PS4 controller - what's new, what's different, what's the same?

  • Posted February 24th, 2013 at 23:06 EDT by Kyle Prahl

Sony's PlayStation Meeting and PlayStation 4 reveal was the most exciting event in recent gaming history, and not just for our first glimpse at Sony's next-generation software. Burning questions we had about the controller--now officially dubbed DualShock 4--were almost entirely answered as Sony announced the redesign, showed off new features, and released high-resolution photos.

We've had a few days to sit back and digest, and we're prepared to take a closer look at the PS4 controller. What at first seems like a marked departure becomes a natural evolution of DualShock design at second glance. Let's dig in:

The shape and feeling

Arguably the biggest topic in controller design is actually the field where Sony's DualShock 4 shakes things up the least. One glance at the comparison shot above tells me that Sony felt little need to change what works. I'm happy with that decision. If anything, DualShock 4 looks a smidge larger than PS3's pad, no doubt owing to the addition of a touchpad in the center. Furthermore, the hand grips on the DualShock 4 are more rounded than those of the DualShock 3. Chalk it up to ergonomics, or change for change's sake. Regardless, it looks extremely comfortable, and not only for the textured, rubber gripping material that also makes its debut.

The analog sticks

The positions of the left and right analog sticks haven't changed (which Sony fans will appreciate), but one obvious alteration stands out. The DualShock 4's analog sticks are, like the Xbox 360's sticks, concave (curved inward, not outward). However, unlike the Xbox 360's sticks, the DualShock 4's are not bowl-shaped. Instead, a small descent from the outer rim of each stick quickly hits a convex plateau not unlike the stick surfaces of the DualShock 3. Here's what that looks like up-close:

The implications of this update for longtime PlayStation gamers are twofold. Concave analog sticks are, in general, easier to keep your thumbs planted on and harder to lose control of. With the DualShock 3 (and with previous models), I can profess to an ever-so-slight sliding of my thumbs to one edge of the stick surface over time. With DualShock 4, this simply won't be the case. However, concave sticks are a double-edged sword. Because your thumbs can feel the "break" where the upper stick rim descends toward the center, you're not getting a smooth, uninterrupted surface like with convex sticks. It's hard to say how this will feel in practice; as described above, the DualShock 4's sticks are a hybrid between familiar curvature and foreign concavity. Still, I'm pleased that Sony is looking at subtle ways of improving what works without aping the competition.


The D-pad

The D-pad's size and relative location haven't changed, but any frequent PS Vita player can tell you that Sony most definitely drew inspiration from its powerful handheld for this component of the PS4 controller. Like the PS Vita's directional buttons, the DualShock 4's are somewhat bowl-shaped. This should help keep your thumb centered while moving between 8 directions. Unlike the PS Vita, the PS4's D-pad is not a singular unit, but I suspect (and hope) that the "clickiness" of PS Vita's D-pad--universally praised by critics--is retained.

The 'Share' and 'Options' buttons

Start and Select, how we will miss thee. These classic Sony buttons may have been vestiges of gaming's yesteryear, but it's hard to imagine how Sony will circumvent their absence all the same. Thankfully, their replacements are multi-functional wunderkinds that should bring a new dimension of gaming to PlayStation. 'Share' will do this through social integration; as Gaikai CEO David Perry detailed during last week's conference, uploading videos of your gameplay to Facebook or starting a live broadcast of your gaming session is only a button click away. Presumably, developers could overwrite the 'Share' button's function as needed - applications to content sharing with games like LittleBigPlanet come to mind.

Meanwhile, 'Options' remains a bit of a mystery. I envision a set of system settings that are only a click away - stuff like whether friends can spectate your game, muting party chat, a screensaver to hide your porn, and the like. More likely still, 'Options' will replace 'Start' as we know it for most ... (continued on next page) ----

Kyle Prahl is a PSU senior editor and a Communications student at the University of Minnesota. If you care about PlayStation or the life of a pale Midwesterner, you should follow him on Twitter.
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