Both new consoles are out in the wild and we’re now starting to get the good and bad reports about them. Those who were lucky to pick one off the shelf of their local store or pre-ordered early enough are enjoying the benefits of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but are these benefits the things we were told we’d get at the reveal events? I’ve looked back through the reveal information for both consoles, particularly the features that were boasted about being new and revolutionary, and examined if they’ve been delivered in part or not at all.
Starting with the PS4, Mark Cerny said in February that the machine is “simple, immediate, social, integrated and personalised”. From what we know it’s fairly simple to use, but how does it deliver on the other core philosophies?
Seamless gameplay uploading – you can stream via Twitch and Ustream, record gameplay as it happens thanks to the video buffering system, and upload to Facebook, and you can share still images with Twitter and Facebook too. But what about the main source of online video content, YouTube? It’s a little odd at this stage that you can’t upload your gameplay footage to the place that’s likely to be everyone’s first port of call, especially when games like Grid 2 and Just Cause 2 already let you do this from the PS3. Not everyone will want to create a Facebook account to share video (well, I don’t anyway) so there should be another option provided.
Game spectating & takeover – this was a feature I know Andy was really looking forward to, the ability to outsource the bits of games that give him controller rage, and it’s a brilliant idea for connecting with your friends who can’t be on the sofa with you. Is it there at launch? No. And that means I won’t be supplementing my salary by getting past the bits that drive Andy mad.
“Get to know you” & personalisation – so far it looks like there’s no personalisation at all in terms of the console, at least the PS3 shipped with a couple of static themes to choose from. And for getting to know you, it keeps the most recently accessed things in an easy to find place, but it’s not really learning who you are or how you behave. Maybe we’ve not spent enough time with it yet, but things have been pretty quiet on this front since the February press conference.
Suspend/Resume – my most wanted feature, the ability to suspend what you’re playing and pick up later by just bringing the PS4 out of standby. Think of those days when you keep getting interrupted and only have half an hour here and there. Being able to jump straight in where you left off without booting and loading is a wicked time saver (think of the 5 minutes needed to get to the online portion of GTA V each time you boot up). This is excellent on the Vita, why isn’t it here on the latest tech right from the off?
Gaikai Streaming – a key selling point, Gaikai streaming of the whole PlayStation back catalogue. The PS4 is not backwards compatible, so being able to access all your old games on a new console via an online service would be a significant competitive advantage. It’s currently to be advised.
On the Xbox One side, to paraphrase Greg Williams in May – “Built in an intelligent way for broad entertainment play”, which highlighted the focus on the whole multimedia experience and not just games. Have they delivered on all these things?
3D Stereoscopy – 4K is there, the Xbox supports images and videos, even if there’s nothing to show on it yet. But the more prevalent 3D format is strangely absent. With the increase in 3D blu-rays and some support from the developer community, it’s weird that this feature isn’t on the machine from the off.
Cloud computing – a much touted feature that offers the potential for off loading game processes to an external source. What’s it being used for? Ghost data for Forza 5. I’m oversimplifying that a bit, there’s a lot it’s doing with the Drivatar information, but none of the discussed “performance/power” improvements are coming from it. We’ll see what happens with Titanfall, though there are some concerns about the fact cloud server updates can reboot your console without warning, not great for an online only game.
Kinect – it’s there, it’s in the box, and the voice recognition is phenomenal. But where are the games? Only one for launch, and that was delayed. Shame, we don’t know how well it measures up to the hype of its fidelity.
Reposition split screen based on player location – we know Kinect can recognise faces and voices, but does it actually track player location and adjust the display based on where you’re sitting (i.e., swap left and right in splitscreen)? Tough to say on this, it’s a great couch co-op/pass-the-pad group gaming feature, especially with something like Killer Instinct available at launch, but I cannot find a single report about it. Please, correct me if this is in there because it’s something I’d have loved to have during my student days.
Navigate and watch live TV – if you’re in the US? Yes. If you’re outside the US? No. Well sort of. There’s been news hitting over the last couple of days that in the UK you can hook up your Satellite Box or Digital TV box to run the signal through the Xbox One but it stutters like Tugg Speedman going full retard because the UK set top boxes output at 50Hz, whilst the Xbox processes the passthrough at 60Hz. Nice. There is apparently a workaround where you have to drop the resolution to 720i, which kind of defeats the purpose of the passthrough if you’re used to 1080i through a direct connection to the TV. The electronic program guide features are not available outside the US yet either.
Snap mode – allowing you to mix gameplay with other apps seamlessly, this also has potential to be a system defining addition. Imagine receiving a Skype call whilst you’re playing and keeping the caller on screen whilst you continue the game, handy eh? Unfortunately it looks like this isn’t fully realised yet and the game pauses whilst you take the call, then resumes once done. It’s still handy having the feature there, evolving the cross-game chat and potentially giving the Xbox One the edge in communications, but I’d be very frustrated with that kind of interruption, and if you’re playing an online game it could mean the difference between winning and losing. As far as is reported, this behaviour is for all the snap apps too, not just Skype.
Game DVR – I need to be clear with this one, it looks like Microsoft has put a decent feature in here because your upload to the SkyDrive can be shared with any friend/social network/video editing tools, a great move. But, some users are finding that they’re Live accounts are being banned because of the content of the videos (mainly excessive bad language reasons). Wonderful idea, badly put in practice if all your gameplay is restricted by the MS terms and conditions, especially if the language is NSFW in the actual game itself.
Suspend/Resume – like the PS4 but slightly further ahead in development, it’s in beta on the Xbox One, it sometimes works, sometime crashes and corrupts. Really not good news for what was one of the things gamers wanted from both the consoles.
You’ll notice from both machines I’ve steered clear of the 720p vs 1080p debate, we’ve covered that already and I think everyone knows now that the latest technology is going to take a while to deliver that kind of performance. What all the features I’ve listed have in common is that they were the system selling points when the respective companies held their press conferences, but at launch they aren’t fully working, or even present at all. It’s not stopping my enthusiasm but it’s definitely a bit of a downer, especially when you consider that the last two console releases (Wii U and PS Vita) were only missing minor features at launch, rather than a big chunk of what they’ve been promoted to have. And whilst Microsoft and Sony have reported they will add these features in the future, there are no clear timeframes for the developments. They will come, lets hope we’re not waiting too long.