It’s been another good year for Sony. The PS4 has now sold nearly 30 million units over the last two years – way ahead of the Xbox One at roughly 17 million units – and will only sell more during the run-up to Christmas. The year’s biggest third-party games, including Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and Metal Gear Solid 5, continue to run either more smoothly or at higher resolutions than they do on Microsoft’s hardware.
Sony played a blinder by moving its European games showcase from GamesCom in August 2015 to the Paris Games Show in October, and in doing so revealed a slate full of genuinely exciting exclusives.
In other respects, though, 2015 has been a disappointing year. While the PS4 is the best console on which to play Black Ops 3, The Metal Gear finale or Destiny: The Taken King, Sony has struggled to deliver the killer exclusive that the console needs. The Order: 1866 was short and uninspired, Bloodborne brilliant but hardly mainstream fare, while Until Dawn looked staggering but had all the usual failings of an interactive movie.
In October, the Xbox One actually outsold the PS4 in some key territories, including the US, just as it did in April. Microsoft’s console seems to have found a second wind. Does this mean the PS4 is no longer the console to buy?
Related: PS4 vs Xbox One
Well, it’s still the most stylish, compact and unobtrusive of the two. 275mm wide, 53mm high and 305mm deep, it looks sleek and futuristic next to the chunky, more PC-like Xbox One. A new model has emerged with minor revisions to the cosmetic design, including an all matte-black finish, physical buttons for power and the disk eject, but the real news is a quieter hard drive and a new, less power-hungry system board, which makes a quiet console run almost silently until you’re playing graphically intensive games.
The new model continues to have the same light-up bar running along the top and down the front of the machine, acting as a giant status indicator to tell you that your PS4 is on or sleeping. Connectivity is the same as well, with two USB 3.0 ports on the front, another on the rear plus HDMI, Ethernet and optical audio sockets.
Sony really pushed the boat out when speccing-up the PS4. Developers wanted standard x86 architecture and Sony took that onboard, but where the Xbox One took a custom AMD APU with eight CPU cores and 12 GCN computer units, Sony gave us 8 and 18. And where Microsoft went for 8GB of 2133MHz of GDDR3 RAM, the PS4 shipped with the same amount ot 5500MHz GDDR5.
The Xbox One’s APU runs 150MHz faster than the Sony’s 1.6GHz chip, and has 32MB of ESRAM cache to buffer data moving through, but Sony started this race with a clear speed advantage, which is why we still see AC Syndicate and Black Ops III running at higher resolutions on Sony’s hardware than they do on Microsoft’s.
This isn’t necessarily something you should base your buying decision on. The third-party developers are getting really clever with dynamic scaling systems, rendering at lower resolutions or with a reduction in horizontal resolution then upscaling to 1080p. Look closely and you may see a crisper image or more detail in the distance on the PS4 version, but not everyone will see an obvious difference. Look at Microsoft exclusives like Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider or Forza Motorsports 6 and there’s no way you could say that they look unimpressive. However, Sony’s slate of 2016 games promises some amazing cutting-edge visuals, and titles like Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Horizon: Zero Dawn have the potential to widen the graphics gap.
Related: PS4 vs PS3
If we ignore the distressing way that the rubber ring is wearing off the analogue sticks on our original PS3 pad, the Dual Shock 4 remains a fantastic controller. The sticks are now precise enough for the most demanding FPS veteran, the bumpers and triggers feel perfectly moulded, and every button seems to sit in the most natural place. The built-in headset socket is still a godsend, allowing you to plug in some headphones for quiet gaming without any hassle or expense.
In a way, some of the pad’s gimmicks now seem like relics of Sony’s thinking when the PS Vita launched. The built-in speaker has had some moments to shine in GTA 5 and Alien: Isolation, but most of the time it’s just a menace that blares out when you’re trying to play games quietly at night. It’s hard to remember the last time we used the central touchpad for anything bar accessing a menu or scrolling around a map. The flashing, colour-changing sensor bar looks cool, but currently feels as under-used as the PlayStation Camera – currently the most unutilised motion control accessory I’ve ever had in the house.
If you’re going to mock the camera, or the old Move motion controllers, be warned: the PS4 might yet have the last laugh. Both have a part to play in Sony’s PlayStation VR (aka Project Morpheus) virtual reality add-on, due to launch next year, and the addition of VR to the PS4 platform could be telling when next Christmas rolls around. We’ve been impressed with what we’ve seen so far, though there are warning signs that the initial pricing may be prohibitively high.