Hands on: PS4 review
UPDATE: We have our hands on the PlayStation 4 and are putting it through its paces now to bring you our full in-depth PS4 review very soon. In the mean time, you can read our updated first impressions from our initial hands-on at the PS4 launch below as we use the console...
Sony has finally revealed the PlayStation 4. Microsoft has confirmed the Xbox One. The battle for next-generation console supremacy is upon is, just in time for Christmas.
Sony drew first blood, with the PS4 coming in £80 cheaper than the Xbox One, seemingly cementing its pole position due to a series of strange decisions by Microsoft around DRM and privacy settings on the Xbox One, which were later reversed.
The PS4 release date is set for November 29th in the UK, some two weeks after the console goes on sale in the US. The Xbox One meanwhile was released on the 22nd of November.
More so than ever, the PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One battle looks set to be over far more than games – with a place in your living room, potentially as the heart of your home entertainment experience, the ultimate prize.
The PS3, lest we forget, was a capable Blu-ray player when it first launched, and a sensible bet for people wanting a device with Blu-ray playback and the added bonus of a games console, streaming device and more.
That said, this time around it seems it's Microsoft that's eager to put the emphasis on its new Xbox One console being an all-round entertainment device, whereas Sony wants to position its PS4 as a purer gaming machine. Even so, there's a huge amount of multimedia potential on the PlayStation 4... albeit with some notable holes.
So how does the PS4 shape-up? Take a look at our updated first impressions both with the console at launch and now we have it in our test rooms, ahead of our full PlayStation 4 review..
First things first, what's in the box? You get the PS4, one DualShock 4 wireless controller, a mono headset, HDMI cable, USB cable and a trusty power cable.
Unlike the Xbox One, the power pack is integrated inside the PS4, so there's no need to worry about finding a home for a hefty power supply.
The PS4 comes with 500GB storage, though you do have the option to upgrade this by replacing the internal hard disk, if you want to get your hands dirty.
Unlike the Xbox One, which comes with a new version of the Kinect sensor, you won't get the new PlayStation Camera (which isn't as integral to the PS4 experience) bundled with the Xbox One. The Playstation Camera will set you back around £45.
The camera is set to measure around 27 x 186 x 27mm (HWD) and weighs 183g, far smaller than the Kinect and easy to slot in front of your TV.
The PlayStation camera comes with two cameras, said to offer an improved field of vision, and four microphones for hearing your voice. More on that later.
The cable (it connects to the back of the PS4) seems quite rigid at first meaning you have to be a little imaginative to get it in place and facing the right way. You can tilt the camera to help you get the angle right.
Inside the PS4 there's an eight-core X86 AMD Jaguar CPU/GPU, 8GB of GDDR5 memory, two USB 3.0 inputs and digital optical and HDMI out, so no analogue outputs.
There's a slot-loading DVD/Blu-ray drive onboard as well but it will not support CD or 3D Blu-ray playack at launch, just games, DVDs and Blu-ray discs (and we've checked). A firmware update is already being promised to play other discs and potentially bring Bluetooth audio or even DLNA, which is also missing.
Build and design
The PS4 design is a far cry from the curved PlayStation 3, in fact looking closer to the PS2: angular and slim.
The PS4 design does at least look like it has been given some thought, which is more than can be said for the Xbox One, which was met with all sorts of online ridicule for its retro, VCR-esque, black-box design.
Get hands on with the console and we're happy to report it's lighter, slimmer and smarter in the flesh than it may have appeared in the pictures. Minimal and understated, yes, but suitably futuristic thanks to a few well-placed lines and lights.
On the PlayStation 4 you essentially have two slabs – one with a gloss finish, one with a matt finish – kept apart by a blue strip of light. This gap houses two USB inputs and a slim optical disc DVD/BD slot-loader on the front, and there are vents along the back and sides.
Elsewhere on the back you'll find connections in the form of an HDMI output, digital optical digital audio, gigabit ethernet and a auxiliary port reserved for the PlayStation Camera.
The pedestal stand in the picture is an optional extra, and given the PS4 is fairly slim we're not sure we'd risk vertical placement without it. The Xbox One, on the other hand, cannot stand up with the disc-drive not designed for vertical orientation. If you do stand it up, you do so at your own risk…
The DualShock 4 charging stand is an optional extra, too. You get one of the new DualShock 4 controllers supplied with the PS4 and this charges via mini USB, much like the existing DualShock 3 control.
DualShock 4 controller
While Microsoft makes a big play of the bundled Kinect system, which goes some way to explaining the price difference, your first port of call for controlling the PS4 will be the new DualShock 4. And the good news for those of you familiar with the PS3's controller,it's a big improvement – despite the similar appearance.
It feels more comfortable. The grips are a little bigger and seem more ergonomic, fitting nicely in our hands. The triggers seem more accurate and can do more, with a greater range of control.
At the top of the controller is a new touch pad. At launch this doesn't seem to offer too much. Sony has built 'The Playroom' part of the Sony interface, which allows you to play some basic games that deliberately show off both the PlayStation Camera and the controller's touch control.
This won't entertain anyone for too long so we wil have to see how Sony and game developers use this part of the controller as new PS4 games are launched.
The left analogue stick feels less comfortable but the grippy, concave thumb pads on the top of analogue sticks work nicely and make it easy to maintain control of your player/car/horse.
Elsewhere there's also a light panel on the top edge of the pad. This changes colour to identify different characters and is also used by the new PlayStation Camera to track player movement.
Also on the new PS4 controller is a standard headphone jack. The boxed mono headset takes the form of a single earbud, so don't get too excited by that, but the good news is you can now connect any pair of headphones to hear PS4 audio, immediately overriding the PS4's soundtrack.
PlayStation 4: set-up
The good news is that getting up and running is pretty painless, should you just want to start playing a game. However, the more you want to do, the more hoops you will have to jump through to get started. That said, it's only initial set-up features so once done, you're sorted for the rest of the PS4 experience.
Connect via HDMI and Ethernet (it's WiFi, too) at the back of the PS4 - the connections are tucked away due to the angular nature of the design - and you will then be prompted to connect your DualShock controller and Camera if you have one.
Instructions are easy, the interface slick, guiding you through the usual selections, many of which you'll get on the average smart TV or Blu-ray player.
The PlayStation v1.51 software update was available for our console so you're forced to install before progressing. Thankfully this was only a 5-minute job.
You will then be asked to link an existing PlayStation Network (PSN) account or create a new one.
You can link your ID to your Facebook page, allowing you to share screenshots and videos, plus use your profile picture and real name across the PSN. And of course annoy your friends with updates every time you play a game, watch a video etc. on your PS4.
Your profile then shows all your recent activity and allows you to search for friends, though seemingly only if you know their PSN name, rather than by searching Facebook friends.
Also on offer is PlayStation Plus, Sony's equivalent of Xbox Live, set to cost around £50/year for access to online gameplay and other features. There's a free trial available with your shiny, new PS4.
You will now have to be a PlayStation Plus member to play online, but unlike on the Xbox, you won't need to pay for this service in order to access streaming video apps like Netflix, iPlayer, and Music and Video Unlimited, Sony's subscription content services.
Music Unlimited through PS4 now has a new interface for quicker access to artists and tracks, and you can listen to music in the background while playing games and control playback through the DualShock controller. More on this as we use it.
There's also the cross play feature, which lets you start a game on your living room PlayStation 4 and then continue it on a PS Vita via wi-fi, will be available on "nearly all" the console's new games.
As expected, the PlayStation 4 launches with a host of new games. Launch titles will include Battlefield 4, Knack, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Metal Gear Solid 5, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Pro Evolution Soccer 14 and plenty more.
While the PS4 is said to support 4K video output (and 3D), it isn't in the form of 4K gaming at launch, which will have to remain firmly on the wishlist for now.
Sony will be entering broadband partnerships with specific providers, including Virgin Media – offering tailored gaming packages of up to 200Mbps, including dedicated parts of the broadband 'pipe' for gamers to use, in an effort to combat lag and time out issues.
PS4 vs Xbox One
PS4 fans are already claiming first blood in the next-gen console war, aided and abetted by its aggressive £349 price tag.
Games are of course crucial but these machines are about much, much more and Sony will look to finally properly integrate its music and movie offerings. Sony slashed the price of its Music Unlimited service at the PS4 launch – with even bigger discounts for PlayStation users – and getting punters on board with all these services will surely be crucial.
The Xbox One finally adds a Blu-ray drive and the HDMI input gives the console hugely exciting potential, with Microsoft keen to focus on live TV integration on the Xbox. There has already been talk of connecting and controlling your set-top box through your Xbox.
Even the most ardent critic couldn’t fail to be impressed with the voice and motion gesture using the Xbox Kinect camera (remember, the Sony equivalent is an optional extra) – it appeared much more refined than the experience you get with some of today’s voice and motion activated TVs.
Imagine navigating your Sky+ HD box in a similar way? Microsoft already offers Sky Go as an app, so you’d think this would be somewhere in their plans.
Switching between gaming and TV at the drop of a voice command is instantly appealing if done correctly. When the PS3 was originally launched, it’s position as a home entertainment hub was pushed very hard. Well, now Microsoft is well and truly joining this party.
PS4 review: early verdict
First things first: we've only had the briefest of first looks. But with the PS4 and Xbox One announced, and with plenty of time for more rumours, it's a decent time to take stock.
PS4 has struck the first blow – and is picking up more pre-orders according to Amazon in the UK and US – due in no small part to that all-important price.
In fact, Sony Computer Entertainment President and CEO Andrew House revealed at Gamescom in Cologne that more than a million PlayStation 4 consoles have already been pre-ordered worlwide.
The Xbox One DRM issue has now been resolved however, and Microsoft has announced all pre-ordered Xbox One consoles will receive a free copy of FIFA 14 - so the gloves are off.
One thing's for sure: it's an exciting time for gamers. And what's more, both the PS4 and Xbox One look set to shake-up the wider home entertainment market. We certainly can't wait to see how this battle pans out...
PS4 release date: November 29th 2013
PS4 price: £349
by Tom Parsons and Joe Cox