What we think of the PlayStation 4

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Today, the PlayStation 4 is available in South Africa, just a few short weeks after the rest of the world. As you’ve all already seen reviews on the system, and know what you’re in for, we’ll give you our brief impressions of the system from our perspective.

What’s in the Box

First things first. the box that the thing comes in is surprisingly small. It’s thinner than you’d imagine any new high-tech gadgetry to come in. I checked the box, and thankfully it seems that the South African consignment of PS4 stock hails from Japan, bearing a welcome “Made in Japan” sticker instead of being the possibly sabotaged Foxconn-made ones from China.

PS4Contents

Inside the box, you’ll find the PS4 itself, a standard figure-8 power cord, an HDMI cable, a dual-shock controller, a cable to charge the controller and a somewhat awful little-in-ear headset. Yes, there’s no power-brick, because despite the PS4’s small stature, Sony’s managed to keep the thing inside the console.

The console itself has a sloped, sort of asymmetrical design that’s supposed to make plugging things in to the back and front of it easier, but I found it to do the exact opposite. Whatever, it’s still a sexy machine, and quite a bit smaller and neater than the PS3 slim. It’s got an almost hidden Blu-ray slot loader… a tiny little slit in the console. To the right of that sit two USB 3.0 ports, which actually allow you to charge your controller while the system is off. It’s about damned time.

PS4_01

There’s a pretty light at the top of the console that glows blue when the console is on, and blinks orange when you switch it off. It also turns white when the system is in stand-by.

At the rear of the console, you’ve got an HDMI port, Ethernet, an optical out for audio, and an auxiliary port that’s used to plug in the new PlayStation camera. It’s also got built-in wireless, which conforms to the 802.11b/g/n standard. Unfortunately, no 5GHz wireless support here. The controller uses Bluetooth 2.1 to make its connection to the console.

PS4_04

The Dualshock 4, as you’re probably aware is a huge improvement over the one that came with the PlayStation 3. It’s also better than I remember it being at trade shows and the like; it’s got a serious heft to it that makes it feel like something of value, instead of a cheap plastic toy. Like the Wii, it’s got a speaker embedded in the controller, which adds an extra bit of immersion in games like Killzone, where picking up an audio log plays it right on the controller.

The overall setup of the controller is familiar enough; twin, symmetrically aligned analogue sticks, a perfectly serviceable d-pad, the familiar face-buttons. The bumpers and triggers have seen a great improvement though, and don’t feel like slippery-little afterthoughts. New is a touchpad that functions much like the one on the Vita, though it’s also pressable as a button on its own. gone are start and select buttons, replaced on either side of the central touchpad by “share” and “options.” It’s also got a 3.5mm headset port on it that can be used for chat audio, as well as full game audio in stereo, very nearly negating all those expensive gaming headsets.

DUALSHOCK4_05

Setting up the PlayStation 4 is an absolute doddle, especially if you already have a PS3, you can just unplug the same cables from that ancient thing, and plug them in to the shiny new PS4. For the record, I had not a single issue plugging the HDMI cable in, and didn’t need to fiddle with bent pins or anything of the sort.

How it works

Once it’s all plugged in and booted up, the PS4 will ask to connect to internet, set language settings and do all the sorts of things you’d expect. There was a patch, version 1,52 that started downloading weighing in at just 323Mb, it really downloaded in no time, but the clincher here is that you can still use the system offline in the interim, a far cry from the waiting that was so prevalent with the PlayStation 3. Log in with your existing PSN account, or create a new one, and you’re good to go.

The settings seem to be pretty robust. You can set screen size (for better 3D content viewing), as well as set the viewable screen are for those of you have TV’s that suffer from overscan. If you’re an audio-oriented person, you can also set the audio to output in straight up PCM, or bitstreamed Dolby or DTS. Better yet, you can change these on the fly to see what sounds better for you.

Screen

The new PlayStation Dynamic Menu replaces the XMB, and it’s a slick, simplified and personalised,  experience, with large tiles that show your installed games, apps and everything else. There’s a What’s New section that keeps you abreast of new gaming promotions, as well as whatever your friends are up to, whether they’re tweeting pictures of their gameplay, or streaming their sessions to Twitch or Ustream. A new section called PlayStation Live lets you see what people are publicly broadcasting. It’s such a slick, fluid UI – and it’s fast too. Once you’re in a game, a tap of the PS button instantly brings you back to the main dashboard, where you can go about changing settings, or using the web browser without having to quit your game. It’s a revelation.

The PlayStation Store, finally, seems to be integrated right in to the PS4’s UI, making purchases a cinch, though I must warn you that PS4 games on the local store are pretty damned expensive. Just about everything costs about R799. One thing that must be noted is that if you own a copy of a select few current gen games, you can pay to upgrade them to their next gen counterparts. I, however, just couldn’t get this working; it wouldn’t pick up that I owned the game to get the applicable discount. I even tried putting the PS3 copy of the game in (Need for Speed: Rivals, in this case) and nothing. Perhaps launch time issues, perhaps I’m an idiot. Also, for those with local accounts, the only app available to download is the IGN app, but a quick change to my US account means that the PS4 now has the important things installed , like Netflix and Hulu. You won’t need a PlayStation Plus subscription to download and use these services, though you will need one to play multiplayer games.

As for all that talk of the PS4 really just being a PC? It certainly feels like console to me. Put in a game disc, and it automatically starts installing. It took about a minute and a half between me inserting Assassin’s Creed 4, and the game being playable. It also automatically started downloading the latest patch for the game, but I could jump in to the game and play the single player and go about my business. Once the patch was done downloading, it asked me if I wanted to install the patch, and that was it. Easy peasy. No fussing, no sitting watching download and install bars crawling along. Just gaming.

I haven’t been able to test that whole “play games while they’re downloading thing,” though. I downloaded Resogun, but it would only let me play once the entire game was downloaded.

Sharing

share

The PlayStation 4’s central ethos is really how easy it is to share things. Even when you’re setting the console up, it asks if you want to connect your Facebook account. Later on you can use the share button to share screenshots and pictures and videos through to Twitter and Facebook, or just stream gameplay directly through to Twitch and UStream.  You do need to login in to your already existing accounts for those services though, or just create new ones right from your PS4. It comes with a rudimentary editor – really just a video trimmer – that you can use to excise bits of your videos that you don’t want seen.

My own experiences with Twitch streaming haven’t been great though. With My 10mb line, it seems the 1mb upload speed just isn’t good enough to beam game footage to the internet, and what I did try streaming ended up looking like a badly done stop-motion video. There’s no way to get those videos or pictures on to YouTube, or flickr, or anything else really.

Here’s a screenshot I shared to Twitter yesterday, straight from the PS4.

Remote Play

Remote

One of the system’s biggest features is how PlayStation Vita remote Play is built right in. I’ve tested it quite a bit, and results are… inconsistent. You can set the Vita to connect either directly, or through your router. Using it with a direct connection – which requires you be in the immediate vicinity of the PS4 – works surprisingly well. There’s a very slight, nigh imperceptible delay in most games. Knack and LEGO: Marvel were fantastic, as was Call of Duty: Ghosts. Killzone had a bigger delay, and Resogun is almost unplayable – but is a fast-paced, twitch shooter. Picture quality is actually pretty good, a sight better than I expected.

Through the router though, it started falling apart. Call of Duty gave me a full second lag, making it unplayable. Knack gave me some visual artefacts and also produced an unplayable delay. It could be my setup, and your own result may vary. Overall though, I’m actually quite impressed by how well it works – and I’m sure with the right tweaking it could be better. It’s still nowhere near as fast and fluid as the Wii U’s second-screen setup though. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be on an external network, or through 3G.

And the games?

KZ

Well, it’s really all about the games, isn’t it? Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to play too much. I’ve been enjoying Knack far more than critics tell me I should; it’s a good old-school platformer that’s hardly a showcase for the power of the PS4, but it’s beautiful in its own way. Killzone: Shadow Fall is just remarkably gorgeous – and the game to own if you want to show the system off. Assassin’s Creed IV on the PS4 is a delight, especially if you’ve seen it on current gen systems. Resogun, one of the free PlayStation Plus games looks superb in all its voxel glory, though I’m still trying to figure out just how to play it.

We’ll have proper reviews on everything soon enough, but it all looks very much like what you’d expect to get from a high (but not top!) end PC.

Conclusion

To conclude this… not especially brief impression, I have to say I’m really impressed with the system. Everything works, and it does so fluidly and slickly. Yes, there could be a better selection of games, but I’m happy with what I have to play right now, which will keep me more than busy until more games come out.

Right now though – and I don’t want to sound like some sort of hype-train marketing shill – I’m really impressed by the PlayStation 4. It feels very much like the spiritual successor to the PlayStation 2, in exactly the same way that the PS3 wasn’t. There’s none of that arrogance, none of that bravado. Just a console, that was made to play games.

Last Updated: December 13, 2013

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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