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PlayStation 4 Review: The Hardware

3 December 2013

PlayStation 4 is here, and like many of you, PlayStation Universe is diving into the new generation of PlayStation with reckless abandon. From sleepless nights to wild multiplayer sessions and Remote Play testing on the road, we've tested just about every aspect of the console and given three weeks of time for the network and user experience to develop. The result, we believe, will be the most comprehensive PlayStation 4 review, anywhere.

That's why we're splitting the PlayStation 4 review into five parts. All this week, we'll cover a different aspect of Sony's new gaming console. Today, we cover the hardware, but look forward to our reviews of the user interface, the features, and the experience before we compile our opinions into the final PlayStation 4 review on Friday, December 6. Each article will be written by a different PSU editor. I'm covering today's review, The Hardware. Ernest Lin will cover The User Interface and The Features on Tuesday and Wednesday. Executive editor Timothy Nunes will tell you about The Experience on Thursday. For commentary or debate, the other two editors will give a brief response to the author of each review.

Our complete PS4 review, coming Friday, will feature numerical scores out of 10 from each of the three editors--myself (Kyle Prahl), Ernest Lin, and Tim Nunes. These three numbers will be personal scores, reflecting the attitudes and opinions of the individual. These three scores will be averaged and, if necessary, rounded off to the nearest interval of 0.5. The result will be PSU's final review score for Sony's next-generation console.

Tonight, enjoy my review of the PlayStation 4 hardware.

The Console

What's striking about the PlayStation 4 design is how difficult it is to draw comparisons between Sony's angular box and any other electronics device on the market. Are there similar creations out there, somewhere? Probably, but in the moment, PS4 is occupying a space of visual uniqueness on retail shelves and in my entertainment center. The console, a three-dimensional parallelogram (or, parallelepiped) that measures about 11 inches wide, 12 inches long, and 2 inches tall when lying horizontally, looks cool, futuristic, and sensibly designed. When sitting next to a slim PS3 on the same shelf, it's impressive how close the PS4 size and form factor is to its predecessor, weight notwithstanding. The front (or, top) face is adorned with a silver, subtle PlayStation logo atop a glossy finish that covers one-third of the face. The other two-thirds are matte black. The contrast between these two materials might not please everyone--all matte would have been aesthetically safe, while all-gloss would turn the console into even more of a fingerprint magnet. But I like the duality because it also represents the console's construction, as the differently textured faces are separate pieces that can be removed for the replacement of a hard drive or deconstruction of the console.

You can choose to set your console vertically with a stand (sold separately), and I prefer showing off my PS4 in this fashion. Your box is safe, either way. Three rubber feet on the console's bottom face mean no danger of scratches when sliding PS4 around horizontally, and the vertical stand securely attaches via three hooks, with intake vents for cooling, to boot. Even when running games, I've found my PS4 to be a quiet, cool machine. It heats at a noticeably slower rate than my PS3 Slim, and only releases audible noise during start-up loading off a game disc or after a few hours of consecutive play.

Meanwhile, setting the disc loading slot and USB ports inside a thin recess that runs around PS4's perimeter smartly hides its obviousness as a game console. As box tech design becomes increasingly streamlined and minimal, Sony keeps with the trend and applies it to an electronics category not known for its subtlety. The disc drive and ports are still easy to access, but it might take bending down for closer inspection to insert games and cables smoothly. The inputs on the console's backside are inset in a similar way, recessed in a grill-like plastic outcropping. It's easy to access all of these inputs, from HDMI and Ethernet to optical, auxiliary, and A/C.

PlayStation Camera

Auxiliary is specifically designated for the PlayStation Camera, which is the most significant new peripheral for longtime PlayStation gamers. We've seen halfhearted attempts at a meaningful camera experience before, and the PlayStation Camera takes safe strides, not brave leaps, to revolutionizing the PlayStation user experience. In fact, the best reason to own a PS Camera--the reason I'm glad I do--is its Twitch functionality. Though features and customization are slim, you can insert video of yourself in the top-right corner of your gameplay broadcasts and use the camera's microphone in lieu of a headset for game chat and commentary. It's a great way to spur conversations with viewers, and the sound quality isn't bad, either--Twitch viewers reported that my voice sounded about the same (a bit tinny, but perfectly audible) whether I was using the camera's microphone or the wired mic that also comes packaged with PS4. There's no automatic movement or angling of the camera, either, so you'll have to get up and adjust it by hand if the zoomed image of your face isn't to your liking.

Otherwise, you and other users can register your faces with the PS Camera for somewhat-automatic user login (the camera will detect your face and ask you to hold the DualShock 4 in a certain position), but it's no faster than selecting the user profile with the DualShock D-pad. I can see the camera's voice navigation being useful down the road, when dozens upon dozens of game and app tiles fill the Dynamic Menu's horizontal stream, but right now, the commands are too limited and methodical to beat simply using the controller. Rather than saying "PlayStation, Start Killzone," it's a three-part sequence: "PlayStation." "Killzone." "Start," with two or three-second pauses between each command as the console deduces what you're saying.


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