigabytes of RAM during the new console's unveiling on Wednesday. The company had developers talk about how many more polygons they can now cram into character models. And Sony showed off eye candy in the form of new games like "Killzone: Shadow Fall" and "Infamous: Second Son."

Yes, Sony is still interested in hardcore gaming.

Sony's Playstation 4 in 90 seconds
Sony's Playstation 4 in 90 seconds

But what Sony really gushed about during its PS4 event had nothing to do with pixels. More than anything else, Sony's presenters were at their giddiest when they discussed streaming content and the cloud.

The PlayStation 4 features built-in support for users to stream select PS4 games to their handheld PS Vitas. That effectively gives the Vita more power than its diminutive form factor could house on its own.

Another fun feature for fans of retro games: The PS4 will also be able to stream legacy PlayStation titles from a remote server. No downloading and no legacy hardware required. That's a big deal for people who have an extensive library of PS3 games but don't want to keep around multiple video game consoles.

Related story: PlayStation 4: More than just a pixel powerhouse

Sony's ambitious vision is to make every single existing PlayStation game -- all the way back to the original PlayStation -- available via the cloud

To facilitate this, Sony acquired a company in 2012 called Gaikai, which specializes in deploying cloud infrastructure to support online gaming. Sony's announcement put Gaikai boss David Perry front and center during the big reveal to talk about the company's new plans.

Still think this is just a casual area of interest for Sony? It may be life or death.

Sony is very conscious of the fact that it has lost mind share and market share to smartphone and tablet makers. Games available on your iPhone and Android are very close to what's available on the PS Vita, and mobile gaming has been gradually nibbling away at console sales over the past couple years.

Yet what phones and tablets can't offer is a console-like experience with the top-of-the-line games that come out exclusively for the PlayStation, Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox or Nintendo Wii. It's a rare case when we can play the same game in multiple settings.

Related story: With PlayStation 4, Sony reboots its games business

That's what Sony is hoping to accomplish with its new cloud offering.

With games that can span more than a hundred hours of playing time, having them no longer tethered to a single device is a tantalizing idea. It may not be cutting edge in the traditional sense, but it very well might be the future of gaming.

Sony's not the only console maker thinking about this.

Nintendo gave the Wii U the ability to stream games to its controller. And Nvidia is building out its GRID cloud gaming solution, which will allow users to play the same game on a phone, tablet, computer, or television.

But Sony could really differentiate itself by going all-in with the cloud, leveraging online gaming to make the PlayStation something bigger than just a console. Simply making a self-contained gaming machine isn't enough anymore.

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