PS4 - First Impressions
We've had to wait two weeks but the UK has finally seen the arrival of the PlayStation 4.
Sony's powerful new machine promises a whole raft of new features backed up by a powerful new AMD APU and 8GB of GDDR5 RAM to give games developers the power to create a whole new level of gaming experiences.
The PS4 comes with and HDMI cable, a USB charging cable and accompanying black DualShock 4 controller, a headset modelled on a basic mobile phone hands-free kit, a power cable and of course the PS4 itself.
The PS4 unit is black as well and of good construction. In fact Sony has a habit of rewarding early adopters with a higher build quality and the box is pretty sturdy. There's a bevel all around the skewed body which is home to the eject and power buttons on the slanted front of the machine.
The buttons are a bit awkward to press but given that both the power and eject functions are available via the console's control interface it's not a huge problem.
Turning the PS4 on reveals a light bar which is also set into the bezel. It glows in a variety of colours corresponding to system's status – white for on and orange for standby for instance.
The DualShock 4 controller is also pretty sturdy and more comfortable in the hand than the DualShock 3 controller. All of the face buttons and the thumbsticks doesn't require any unnecessary stretching and the buttons themselves feel pretty solid.
The recessed thumbsticks offer more control than their domed counterparts on the DualShock 3 controllers. The concave triggers afford a lot more control than was possible with DualShock 3.
There are some interesting added functionality features with the DualShock 4 controllers. The Select and Start buttons have become the Share and Options buttons and they flank the new touchpad on the centre of the controller. Options essentially performs the same functions as it did as the Start button allowing pausing and access to options menus when in the PS4's dashboard environment. There's also a speaker housed above the PS button in between the thumbsticks and a socket for players to plug in the headset.
The touchpad itself is probably the weakest part of the controller and its click feature which acts like the two mouse buttons feels a tad flimsy when compared to laptop touchpads. It is responsive and adds a world of control possibilities for developers.
The light bar is quite curious and developers have already been messing around with it. When playing Killzone: Shadow Fall it changes colour from green to orange to red depending on your character's state of health and in Need For Speed: Rivals it glows blue when driving a police car and red when driving a racer.
The new control interface is an evolution of the PS3's XMB. It's clean, sharp and nicely-rendered with a default skin of PlayStation blue. 1080p is definitely the order of the day and it shows in just how clean the interface is.
There is a lower bar of icons representing the various games and apps that the player has. Each icon has a variety of options and information feeds which act like the Liveareas of games and apps on the PS Vita.
It's all pretty easy to get to grips with and every new game you download or install appears instantly on the lower bar with a progress indicator to show how far along the installation/download is.
Pressing the PS button during a game will take you straight back to the control interface and the game will stay paused on standby until you return. You can even jump into the PlayStation Store to fish around for DLC and then come back to the game you're playing with ease.
Connecting to the Vita and the mobile PlayStation App are pretty easy to pair with the PS4. Just connect them to the local Wifi network, they'll find the nearest active PS4 and you'll need to input a code that the PS4 displays on the TV.
When remote play works it is great. There is very little lag and the games look pretty beautiful on the Vita's small HD screen. Sony has also taken time to make sure that the buttons the PS Vita lacks are made up for by its touch controls.
The downside to this is that it needs a strong Wifi connection to function properly so many of the standard routers that come free with home broadband packages might struggle especially when you're using other devices on the Wifi as well.
Sharing your screenshots and videos is pretty simple. Just push the Share button and you'll get the option to choose between posting screenshots, edit, preview and post a gameplay video or stream your current gameplay session via Twitch or Ustream. It's all fairly easy and self expanatory.
Load up a game and then you understand just how far the hardware has come since the previous generation. Killzone: Shadow Fall is probably the best indication of this. It runs in 1080p and 60fps. There's gorgeous real-time lighting effects with shafts of sunshine cutting through vegetation, trees swaying in the breeze and some staggering-looking vistas that will probably be circulating around Facebook for something thanks to the sharing features.
The PS4 doesn't quite have all of its features enabled yet. There's still no ability to post to Youtube and there's a stark lack of media apps. Things like 4OD are not here yet but Lovefilm and Netflix have made it along with a full suite of BBC apps including News, Sport and the iPlayer. They all work as well as expected and have the same functionality as their PS3 counterparts.
Overall the PS4 is a great piece of kit. It's solid, clean design allows it to sit comfortably in the media centre without looking out of place. It can also stand vertically fairly safely without a stand giving it one more thing it can to the the Xbox One can't.
Certainly, for gamers, the PS4 provides a great experience and it has one of the most intriguing launch line-ups we've seen in a long time. PS Plus and free-to-play add bonus dimensions with players getting between three and five additional games at launch. Add in Cross-buy enabled titles and that number grows by another two with more due in the coming weeks.
Welcome the new generation. The future is bright and strikingly crisp and clear.
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