With the new year ahead and Christmas behind us, there’s no doubt a few of you will be opening your brand new PlayStation 4, if you haven’t already. I’ve decided to put together this handy little compendium of knowledge about the ins and outs of your brand new console. The PS4 is a mixed bag for anyone looking for the full multimedia package. It has its good points and bad.
1. The Basics
In terms of multimedia integration, the Xbox One easily out performs the PS4 in terms of multitasking — being able to move seamlessly from game to app and back. The PS4 can achieve these sort of things but it’s generally more fiddly. Let’s start with the basics. The PS4 can charge its controllers while on standby. Unfortunately only two can be charged at a time due to the lack of extra USB ports — there are only two at the front. This can be awkward when you’re transferring large files from an external hard drive into or out of the PS4, should you want to charge two controllers.
The PS4 only uses HDMI for its output to televisions. This is bad news for all three people in the world still using cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions for their PS4, as there isn’t an RCA or component ports. At the same time, the PS4 only has one HDMI output — meaning that unlike the Xbox One, you are unable to run the streams of certain devices. As an example of my home setup, I have my PS4 Video patched through my Xbox One for greater control over the whole thing. The PS4 just simply doesn’t have the ports to allow for something like that.
The headset included in the box is of fairly poor quality. You can control the console using voice commands through it, but you might want to upgrade to a better, enclosed headset. In terms of headsets or peripherals, the only one that will work on the PS4 from your PS3 (should you have one) is the PlayStation Move. Remember that uncomfortable proprietary bluetooth headset you bought for it? That’s now useless, which is slightly frustrating because the incompatibility seems to be deliberate. The console will actually pick it up and say that the headset is connected, but then say that there’s no supporting software.
The controller is quite comfortable except for one or two things. First, the light on the control can’t be turned off, only darkened. Second, the touchpad is a cool but poorly implemented feature. It’s very responsive and makes typing on the console a breeze. It is also a button in itself that has effectively replaced the select button. Where’s the select button I hear you say? Well, around the area roughly where select was is the share button. The share button can be inconvenient when you’re playing a game. You’ll hit it, expecting the menu or loading screen to pop up. Instead what happens is a menu will ask you if you want to save the gameplay or screenshot. As you’re playing, the PS4 records the last fifteen minutes of your game. These video-clips or screenshots can be uploaded online or transferred to a flash drive should you want to archive them. Accidentally hitting the share button breaks the flow of a game when you’re storming an outpost in Far Cry 4 or doing a raid in Destiny. It’s not a deal breaker but it takes some getting used to.
Interestingly, the PS4 can function in a similar manner to the Xbox One. The problem with this idea is the requirement of a separate component, the PS4 Camera. The PS4 Camera has a built-in microphone and responds the same way that commanding the console via any microphone works. But it too has drawbacks. Apart from the augmented reality app called the “Playroom”, there just aren’t many games that use it. It has no gesture controls unlike the Xbox One, and the facial recognition is extremely hit or miss.
3. Online Experience
It feels like Sony missed a fantastic opportunity in regards to some of the apps for the PS4. That touchpad we “touched on” earlier can’t work for the online browser or many big budget games like Destiny — a game that practically begs for a mouse! Its implementation in games is generally relegated to lackluster game mechanics, which often feel gimmicky, and the fact that the PlayStation’s browser doesn’t utilize it definitely feels like a mistake, at least until it receives better developer support. While typing using the upgraded and beefier six-axis takes some getting used to, it is incredibly fast and almost makes up for the lack of the trackpad. Considering the main UI for the PS4 utilizes the pad though it definitely feels wanting. Add to that fact that the PS4 UI has no discernible rhyme or reason to its layout, lacking sequential sense, and you really start to wonder what was the reason for such a chaotic presentation.
While we’re on the subject of Destiny — an always online game — we should take a minute to discuss the online services of the PS4. Unlike the previous business model from the PS3, where Sony would provide a somewhat lackluster online service for free, the PS4 has instead taken a page out of Microsoft’s book. While playing online is no longer free, it has improved quite a bit. You’re required to subscribe to Playstation Plus to access any online content for your game. The good news? Online passes seem to be a thing of the past as PS Plus replaces them. That’s not all — subscribers also get cloud storage for their save files with Sony, as well as free monthly games for the PS4, PS3, and PSVita.
4. Future Possibilities
Now the big question everyone always asks: is the PS4 backwards compatible? Sadly, the answer is: not at all. You are not even able to play Playstation One games on it — however, it does seem that the recently released Playstation TV is helping to fix that. The PSTV claims that it can play PSVita, PSP, PSOne, and mini-games so it seeks to bring at least some form of backwards compatibility. Fingers crossed that PS2 games will eventually be included in the list of supported platforms. For anyone interested in a more in-depth look at the Playstation TV, the PS blog has a comprehensive FAQ here.
Finally, perhaps the coolest thing the PS4 can do is mirror its video output to the PSVita via remote play. Unlike the last generation where you could only play slow moving games like RPGs, it actually works well. You can output the video feed from your PS4 to your Vita and continue your game should family members want a go on the television. They can watch TV and you can sit up in your room and continue your raid in Destiny, or your building in Minecraft. The only limitation is the distance it will work at. While this is ideal for a home setting, trying to play it on-the-go outside of your home network might cause you some headaches — but it’s theoretically possible.
5. The Positive Outweighs the Negative
All of this together might seem like a huge negative towards the console, but not one of them is deal breaker to me. While these setbacks will annoy you at first, by second or third glance you’ll warm up to it. The PS4 has a truly great selection of games and premium apps and after a while these minor issues will be like water off a duck’s back. Sony may have made a few mistakes here and there but the PS4 definitely looks gorgeous and the controls feel intuitive. Also I’d kick myself if I didn’t mention one of the big reasons to have a PS4, P.T.
If you enjoy horror games with amazing atmosphere and incredibly intelligent puzzles you should all download P.T. It’s in the demos section, but honestly with how long it will take you to complete it, it’s practically a full game in itself. It’s also totally free. I can only hope that its quality will be a brave new benchmark for future horror titles to be judged.
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