It’s been 7 years since the Playstation 3 stormed into living rooms across the world. The hotly anticipated PS3 came with a lot of baggage, including a high price tag, a funky system architecture, and a woeful launch lineup. The Playstation 4 is a different beast. It is the cheaper of the next gen consoles, uses a well known x86 architecture that is more powerful than it’s competition, and it has a decent launch lineup. The Playstation 4 represents new Sony; a Sony that has an ear tuned to its audience and a seemingly insatiable desire to appease them.
So has greatness finally arrived? Well not quite, but the seeds for greatness have certainly been planted. The PlayStation 4 is a stupidly impressive feat of design and engineering. Sony has managed to pack an incredibly powerful chipset into a box slightly smaller than the PS3 Slim and the power supply is inside the box. Putting it side by side next to Microsoft’s Xbox One really highlights just how capable Sony is when they focus their efforts.
I’ve heard that some people thought the PS3 was noisy. I certainly don’t agree with those sentiments. Sure I’ve had the fans spin up pretty nice—Last of Us really sent it into a frenzy—but nothing that approached 360-style levels of militarized jet engine decibels. The PS4 is just about whisper quiet ALL THE TIME. The noisiest it ever gets is when it’s installing games to the hard drive, a mandatory function, but even then it’s impossible to hear the unit over game audio. It keeps cool as well, my Macbook Air gets hotter.
I can’t talk about hardware without mentioning the single biggest improvement Sony made with the PlayStation 4, the controller. The DualShock 4 is the greatest controller Sony has ever made and might be the greatest controller ever made. The controller feels like it was molded for the human hand in a way that others just haven’t. The texture on the back side allows for a snug grip on the unit, the handles rest deeply in the palms of your hand. You simply never grow tired of using this thing. It is the perfect weight to me. Not too heavy (rechargeable 360 controller) and not too light (SIXAXIS). The triggers are actual triggers, convex with nice dampening. They’re extremely responsive, but they do not rumble individually like the One’s controller. Sony makes up for that with the addition of the Touchpad and the Lightbar.
I wasn’t sold on either of these two things before launch. I’m still not completely sold on the Touchpad, but the Lightbar is dope. A multicolored LED rests inside the PS4 controller and is used to detect user profiles and even provide MOVE functionality when paired with a PlayStation camera. In Killzone Shadowfall the lightbar is used to convey your health status; green signals perfect health, yellow-orange is medium to low health, and red…your time is about up. It’s a nifty little addition and it helps gives the controller a little more personality. The touchpad could be great, but it isn’t being utilized enough. It’s as responsive as any touchscreen I’ve used, but Killzone Shadowfall is the only title that uses it in a meaningful way— the touchpad allows you to program the OWL, your portable attack drone. Sony doesn’t even let you navigate the UI or web browser with the thing. The tech works, but no one at Sony seems to be aware that it does. I expect that to change soon.
But enough hardware talk this is a software world we live in and that’s the area the PS4 has improved the most, but hasn’t improved enough. First thing’s first, the PS4′s UI is blazingly fast. In comparison to last generation, it’s night and day. You can pop in and out of games with ease. Switch between playing a game and browsing the web with a double tap of the PS button. In a weird way this is kind of expected in this smartphone-dominated world we live in, but it’s still impressive to see nonetheless. There’s a three level structure to the UI. All your utilities, notifications, social features, and settings live on the upper level. The middle level is for content, games and apps. The bottom level is where the What’s New tab lives and deeper descriptions of your apps and games though the latter is only accessible when hovering over one of the specified titles level 2.) It’s not a terrible set up, Sony just hasn’t made it very flexible.
Sony decided to go with this almost Kindle Fire style carousel setup for the library…bad idea. I’ve got 8 games and I already feel like I’m digging to find the titles I want. There simply needs to be better separation of games and other apps and content. You need to be able to organize your library and sticky certain titles to the front of the line. It may even be a good idea to do a grid or allow for user created categories. When Sony really starts adding apps this is going to be essential
Speaking of apps, it’s understood that Microsoft’s check book is larger than Sony’s, but Sony has got to step it up when it comes to apps. Sony has openly admitted that much of their attention when building the PS4 went into the gaming aspects of the device—hell the thing can’t even play CDs— but still, no HBO GO? I mean where’s the YouTube app? Certainly Microsoft hasn’t paid for exclusivity with that one. I’m not asking for the machine to be the All-in-One Microsoft is pushing the Xbox One to be, and boy does it seem good at that, but they’ve got to do a little more than they are now. Twitch streaming is good, but why is there also not a dedicated Twitch app? Where is all that PlayStation exclusive content Sony Pictures was on stage talking about? UNIFY SONY UNIFY!
Another request which may seem like a stretch is the allowance of other services that directly compete with Sony’s. Sony I’m never going to use Music Unlimited…ever. You may as well please me and the other millions by allowing us to use Google Play Music or Spotify. Where are those apps? While I’m at it can we get Chrome or Firefox on here too? For the 3rd time in a row (PS3, PS VITA, and now PS4) Sony has launched a unit with a tremendously underwhelming browser. Slow, no flash, not really TV optimized, and no trackpad support. For a system with all this horsepower under the hood, the last demanding app shouldn’t be this cumbersome.
Onto software that works well…Remote Play is the real deal, but it is very much a “Your Mileage May Vary” situation. If you don’t have a speedy connection this WILL NOT WORK. It does not help that Sony has chosen to not pack 5Ghz WiFi and 802.11 AC support in the PS4. Ethernet is really the only worthy game in town. But if you are set up for remote play, its a beauty. Sony has delivered on the promise of PS4 just about anywhere. There is no discernible artifacts in the image(though there is visible color descrepncies due to the Vita’s super saturated and green tinged OLED display). Some games run at lower frame rates on the Vita (Resogun) and some games are too time sensitive for the input lag (Battlefield 4), but overall the feature is a winner. The PS4 and Vita combo is like a next gen Wii U on steroids.
So what about those games. I’m not a game reviewer, not really into that stuff but here is general 2 cents. It’s early. Few games really shout next gen, Killzone and Battlefield 4 are two of them, but they have a host of other issues (Battlefield essentially doesn’t even work as of this posting). Resogun is next gen Geometry Wars and incredible, but most of the games are ports of current gen games. Some fair better than others. Need for Speed has a nice bump, Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag & COD:Ghosts don’t. You’re buying these consoles this early because you’re impatient and excited for the future and boy is that future bright.