Playstation 4

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This holiday season, a generation-long battle began anew throughout the world: The Console War. The prize? The chief entertainment position in households across the planet for the next several years.

As an early adopter and tech geek, new widespread technology is like Christmas for me. I barely have time for one system, let alone the 1300 that seem to exist, so picking one console over another was an impossible choice. I hope this review gives some clarity on what you're ACTUALLY getting into. After making my preliminary choice of which camp to sign up with, I was one of the lucky few to get a launch console on November 15th.

In the interest of full disclosure: I am not affiliated with Sony in any way whatsoever. Up until this latest generation of devices, I had been a primarily Xbox gamer for the past two cycles. I do not own an Xbox One as of writing, but have played with it fairly extensively. I also did not own but had regular access to a PS3, so I am somewhat behind on the previous generation's changes to the system.

Here is what you need to know:

The Playstation 4 is gorgeous

Out of all of the electronics connected to my TV, the PS4 stands out as a sleek black rhombus. Physically it's about the size of the original Xbox 360, so plan your physical space accordingly. It ONLY has an HDMI out, which may warrant the purchase of a new television. I was wary of the rhombus design at first, but it looks fantastic hooked up. Surprisingly, it's actually difficult to hear the device in operation only 10 feet away in my living room.

Backwards Compatibility is not here, yet

That huge backlog of Playstation 1, 2, and 3 games you currently own is useless on the PS4 right now, so don't sell your old consoles just yet! In 2012, Sony purchased game streaming company Gaikai for $380 million dollars with the intent to adapt cloud gaming features to the PS4. They've announced that the service will be rolled out Q3 to PS4 and Vita owners.

Part of this service will ideally be used to stream the previous several generations of gaming and content to the latest Sony darling. Currently, cloud related features like instant game demos, social sharing, live streaming and remote play on the Vita are active.

Motion Tech: Gimmicky for now

The console itself costs $399 as compared to the Xbox One's $499 price tag. The price drop actually came from a last minute decision to not include the Playstation Camera with every console sold. My initial impressions playing with the Playstation Camera were interesting but left me wanting more. The camera itself comes with a few basic apps that are a blast but extremely short. The notable immediate uses were a seamless facial recognition for auto login and decent gesture recognition. As far as apps go, the main use for the camera is to livestream your gaming via Twitch.tv.

The biggest drawback of the camera outside of gaming functionality is a lack of a mute option. If it is plugged in, you are broadcasting. Hopefully this will be patched ASAP. It definitely feels like there is potential for widespread and innovative use, however at this stage it's mostly a gimmick unless you are a game stream broadcaster via Twitch. I do look forward to seeing how developers make use of the camera in the future.

Indie Game Heaven

Sony has a historical track record for being friendly with indie game developers. Perhaps the PS4's most addictive launch title, Resogun, is the brainchild of a small game development studio in Helsinki. Indie games have been a boon to Sony, providing a marketplace for indie game developers and the potential for new IP outside of the usual giant game studios. More than 35 indie games are slated for a 2014 release.

Indie Games are home to some of the most innovative game play, mind-blowing plots, and creative uses of the system's hardware. I highly suggest checking out and supporting the various indie game developers on the PSN store.

No More Hard Drive Woes

The PS4 comes with an internal 500 GB hard drive. Every game that you play is automatically installed on the device but you can play them while they are being installed. Sony decided to use a standard drive, so swapping out your drive whenever you fill up the initial space is a nice touch.

Remote Play is brilliant

This holiday season, I also purchased a Playstation Vita (look for my hands-on review of that soon). Perhaps my favorite thing about my PS4 is the inter-connectivity with the PS Vita. Sony made an effort to make every single title on the PS4 (except for those that use the PS Camera) remote-play-enabled with the PS Vita.

My experience with remote play was fantastic in my own home, and still solid and fairly lag-free when I traveled 1600 miles away. I wouldn't necessarily play all games remotely, however loading up a single player level of Call of Duty on your lunch break is not out of the question anymore. Many AAA titles went above and beyond reasonable support for remote play, as it's part of the platform and fairly easy to enable on developed titles.

Apps, Apps, Apps

Pretty much every internet-enabled device for the past several years has had a plethora of apps tied to it. You will find the usual App offerings on the PS4 such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Crackle, Youtube and so on. More app functionality has been promised in the future as the console matures.

If you're like me though, a significant portion of your media consumption is done through Netflix. Proving their model further, Netflix added a virtual personal assistant "Max" to the Playstation 3's Netflix app this June.

Max has absolutely revolutionized the way I watch Netflix. Not only is Max a snarky, sassy, and oftentimes hilarious virtual guide to Netflix, but more often than not his suggested recommendations are spot on. If you have Netflix and a Playstation 4, I highly suggest trying out Max. Note: Max is slated to be rolled out to other devices in the future.

Playstation +

Playstation + is the Sony equivalent of Xbox Live Gold. A subscription based service that you can purchase monthly or yearly that allows you to play games online against others and enables online compatibility for various games. PS+ from Sony directly will run you $50 for the year.

If you take anything from this review: Buy PS+! Monthly you are given 2 PS3 games, 1 PS4 game, and 1 Vita game. As long as you continue to pay for the subscription, you keep any games that are released for free. PS+ users get various fringe benefits such as additional game discounts and cloud game-save backups. The game that I played the most since launch, Resogun, was actually a free indie title released on PS+ for the month of December.

Fear not though, Sony allows you to use native apps such as Netflix and Hulu without a PS+ subscription.

Social

Social has become a huge part of the modern gaming experience. The past 15 minutes of your gameplay is automatically stored on the PS4 and is ready to be shared with your friends. The friends list on the PS4 has been capped at 2,000, although currently I sit at a measly 15.

Deep integration with Facebook allows you to share as much of your gaming antics with your friends as you'd like. By pressing Share on the Dualshock 4 controller at any time, you can use simple video editing and trimming tools to upload a clip to Facebook. Twitch and Ustream are two partnering game streaming services that allow you to have your friends and strangers across the world watch you play games live.

The Next Evolution of Gamification

Gamification has become a huge thing in the tech industry these days. Since Microsoft introduced Gamerscore and Achievements with the Xbox 360's launch, all markets have been quick to jump on the gamification train. Sony has run with the concept of "Trophies" in gaming.

Trophies are divided by difficulty into metal categories of Platinum/Gold/Silver/Bronze. Platinum trophies for example, often require feats of ridiculous gaming prowess and dedication. I enjoyed unlocking achievements on the Xbox, however the trophy system was entirely new to me. Diving in with the indie spaceship fighter Resogun, was my first experience.

The game, for those uninitiated, places you in the helm of a starship fighter defending a planet from alien invaders. It's reminiscent of a 3-D version Space Invaders coupled with modern day graphics. Playing through the game unlocked me several trophies of various difficulty, but unlocking the Platinum trophy required effort. It changed my experience in a positive way, giving me something to work towards after a basic level of mastery in the game.

Microsoft and Sony have both been attempting to figure out what to do with users who amass online achievements. They've branded Rewards programs that provide various fringe and loyalty benefits to users. The only unique experience I have seen lately is through Sony's Greatness Exchange program.

The program itself allows users to bid for various items from famous video game franchises and characters using trophies earned on the platform. It's great to see new experiences and innovative uses in gamification, and I hope we will see more such programs in the future.

The OS is confusing

My biggest disappointment with the PS4 was a lack of customization on the UI side. The one theme available is a blue behemoth that is reminiscent of Windows Live Tiles. Multiple menus and sub-menu navigation was akin to traversing a maze. I was finding out about new options to my system over a month later for basic operations. Finding the correct operation in the menus takes a bit of patience, and sometimes can be information overload.

The OS seamlessly suspends applications and fast switches between tasks without a hitch. Accessing the store and navigating it is a bit clunky, but a reasonable user experience. Lack of support for changing desktop backgrounds, themes, and other customization options is disappointing.

Live Streaming

The next big thing in gaming is the ability to watch and have others watch you game in real time. The Playstation 4 via usage of the Playstation Camera allows you to livestream your gameplay directly from your home without additional equipment. This is done in partnership with Twicth.tv a game streaming site, popular for PC game streaming. You can watch various streams from the console, or upload your own stream.

The Controller: Now a bright change

The Dualshock 4 is the latest iteration of the Playstation controller. This controller has done away with the time-old tradition of start and select with modern alternatives: options and share. The Dualshock 4 is a ergonomically designed controller and I was quite pleased with the fit and feel of it in my hands. Best part? No. More. AA Batteries. Playstation controllers are now entirely charged via micro USB. I found that my controller would last 6-8 hours before dying.

While the controller looks and feels fantastic, there is one giant glaring problem with the controller: a light bar. Each controller has a fluorescent LED that is used in conjunction with the Playstation camera for motion sensing purposes purportedly. As of writing, Sony has not enabled support for turning off the light bar on the controller at this time. The LED also serves no purpose without the camera in the first place. The light bar by itself manages to light up a significant portion of my living room when it's dark with it's solid blue glow.

Party chat and headset support is included through the headphone jack on every Dualshock 4 controller. Every Playstation 4 also ships with an included headset to ensure communication with your team against the enemy.


No more waiting for Updates

A big problem with previous consoles was a constant need for patching and updating prior to play. The PS4 downloads updates in standby mode, so that waiting for updates and patches is a thing of the past. Downloads seem to be seamless, however patches for the system can also be installed via a USB drive. This was actually extremely convenient for updating in advance and not having to worry about waiting for server maintenance when big patches were announced.

The Good:

1080p support, social, Playstation +, Game Lineup, DS4 Controller, Apps, Beautiful Design, and Powerful Hardware, and Vita Cross Play/support

The Bad:

Lack of games/support for the Playstation Camera, Media Server Integration, Customization of Backgrounds, confusing OS menus, and a lack of MP3 and DLNA support

Conclusion:

I wanted a device that played games and played them in the most jaw-droppingly high resolution possible. If i want to watch Netflix, Hulu, or Cable, I already can do that from 13 other devices in my possession. With that being said, the PS4 has met and exceeded that expectation. Patches since launch for various games and the system have helped to alleviate launch-day woes.

A lack of customization on the software side as far as themes, backgrounds, and color choices is a little archaic. However, UI issues like these are things that Sony continued to improve on the Playstation 3 over the course of the life cycle of the console.

Launch app offerings are standard and are well designed, especially Netflix. The biggest disappointment is a lack of media-server and video playback support from third party sources. It will be interesting to see what third party app support is brought to the console in coming months.

The inclusion of day-one social sharing and connectability between Facebook and other social networks is a welcomed change to sharing on a game system, but we will see how widespread its adoption shall be. Currently, the game offerings from AAA titles was a little disheartening, but the future is slated to bring many interesting releases in 2014 and beyond. Support and network play with the PS Vita is fantastic, and one of the bright highlights to the current PS4 experience.

The benefits of Playstation + have made it a must have for the modern console experience. A vast digital library of games along with new monthly free content keeps you hooked to the Sony experience. The camera on the other hand, still feels immature but has potential for widespread adoption similar to the original Xbox 360's kinect.

Overall, if you're looking for a modern experience in next generation gaming, you cannot go wrong with the Playstation 4. With a long lineup of releases to come in 2014 along with widespread Indie support, you will have more games to experience than one possibly could have time to play. That being said, the Playstation 4's focus on gaming, and gaming alone, has hindered the 3rd party software offerings and personal media playback. This is sure to change in the future, as the console is definitely designed to evolve as the system matures.

Welcome to the next generation of the Console War. The future is assuredly bright and filled with 1080p explosions.