PlayStation 4 Review: The path to greatness
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Sony's PlayStation 4 is an enthusiastic return to form disguised as a powerful, accessible game console. Equal parts forward-thinking and traditional, PS4 makes few missteps on a path to greatness.
- Marvelous physical design
- Connectivity and ease of use
- Most powerful console hardware to date
- Lack of customization
- Some features are missing essential components
- Underused light bar, touchpad
When considering the capabilities of PlayStation 4, I cannot help but wonder how I managed to live so long with the limitations of PS3. Don't think of this as a negative statement on PS3, but rather, consider it an accreditation of what Sony has created in its new tech.
Immediately after inserting a game, the PS4 automatically finds and downloads any new game update, and while that update is loading, the game can still be played. Online portions of the game are out of reach until the update installs and the game is restarted, however. While on the subject, background downloading is a breeze. Right after buying a download from the PlayStation Store, the transaction pop-up disappears and the download begins, with the installation to follow--the installation takes place in the background, as well. Unfortunately, the only way to make sure that the download has indeed started is to press the PlayStation Button and hop up to Notifications. True, there has been no point where a purchase that I've made hasn't automatically begun downloading, but having a little statement about the download's initiation would be a healthy addition.
Standby Mode is a halfway-off state in which the PS4 always wants to be. When going through the normal shutdown procedures, the first available option is always Standby Mode. After all my years with inferior PC operating systems, I've always been wary of anything akin to a reduced power state, but the PS4 handles it very well. Controllers can be charged, game updates download and install automatically, and these two features can be turned on or off in Power Save settings. However, the coolest part about Standby Mode is the ability to access the PS4 away from home. Games and extra content can be purchased on the mobile PlayStation Store and the request is instantly sent to your PS4, where the content's download and install begin automatically. To fully utilize all these features, leave the PS4 in Standby Mode, because buying a 25+ gigabyte game while commuting to work is much better than coming home after work and waiting for the download when you turn on your console.
In addition, your PlayStation Vita can access PS4 via Remote Play while in Standby Mode; Remote Play cannot take place if the PS4 is completely shut down, because the Remote Play function cannot turn on the PS4 to establish the connection. The performance of Remote Play is relative to the internet connection on both ends, but with perfect internet connectivity, Remote Play should work as well as it does when directly connecting the PS Vita to the PS4 at home: seamlessly. Having to press the rear touchpad in order to use the trigger and joystick buttons takes some acclimating, but a little practice makes perfect, much like how typing on a touchscreen phone doesn't require much visual input after a while.
The ability to suspend applications is intriguing. It works much like what the PSP Go introduced, and allows games or applications to be held in a paused state while the rest of the console is accessible--this even allows Netflix to run while a game is suspended. The big difference is that this works with minimal effort, other than pressing OK to suspend something when prompted; jumping back into the game merely requires navigating back to the game in the Dynamic Menu, or double-tapping the PS Button to jump between apps.
The Share feature, while still very, very intuitive, could still use some work. When compared to the actual game, video quality suffers somewhat. Considering that PS4 constantly records the last 15 minutes of gameplay at all times, having lower streaming quality might be a necessary concession. The Share button itself has a few different ways to use it, such as a single press, long press, and double press, and each of these press schemes are your tickets to screenshots, recording, and broadcasting. The latter connects directly to uStream or Twitch, and each attempt to broadcast prompts a window asking which service to use. Normally, there isn't a real need for multiple Twitch accounts, but having to switch between accounts from the same service is like changing internet connections on the PS3: the old information must be replaced manually. Again, this extra step to maintain two Twitch accounts, for example, is something that only a few crazy people, comme moi, have to deal with, so poor account management is only a small negative.
Face recognition, which requires the PlayStation Camera, is scrupulous. Make sure to login while looking the exact same every time. For instance, if you wore glasses while setting up the face recognition, continue to wear glasses, or the PS4 will not recognize you. I haven't tried haircuts or clean shaves, but be cautious when using face recognition: if you plan on having a complete hairstyle change, buying new glasses (or getting glasses), or shaving off a Santa beard, make sure to disable face recognition from the PS4 first, or at least register new facial data.
Voice Chat is convenient; not superb, but convenient. The wired mono headphone that comes with the PS4 hooks right into the controller, and the audio quality is initially grievous, but getting used to it takes no time at all. Still, the headphone itself becomes very uncomfortable after a few hours, and it constantly gets pulled out by pets, gravity, and frustration. Still, its pack-in presence (and the DualShock 4's headphone jack itself) is a useful standard for PS4 owners, and utilization is simple: go straight to the Party section in the Function area or press the PS Button when the invitation arrives. What makes Party Chat even better is that it works with the PS Vita, and quality remains the same. I'm concerned that maximum voice quality might be an average of the two tech's capabilities, but the brand-new ability to communicate between two entirely different gaming devices feels invigorating.
All told, the features of PS4 expand upon PS3's offerings in a meaningful way, with convenience and connectivity at the forefront. Having all this power at your fingertips is tantalizing, making going back to older hardware a very significant hurdle.
Ernest Lin - Response
Standby Mode is a definite plus when I think of PlayStation 4's fantastic new features. In addition, being able to access and command the console from a distance with Remote Play makes the whole experience feel like spy gadgetry. Background downloading and installation of games and updates has and will continue to save me hours of waiting. There's something to be said about Sony's mission to avoid getting between you and gaming. Still, Remote Play isn't flawless, and suffers from remapped controls and connection latency. For some games, like Need for Speed, I found Remote Play to be sufficient, while Call of Duty: Ghosts saw my kill-death ratio plummet.
The Share aspect adds a big weapon to the PS4's social media arsenal. Throw away any plans to buy an HD PVR because capturing video and screenshots from games is now easier than it has ever been. The dedicated Share button makes these functions quick and painless. Want to show your Facebook friends the slick drifting you did in Need for Speed? PS4's Share feature has your back.
A feature I will sincerely miss from my PlayStation 3, which is sadly absent from the PS4, is the ability to store and play local media like music and video files. The PS3 became an entertainment hub for me and many others. I enjoyed storing my movies on the PS3 hard drive or playing them off of a USB storage device rather than messing around with discs. I don't believe the omission of the feature will drive people to purchase Video Unlimited or Music Unlimited. Maybe once Sony sees that, they will add this functionality back in with future firmware updates.
Kyle Prahl - Response
Compared to the sleek user interface, which gets most of the way toward thoughtful, comprehensive design, there's almost no missing aspect of the PS4 feature set. Part of my feeling of total satisfaction probably comes from the console's newness and my own awe at the novelty of a socially connected, convergent experience, but there's definitely something to be said for the way Sony thought of everything we need, right now, at the end of 2013. Putting the Share button through its paces early on, I was impressed by video quality and ease of use--though the former is largely dependent on the individual streamers' internet connection. Likewise, sharing gameplay clips and screenshots to Facebook and Twitter is perfect for archiving those gaming moments of skill or visual splendor that were so fleeting and ephemeral until now. The way PS4 streamlines communication--between gamer friends, social network friends, and the spectating world--extends to Party Chat, voice messaging, the PlayStation App on mobile devices, and user interface elements like game tiles and 'What's New,' both of which tell you what friends are playing, what they're accomplishing, and how you can best them.
Remote Play is worthy of its own discussion, because Sony's much-touted second-screen functionality works (almost) exactly as advertised. Streaming PS4 gameplay to your small screen in the same room is generally lag-free; just about every game genre is enjoyable, whether via direct connection to the system or transference through an in-room router. Away from this core space, the experience starts to falter. It's difficult for me to hold a lag-free connection for more than a couple minutes one room over. I can't speak to Remote Play abroad, as I've yet to be in a situation where Wi-Fi protocols or speed aren't obstacles. But the most important aspect of Remote Play is that it works well in situations where another person needs the TV, or when multi-tasking between PS4 gameplay and movie or TV watching is called for. I'm surprised by how often these moments occur now that I have a device for them--I didn't know Remote Play was a feature I needed until it came along.