It’s been a long seven years since the PlayStation 3 hit store shelves in 2006, but it seems to have flown by. If you’ve been with Sony since its release you have seen quite a few iterations in both hardware and firmware, and you have grown alongside your console as you both matured. When you compare PS3’s specifications to even a basic family PC today it is almost laughable, yet look at how much graphical power developers have been able to squeeze out of this system i.e., God of War Ascension and The Last of Us. If you take anything away from that fact you should be happy at the PlayStation 4’s bright future.
Ease of Setup
I got my PlayStation 4 on the day of the US launch, and included in the box is an HDMI cable, a power cord, mic and mono-headset combo, and a micro USB cable to charge the controller. It’s exciting to see that Sony is moving fully into the HD era by removing the analogue ports from the back. Just like last time, the PlayStation 4 has an internal power supply, so you’ve not got a bulky power brick taking up room. As a whole set up was very smooth, once all cables are attached the system setup takes you through all the needed steps to get you up and running quickly. I did have some issues with connecting to Wi-Fi after each reboot, but that has been corrected with the most recent patch.
When Sony announced what the PlayStation 4’s specifications would be I, along with many other tech nerds, got a little excited. One of the best moves they chose to make was to move away from their custom Cell architecture of the PS3 and instead use a common 8-core X86-64 CPU. Many developers had a hard time getting used to programming for Sony’s custom chip and this caused some third parties titles to be of lesser quality early on in the PS3 cycle. With the change to a more generic CPU set that is common in most PCs, developers won’t need to put special work into one console; they can code for PC and not worry about time consuming ports as much. The PS3 had a meager 512 mb of RAM that was split between the OS and the graphics. The PS4 comes with a whopping 8 gb of unified GDDR5. Not only is that leaps and bounds above the last gen, but it is also so much faster. By choosing the better RAM Sony took a gamble, but a gamble I believe will pay off in the long run. Sure the price goes up reducing their profits, but they have increased the life of their console and posed a graphical superiority over its competition. Now you may be a PC gamer or have elitist friends that will insist that the next-gen of consoles are already outdated compared to PC. Truth is they are correct, but don’t let that worry you! Remember how much juice they got out of last gen consoles? With 7 1/2 times the memory of the last gen, you can rest assured that developers will have plenty to work with. Besides, I don’t think console gamers ever chose consoles because of their superior graphics. We choose to play on consoles for a myriad of things, like the games, the friends and the ability to sit on a couch with your pals, playing a game and having a beer.
When it comes to the other components you have a Blu-ray drive, and of course everything else you would expect such as Bluetooth and USB ports. One of my favorite features that has transferred over from last gen is the ability to swap out the stock hard drive and replace it with a larger 2.5″ drive of your choosing. Sony has enabled massive freedom by not limiting people with proprietary hard drives. From the outside, the PlayStation 4 is one sleek box. Featuring a smooth jet black finish, the PS4 looks like an exotic machine. It almost looks like you could turn it on and use it in a remote controlled robot destruction derby if you gave it some wheels and a spinning saw blade on top. When you set up your PS4 in your entertainment system you can choose whether or not you lay it down or set it on its side. Either way it will function the same and look stylish.
Sony has made one thing clear time and time again: the PS4 is made for the Gamers. Not only has Sony learned from so many prior mistakes, but they have fixed arguably the worst issues plaguing the PS3; the Dual Shock 3 controller. Having myself, just come from the Xbox 360’s heavy, comfortable controller, trying to acclimate myself to Sony’s Dual Shock 3 was a pain. I found it uncomfortable to hold for long sessions, and the convex triggers boggled my mind. Anyway, as a proud PS3 owner, I put my qualms aside and lived with what I had. Now that the Dual Shock 4 has arrived, I cannot believe I put up with the old design for as long as I did. The new design has a slightly heavier feel that fits snug in your hands, even if you have large ones. The new concave trigger design is so much better, it actually feels like a trigger. The layout is largely the same since the joysticks are still together and not staggered, but the largest change is a clickable touchpad in the middle of the controller where the Start and Select buttons used to be. There is also a Mono speaker and a light bar on the front that the PlayStation Camera can use to locate players seating in the room. Of course the speaker and touch pad are largely left to developers to decide what to use them for, but the fact that they are there leaves a large potential for implementation. The controller also has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, so any headphones you want can plug right in to transmit game audio. All of these extra features don’t hurt the battery performance that much, we have found it common to get around 8 hours of use on a single charge of its built in rechargeable battery. As a whole, it is a world of difference over any controller Sony has made in its past.
Along with the next gen of hardware, you need a new interface system that allows users to quickly navigate and better utilize the new features that comes with the console. Sony’s new UI is a different layout from the XMB of PS3, and is more in tune with modern designs. Not only is it pretty but it is blazing fast. While playing a game all you have to do is hit a button to go back to the main screen, from there you can load up Netflix while your game remains suspended right where you left it. Hit the button again and send a message to your friend and then hop right back into your game. All of this is achieved very swiftly with almost no loading. Gone are the days of waiting for two minutes as the Store loads, games will download in the background as you watch a movie, and it all happens as quick as we expect in this instant age. If you have the PlayStation Camera you can even control your console via voice commands, but at this time it is limited. The camera is not just a novelty that you will use once and then ignore, but rather the integral part of the social console which is the PS4. While playing any game you can start streaming what you are playing to your friends via Twitch or Ustream. The camera serves as your microphone as well as catching your footage in the stream. You may have a large following of people who love watching your game play, or you may just want to show your friend how to beat a hard level, but regardless it is a wonderful feature that demands the camera. For a $60 price tag I recommend picking it up.
Like I touched on earlier, social connectivity is the craze now and probably will be for the foreseeable future. The PS4 is a social machine that perfectly caters to the way we live. The controller has a new Share button that allows you to instantly upload a screenshot to Twitter or Facebook. The PS4 constantly records the last 15 minutes of game play and with the push of a button you can upload the footage to friends to show them your accomplishments. There is also a “What’s New” section of the UI that shows you what your friends have been playing and what trophies they have earned, but it can be overwhelming at times with all of the updates just showing up on screen. As smooth as the UI is, it is lacking in organization. As it stands now there is no way to put your games in folders since your titles just scroll horizontally across the screen in the order of last played. Some simple things are also absent like the lack of ability to choose a custom background or theme, and no .mp3 support. These are simple things that Sony fans have grown accustomed to, and they are strangely absent.
Trophies work largely the same this time around but with one interesting improvement. Trophies are now rated by rarity. You can see how common or rare your trophies are based on percentage, so this adds a new level of competition for those trophy hunters out there. Another simple thing missing is the ability to sort trophies based on date earned. Now while it is easy to nitpick the absence of things that were present on the last gen of consoles, I am willing to giving Sony a break. Their main focus coming into this generation was about the games and making the hardware accessible for developers to create bigger, greater experiences, and I believe that focus limited their priorities on other things. Are these feature going to come in future firmware updates? I can say most likely they will, Sony has advertised several features that are yet to come, and they will be iterated as time goes on, just like they have been for the last seven years.
If you’re anything like me and my friends, your biggest request for PS3 was cross-game chat. Sony has finally delivered. Now you and 7 other friends can chat amongst yourselves across PS4 and Vita while in any game. Finally you can chat it up regardless of what you are playing like our Microsoft friends have done for years.
If you are not a PS Plus subscriber you are surely missing out. Not only did your saves automatically back up to the cloud but you would receive multiple free and discounted games every month. PS4 now requires PS Plus to play games online, but don’t worry, it will be the best $50 a year you spend. The free game library you get for your PS3, PS Vita and PS4 is well enough alone to justify the purchase, but you are also helping to strengthen Sony’s online features for future improvements.
Remote play has been talked about for years, even back on the PS3 and PSP, but now it is finally here in the way it was always intended, and is the ability to stream what is happening on your PS4 directly to your Vita via Wi-Fi. Latency has always been the largest issue to overcome in the past, but since both pieces of hardware were created with this in mind, it actually works now. Being able to play a PS4 game on your Vita while you partner or roommate watches TV is an amazing feature. Just to be clear you can’t stream a game and watch Netflix at the same time, but at least it frees up your TV screen for something else. I’ve tested remote play on both Assassin’s Creed IV and Battlefield 4 and was impressed with the results. The lag on Battlefield was slight, but given the nature of first person shooters, any latency at all can be an issue. It was still playable, just not as smooth as I would have hoped. Assassin’s Creed however was a perfect fit, virtually no detectible lag means great times are at your finger tips at any given time. With the promise of Gaikai implementation in the future, the chance for even smoother remote play is just ahead thanks to Sony’s purchase of the game streaming service. Vita is the perfect match with PS4 also allowing you to use it as a second screen for games that support it. The second screen feature is also available on phones and tablets thanks to the PlayStation app, which is also great for messaging friends, or buying games on the go and have them automatically download to your console.
If you are a gamer from any walk of life, the PlayStation 4 offers a truly next-gen experience that you can fully enjoy. With everything that is currently in place, there is no doubt that Sony will take the chance to build upon the strengths of this great new console. The lack of launch titles may throw some of you off, but with the promise of over 180 games in active development and all of Sony’s twelve first party studios working on PS4 games that we know almost nothing of, you can rest assured that new software will be rolling in as the months progress. The PlayStation 4 is the culmination of greatness that I have come to expect from Sony, and despite its flaws, it deserves to be purchased. The PlayStation 4 has a blazing fast UI that takes full advantage of the social age in which we live. It is a wide open platform for AAA studios and Indie developers alike, with powerful tech to ensure that its graphically ability will stay relevant for years to come. This console was made to evolve. Welcome to Greatness.