Below is an update to our PS4 review based on long-term testing. Scroll down to read our original review.
Living with the PS4: Long term test by Michael Sawh
One minute and 35 seconds. That’s how long it takes for the PS4 to boot up, get past the sign in screen and load up my Career Mode on FIFA 14. The same process on the PS3 takes three minutes.
Now a one minute and thirty seconds in the grander scheme of things doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you just want to throw your bag down when you get home, turn on and play, this is something that stands out when swapping the PS3 for the PS4 or the Xbox One.
Yes, the visuals are gorgeous, the Dynamic UI is leaps and bounds above what the PS3 had to offer and Remote Play is brilliant but the extra processing grunt really stands out above everything else. Jumping from a game into Netflix or vice versa is quicker, smoother and just more satisfying than before. Even the software updates are less obtrusive and take a lot less time than they do on the PS3.
That’s not to say that I love everything about the PS4. My main gripe is with the DualShock 4 controller. It’s nothing to do with the ergonomics, the new touchpad or even the feel of the buttons. It’s an improvement in every sense in those departments and it feels strange when you for back to using a DualShock 3. It’s the crippled battery life that is the real issue.
Is the light the source of battery life complaints? We don't know, but we hope Sony fixes it.
You simply do not need to charge the DualShock 3 controller anywhere near as often as you do the 4 and you soon start to dread that flashing status notification in the top right corner of the screen. Some PS4 owners are pointing an accusatory finger at the light bar on the edge of the controller as the reason for the drop in battery life. It can’t be turned off, either, and whether or not this is the cause of the battery drain, I hope there is something Sony can do to resolve it.
Games are of course what the PS4 is all about and that’s why Sony persevered with the ‘4 the Gamers’ tag line. My view hasn’t really changed on this. The big games are simply not there to make the leap to the next gen console a necessity just yet. FIFA 14 is perfectly enjoyable, as is Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Battlefield 4 and Need for Speed: Rival, but these are games that play perfectly fine on the PS3 or the Xbox 360 as well .
The lack of truly standout first party titles is another reason why it could be worth holding off. I’ve barely touched Knack and while Killzone Shadow Fall is beautiful, it isn’t the game-changing launch title I was hoping. The big games are coming though. Watch Dogs and InFamous: Second Son are solid efforts, while The Order: 1886 looks stunning. But that's not out until 2015. We do also have Metal Gear Solid V and Destiny, among others, to look forward to.
Having to sign up for a PlayStation Plus subscription which was previously free on the PS3 was a big issue for me. The idea of having to spend more money on another monthly charge is not appealing. Sony is at least trying to make it good value for money with the lure of free games.
It started strongly with Contrast and retro shooter Resogun and the quality has maintained over the months. The latest Outlast, built on the Unity game engine, is great fun if you love horror games. Maybe throwing in some free movies or music as well would be a nice way to sweeten the deal, but if you play Call of Duty or Battlefield 4 it’s going to be essential spending.
One of the biggest disappointments is the lack of Sony’s promised cloud based gaming service which we now know as PlayStation Now. It’s only launching in the US for the time being and the potential to play PS3 games and even delve into the PS2 and PS1 back catalogue has real appeal. What isn’t so appealing is that when or if it comes to the UK, you’ll need to pay a separate subscription to PlayStation Plus to use it.
As for the PS4’s entertainment hub credentials, there’s still only a handful of apps available. There might not be the urgent need for some sort of folder system right now, but there will be when Sony adds more content. I’ve spent most of the time with Netflix and accessing the BBC Sport stream for the Winter Olympics and the overriding impression is that, finally, Sony has addressed the clunky interfaces and switching between apps is so much slicker than its predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong, the first few months living with the PS4 have been positive on the whole. The overall speed makes the biggest impression. Battery issues aside, it’s difficult to fault the new controller and with Killzone: Shadow Fall and the soon to be released InFamous: Second Son, PS4 games simply look stunning.
There’s still a lot of untapped potential here and that’s why we wouldn’t budge from the current score. We’ve yet to see the new controller features truly put to innovative use, there’s the absent PlayStation Now and more importantly, big games like Watch Dogs are not here yet. Do you buy now or hold off until a price drop? We’d still be inclined to hold off until those triple A titles turn up in the coming months.
SEE ALSO: Xbox One vs PS4
Read our in-depth review of the PS4 below:
What is the Sony PS4?
The PS4 is the console Sony hopes will wipe the floor with the Xbox One and right the wrongs of the PS3's troubled childhood. Indeed, as is noted in our in-depth Xbox One review, it feels as if roles are reversed this generation. The Xbox 360 was the 'gamers console' while the PS3 was a living room trojan horse with a Blu-ray drive on-board. It helped Sony win the disc format wars, but the result was an overpriced, overcomplicated console that surrendered Sony's once dominant position.
Sony eventually realised its mistakes and recent exclusives like Uncharted, God of War, the Last of Us and indie greats like Journey has seen it regain some of the faith it lost. Sony seems intent on not forgetting what games consoles are about, though that's not to say it has no interest in the softer, entertainment features espoused by its music and video services. Just like Microsoft, Sony is in the business of creating an ecosystem to rival Apple, Google and Amazon.
When it launches in the UK on 29 November, it will be time to decide whether to spend £350 on a PS4, £429 on a Xbox One or wait it out till things get a bit cheaper. Our gut says wait, but it's clear that picking these two consoles apart is very difficult indeed.
Watch our PS4 video review below
Sony PS4: Design
When the PS3 launched in 2006 it was a humongous, monolithic beast of a thing. It was the George Foreman grill of consoles. The smaller and slimmer iterations that followed were far more suitable to park underneath a TV and thankfully the same can be said of the PS4.
Much was made of Sony’s decision to put software ahead of hardware when it first announced the PS4, and it’s clear there was nothing to worry about. The PS4 is small, svelte and much better looking than all three iterations of the PS3.
The curves have now gone replaced with a sleeker, more angled design. It looks a bit like two slim Sony Blu-ray decks sat on top each other, then slightly moved apart to give it that more edgy look. It still has the same matte plastic used on the PS3 Slim, but adds a thick glossy black strip that prevents it from being just another boring black box.
The gloss and matte is separated by a thin status light bar that flashes blue then white when the console is on. It reaches down to the front of the console where you will find the Blu-ray/DVD disc tray and standby buttons discreetly hidden. Indeed, they are so discreetly concealed you can barely see them at first and they only need the lightest of touches to activate.
There’s also two USB 3.0 ports to connect the DualShock 4 controllers up front and around the back there’s ports for the same kettle power lead used with the PS3 Slim, an optical digital output, HDMI, Ethernet and a dedicated port for the PlayStation 4 camera. It’s strictly all digital on the connection front for Sony this generation.
At 275mm wide, 53mm high and 305mm long, the PS4’s dimensions are smaller on all fronts in comparison to the original PS3 and the PS3 Slim. At 2.8kg, it’s also roughly the same weight as the PS3 Super Slim (2.9kg) and the 250GB Xbox 360 consoles (2.9kg). Having had our hands on the Xbox One (333mm x 78mm x 274mm), the PS4 is significantly the smaller of the two next-gen consoles. That's definitely a good thing.
Sony PS4: Specs
So now to the technical part. Like the Xbox One, the PS4 features architecture already available inside PCs. Both share the same AMD-based, low power 8-core CPU and the Sony console has a 2.5-inch laptop-style 500GB hard drive that can be upgraded and replaced. Sony’s CPU clocks in at 1.6GHz while the Xbox One has been raised to a slightly faster 1.75GHz. What it means is that both consoles have plenty of cores to handle intensive multitasking and cope with the new entertainment-focused features.
To help lighten the processing load, the PS4 also has a Radeon HD 7000-series GPU with 8GB GDDR5 RAM. The PS4’s GPU runs at 800MHz and has 18 compute units compared to the Xbox One’s 853MHz GPU with a 12 CU count. The PS4's advantage is further cemented by the simpler to use and faster system memory. Both have 8GB of RAM, but the PS4 has 5500MHz GDDR5 RAM compared to the Xbox One’s 2133MHz GDDR3 RAM. This gives the PS4 a serious advantage in memory bandwidth, even if the Xbox One compensates a little by using a 32MB cache of super-fast ESRAM.
Without getting too bogged down in the numbers, the bottom line is the PS4 has more graphics grunt than the Xbox One. This is a straightforward fact. The debate lies in what this means in practice. At present it means cross-platform games enjoy a slight edge on the PS4, reinforcing the idea that the PS4 is the more hardcore gamer friendly of the two machines.
Of course, it’s down to game developers to take advantage of the extra power and day one patches are set to boost games like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag up to native 1080p resolution on the PS4. Naturally Sony fans will hope games will look noticeably better on the PS4, but it's more likely that PS4 exclusives will unlock the extra power than third-party titles.
In general use, the UI is slick, the console boots up nice and fast, and you don’t have to wait painfully long for game installations and updates. Games look gorgeous. It’s more noticeable on games like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone: Shadow Fall where there is definitely a bump up in detail, sharpness and the lighting. Aside from disc loading, the PS4 is a quiet machine that generates very little fan noise and is a far cry from the racket the original PS3 used to generate.
The fact the PS4 achieves this in a smaller body than the Xbox One and with the power supply built-in is an impressive feat. The paranoid part of us worries about overheating, but (at present) there's no evidence to suggest this is anything more than that.
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