ds4_controller.jpgWhile new tablets and smartphones launch monthly, game consoles arrive once every six or so years. Does Sony's new PlayStation 4 still have a place in our more portable world?

Its midnight launch saw thousands of Americans heading home with a box full of raw processing power that will be sitting under millions of TVs this holiday season. But what does the future hold for Playstation 4 and rival Xbox One? 

Game Playing Grows Up

Sony had a successful launch of the PlayStation 4 today, with the new and improved game console flying off shelves. Its launch comes amid the recent flurry of new tablets and smartphones with their casual games, and with its long-time rival, Microsoft's new Xbox One arriving next week.

The PlayStation 4 features highly customized PC processing and graphical power from AMD so users can play the most intense, (artificially) intelligent and engrossing games ever. It can also tie in to many media services like Netflix and Hulu,  post screenshots of games-in-action to your social media pages and even send video highlight clips to Facebook and Twitch.tv. 

Update (11/16): Sony announced sales of more than a million units for the PS4's opening days. Sales were brisk, despite some problems with overloads on the PSN service, defective HDMI ports and firmware update troubles. Anyone remember when you simply plugged in and played? 

Europe gets the PS4 in a couple of weeks, but Sony's homeland of Japan misses out until early 2014.

Analysts at IHS predict there will be 2.4 million PS4 consoles sold this year compared to 2.2 million Xbox One units. That gap should widen over time, with Sony selling  49 million units by 2017 compared to 38 million for  XBox. Those numbers assume Sony will aggressively undercut Microsoft on price and also take it on in its homeland where Xbox support is strong. 

Those might be small numbers compared to the top smartphone models. But with games costing up to $60 each and subscription premium game services around $50 a year, users put greater investment into their consoles. A big part of that investment are  major games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, which generate billions in first day sales. That makes for a still-lucrative market despite the fact game console sales have been slipping since the PlayStation 2 highs of 155 million.

Compare, Contrast

The upcoming Xbox has a slightly weaker processor (also provided by AMD). That is likely to prove negligible in the long run but has provided plenty of fodder for fan-war arguments that make iOS versus Android debates look genteel. The Xbox also has a greater focus on its console as a media-hub, with a Windows 8 OS and interface as part of the system. Microsoft will also offer Skype, Internet Explorer and other common apps to integrate the Xbox experience with that of users' PCs.

Xbox One also offers HD throughput, which allows users to manage cable or satellite TV on one channel. There are also dedicated apps for sports like the NFL to add interactive services and social media features while users watch games live. Expect a great deal of activity from Microsoft in this area as it aims to dominate the living room. 

Knack is a family-friendly launch game for the PS4, kids do still use them too

There's also a different approach in design, with the sleek, angular approach of Sony making its device more of a style statement.  The Xbox One remains a large boxy slab of a console to lurk in your entertainment center. 

What will be different for both consoles this generation is the range of less-expensive games and free-to-play titles as they take cues from the mobile and PC gaming markets. While the initial cost may be expensive, Sony's PlayStation Plus subscription provides users with several effectively free games eac month, something that Xbox will follow with its Games for Gold offering.

Who Plays Games Today?

If you're still into core gaming, which console are you planning to pick, and what games are top of your shopping list? If you've moved on from this style of gaming, is there anything among the new consoles that could tempt you back, like the all-Microsoft environment around the house? Or being able to play games on a second-screen like Sony's PlayStation Vita portable while the family hog the big screen?

These refined new consoles certainly offer new ways to play, while maintaining their big-game, big-budget heritage. And it will be exciting to see how they evolve over the years to continue to compete with changes in computing and mobile technology.