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PlayStation 4 Review: The Features

on 4 December 2013

In today's edition of our ongoing, five-part PlayStation 4 review, we examine the console's features. From streaming live gameplay to sending voice messages and accessing your PS4 from abroad, there's a lot on offer in Sony's new gaming console. As with our reviews of the hardware and the user interface, you'll be treated to the detailed opinion of one PSU editor (myself, Tim Nunes), before two others chime in with their response.

It's all leading up to our final review on Friday, December 6, in which all three editors will give a review score to PS4. PSU's final score will be determined as the average of these three. Stay tuned for everything PS4 on PSU.com, and sound off in the comments with your thoughts on the console!

The Features

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.