It has been seven long years since Sony has released a video game console, and while the PlayStation 3 has become a phenomenal success that has delivered some of the best games and media services to date, its successor has been long desired. On November 15 this year, Sony released their fourth home console to the market that seems to have beat its competitor in almost every aspect. We take a look at the device itself and the potential it holds for its five to eight year life cycle. Is this the next big evolution for the PlayStation brand, or have big promises fallen short?
The System Design
Let’s start with the design. There’s no doubt that Sony has created a rather sleek, futuristic looking parallelogram device. It’s incredibly impressive that they were able to fit such powerful hardware into such a small case and charge only $399 for it. As it’s turned on, a long light bar near the center of the console will light up white and will change orange when the system goes into standby mode. The front of the console is fairly bare as there is just a disc reader and two USB ports. On the back we have an AUX connection for the camera, one HDMI port, a surround sound optical connector, an Ethernet port and a two pronged power cable. Even though the HDCP HDMI settings are a big letdown, I will commend Sony for going HDMI-only as we need to push past analog connectors and begin to transition into a more digital age.
How the player sets up their PlayStation 4 is up to them as the system can either stand on its side or be laid down flat. Sony is selling a vertical stand for under twenty dollars, but the system stands up perfectly straight without it. The left side of the case seems to be a little off balance when laying horizontally, but only if you actually touch and play with it. Other than that, it’s a well-designed machine that will look good in any room. It might be very well the best looking launch video game console ever made and makes you wonder what iterations will be made in the next five years.
After many sessions, 27 seconds was the average boot time to get to the main menu, with games varying. For example, Call of Duty: Ghosts takes around 17 seconds to get to the first Activision logo after being installed but still running on a disc, whereas Resogun, a download only game, took roughly 10 seconds to do the same. It really is determined on where the data is being streamed from, the speed of the hard drive, and the game itself. Speaking of which, the PS4 runs on a 500GB 5400 RPM hard drive, a more than suitable amount of space and speed, especially considering upgrading it to a 7200 RPM device could see the risk of adding even more heat to the already fairly hot system. Players who want an extra edge on load times and the boot up will be happy to know that they have the option to install a third-party hard drive, which should come in handy later in the PS4’s life cycle. Anything that is a 2.5” standard laptop drive can be installed, whether a regular HDD, a hybrid SHDD or a high end SSD, but prices will vary.
Similar to the PlayStation 3, the PS4 runs games on Blu-ray discs, but at a much higher speed. You can specifically tell because before a game is installed on the hard drive, the drive will run incredibly loud, to a degree where it becomes worrisome. Thankfully, once data is loaded after an install, the system becomes whisper quiet and you can’t tell a disc is in the machine at all. That six times Blu-ray load speed no doubt comes into play, so hopefully you’re sitting a ways back so you can’t hear it the first couple of times.
While the PlayStation Vita is somewhat struggling to break out of its rut, Sony is trying to ensure that it’s a device everyone who owns a PS4 wants. By no means do you actually need one, but there is now an intriguing remote play option that will stream everything from the PlayStation 4 to the Vita. This is an incredible idea when functioning properly, but I personally found it far from lag free, whether close to the console or to the wireless modem. Connecting the handheld device to the console is an easy and pain-free process and when it works, it looks spectacular. Colors pop on the OLED screen and really makes you hope Sony invests more time in perfecting this feature. Some games have a difficult time transition the control scheme, such as Trine 2, and most hardcore players probably won’t use it, but games such as Knack feel like they’re built for it.
As for other specifications, the PlayStation 4 runs on an 8-core AMD Jaguar x86-64 processor with an AMD next-generation GPU capable 1.84 TFLOPS. The Random Access Memory (RAM) is made up of a staggering 8GB of GDDR5, which is sixteen times larger than the PS3. It is built with an IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi adapter along with Bluetooth 2.1 functionality. What this means is that Sony has crafted a seemingly powerful next-generation box capable of high quality content. Now it’s up to developers to take advantage of this technology and show us what we’ve been waiting for.
While the hardware is very impressive, the operating system is a bit of a letdown. By no means is it poorly implemented, in fact some of the multi-tasking components are well done, but it just feels barren. The OS doesn’t allow for much customization, so backgrounds and themes cannot be modified to your liking. The core library center is also unappealing, having one straight line of all your games and applications without any form of organization. Even the ability to separate apps and games would have been ridiculously helpful, but at the moment it’s just everything installed will show up in this long horizontal line. While it’s not necessarily a chore to move through at the moment, when more games and programs come out, it will become a nuisance. Unless of course you are deciding to purchase every game at launch, then things can get a bit hairy.
Sony does do a good job with associated items related to a game highlighted in your library as pressing down will show different forms of information such as add-ons and Facebook material. Unfortunately, like the rest of the operating system, it’s a bit lacking and should have far more data. Looking at older concept videos and artwork for the OS, they originally had more detailed information, ranging from trophy data and shared media you could access, but at the moment, it feels empty and way too simplistic.
I will give Sony credit though as the login-in process of one and multiple people has been drastically improved. The overall multi-tasking abilities are fairly understandable, as well, but something that needs to be done is properly transitioning to different forms of notifications. I know it’s more of an Xbox 360 feature, but there should be more done with the PS button as when someone sends you a message or even a trophy appears, it takes multiple buttons clicks to find it. Game invites somehow work with this, making getting into a game with a friend painless process, but it should be applied to everything. Locating data, such as saves, is a bit more of a hassle, especially when you want to see what’s in the cloud and what’s on your hard drive. It’s hidden away in the settings menu when it should be associated with the games library more than anything. Even have it in the drop down menu when selecting the game; that would make the most sense, wouldn’t it?
The ability to suspend play is lightly used in specific situations, namely uploading videos online, but unfortunately it’s not built out yet and still acts as the PS3 did where you need to quit out of a game in order to get into another menu. This is unfortunate and drags some of the multi-tasking down substantially. Another aspect that isn’t particularly clear is the installation and patching processes as they will do it in the background, but will still allow you to play the game beforehand. While this is a nice gesture to get us in the game, it’s when you start questioning whether or not the patch was installed that falls into question as sometimes it downloads and doesn’t update automatically.
Everything, whether it’s looking at items on the PlayStation store or syncing trophies, has bars of progression going at all time. I almost wish there weren’t so many as even sending messages will bring up a little bar. It’s good to know how much longer something is going to take to install or download, some things don’t need percentages attached to it. Finally, the best new feature is probably the ability to put the PS4 into standby mode, which is a low power state that will allow you to cut that 27-second boot up sequence in half and download games overnight. The system does hum a little bit, but less than it does when it’s fully turned on.