Wednesday, November 20, 2013

PlayStation 4 Review - A New Beginning?

By guest writer:
Joe Nathan



A new beginning for gaming is here. Sony is the first to bring gamers a truly next generation experience, the PlayStation 4. Having spent time with the PS4, would I describe the experience as being lackluster, passable or beyond expectation?


The Console


Aesthetically the PS4  has a very modern design, encased in a matte finish. The exception being the small top left portion, which has a gloss finish. It's only slightly longer than the PS3 Slim model (2nd Generation), but less bulky overall. Slightly off center is the status light bar that tells you what mode the console is in. Whether booting up, in standby mode or just on, it's a pretty subtle light, that's not bothersome. An interesting choice in design are the power and eject buttons. They're extremely small and tactile, but very sensitive and more reminiscent of the original PS3's buttons. A very light touch is all that's needed.






Inclusive with the console are:


  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • A digital optical out for those who have a dedicated sound system
  • HDMI out port
  • LAN port 
  • PS4 camera port
  • Built-in Blu-ray player (currently 3D Blu-ray movies aren't playable, Sony will probably address this in a future update.)
  • 500GB hard drive (which can be replaced or upgraded fairly easily, but must be at least 160GB of space and has to be no larger than 9.5mm)

However there are two very important elephants in the room. First and very important is the console is NOT BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE (at least not yet...) This means PS3 games (including disc and downloads off the PSN store) will not be able to play on the PS4. Simply stated to play those titles one will need to keep your old console. Sony is currently looking into a solution, but there is no immediate remedy.  Secondly, the console only supports HDMI output. Therefore one MUST have available HDMI inputs on their TV or monitor. Component cables aren't compatible with the PS4.

This is the future. HDMI in, component out.
This console is very well designed, let's say an 8/10.




The Controller


The PlayStation DualShock 4 controller is very reminiscent of previous versions. It may take some time getting used too, but the changes are worth it.

The major difference between this controller and it's predecessor is it's much more comfortable to hold. Many felt the PS3 controller was too small. The PS4 remedies that situation in a great way. The thumbsticks lie right where their name implies, the thumbs. The concave design makes for a more natural fit for your thumbs. The D-Pad and face buttons don't feel cheap and the click is quite satisfying.

The Start and Select buttons have been replaced by Options and Share buttons. All functions and menus for games have been assigned to the Options button. It definitely simplifies things, but takes some getting used too. The Share button is used to take any footage, whether that be a screenshot or recorded video footage for the past 15 minutes, and share it. You can share with PS4 and social media friends. It works very well, though if you accidentally press the Share button and don't share the video, it will still be saved on the system's memory. You can delete it, but you would't know it was saved unless you checked yourself. The trigger buttons are also vastly superior. They have a slight lip at the end so your finger naturally slides into place and offers a better level of resistance. The two bumper buttons on top are also better.

The biggest addition is the clickable multi-touch pad. The pad supports 2 fingers at once and allows for different interaction based on the software. For most titles it simply acts as a menu navigator. The possibility for greater integration does exist.

The built-in speaker is primarily used for subsidiary information  or added sound effects. Primarily the color of the light bar indicates which controller is first or second player, etc.  Lastly, the game designer may choose to use it as an indicator of some sort. One thing to note is that the light cannot be completely turned off while the controller is in use. A bonus feature is the PS4 controller is compatible with PC/Mac and PS3.  Interactivity with the PS3 requires hard wiring. Caution: some controls may not work the way you expect, depending on the game.


Mostly everything about this redesign was well executed and thought out. The only real issue I found with the new setup is that I found myself accidentally clicking the touch pad a lot more than I wanted. Possibly, I'm used to the old design. The Share and Options buttons are so small you can pass over them without realizing it. That's a small caveat though.

As for the new DualShock 4, this is the best controller Sony has made thus far.



The Camera

The PlayStation 4 Camera
The Eye is now known as the PlayStation 4 Camera. Sony originally wanted to package this with the console. This is evident by examining Playroom, a free downloadable game. The game is more of a showcase of what the camera can do in tandem with the controller than anything else. The camera is actually quite impressive,  boasting two lenses adding depth perception, and picking up extra light. Even in very lowlight conditions with only the TV on for light, the camera was able to pick me up. I wouldn't recommend using it in such conditions as it is spotty, but knowing it's not a complete dud in the dark is a nice plus. Thanks to the camera's built-in microphone you can navigate the system using voice control. Facial recognition is available for anyone who is playing or wants to play. The camera is extremely particular. I experimented with different positions to sign-in using the facial recognition feature. Only when I returned to my original set-up position, was the feature activated.

The voice control either works or doesn't. Background noise may impact whether or not the camera hears you. It's a nice extra feature, but it showcases one issue with the PS4. You have to go back to the home menu every time to switch between apps.  For example, say you're on Netflix and now you want to play a game. You have to say, "PlayStation, go to home screen," then you can say "Playstation, play (title of choice)."  The camera is also app specific. For example the system didn't recognize Crackle or Hulu Plus. It primarily works with Sony apps and games. This may change in the future, but it feels like such a tease knowing that the system is capable, but can't do it at the moment.

Do you really need the camera? No. Is it worth picking up? Maybe. The decision depends on if you really want the full experience. Some features such as video commentary and voice navigation can only be done using the PS4 camera.


The Software



Please pay attention to the next sentence:

Anyone purchasing an original PS4's will want to UPGRADE the Operating System to it's NEWEST VERSION(1.51 as of this posting). Not upgrading WILL cause issues when playing games. What's surprising is that Sony does not immediately alert you that there is an update available for initial users. To get the update, proceed to downloads app and then you'll be prompted to update. After the initial update, an automatic update option is made available.

The user interface of the PS4 is very simple and feels like a fusion between Sony's previous XMB design from the PS3 and the Xbox 360's Windows 8 inspired UI. Most icons are displayed in squares along a horizontal line, making navigation fairly simple. It's pretty quick and responsive. A great new addition is that games and apps go into a suspended state when switching between the two and pickup right where you left off when you return. The system alerts as to whether or not it will suspend or close the game/app before you switch. Most of the time it will suspend, but certain times it will close the app, depending on the game or what you want to do.

Most available content apps like Netflix and Crackle are extremely dependable and simple to navigate. The apps consistently run smoothly and can output video at 1080p. The PlayStation Store however isn't as smooth. Just like the PS3, when navigating the store, it suffers from slow loading of content and stutters often. Downloads are reliable, but it can be frustrating to navigate.


Even the Live from PlayStation app has similar problems. The initial spectator page isn't bad, however when searching for a particular type of video or content loading can be slow. Even with high-speed internet  the videos can output a terrible feed Even gamers commentary doesn't quite sound all that great. The internet browser is pretty quick, but don't expect the best page loads. They truly are hit or miss. One website may go into the full version, another might be the mobile version (and the mobile version looks terrible on the PS4). The PS4 doesn't support Flash so don't expect certain websites to load properly. The number of apps the system offers are quite good, but more will be added within the coming months including YouTube and Twitch.

As for the titles, they should be taken on an individual basis. The reliability mostly falls on the developers hands. If there are issues it will mostly be for the developer to work out. Games also are suspended between one another. Also an important side note. Online play requires PS Plus, which currently costs $50 a year or $18 every 3 months.


Verdict

Overall the console is a great piece of hardware and shows itself to be very capable. Sony's design and approach is definitely tailored more toward the hardcore gamer. Multimedia features extend the value. The lack of backward compatibility and few extra features highlight the limitations of the console.

Is the PlayStation 4 a new beginning? Yes. Sony will address these limitations and the PS4 will prove to be a delight for gamers worldwide.

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