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November 22, 2013

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Editorial: “A Week With the Playstation 4” Hardware & Software Impressions

by Master Pillow

After eight long years the arrival of Sony’s Playstation 4 marks the true beginning of the next generation of video game consoles.  Yes, I know that Nintendo’s Wii U launched last year but let’s be honest and state that just about everyone understands that it is vastly underpowered when compared to either the Xbox One or Playstation 4.  However, this post is not meant to be some rant against the Wii U which, I actually like as a gaming console, but to point out that in terms of pure tech specs that it lags behind both products from Microsoft and Sony.  Now, having spent an entire week with the Playstation 4 I can finally report a few quick impressions of the new console.

1.0 A Quick Note
2.0 Preamble
3.0 Physical Impressions
4.0 So should you buy digital or physical games?
5.0 PS4 User Interface
6.0 Additional Bugs/Issues
7.0 DualShock 4
8.0 Live-Broadcasting
9.0 Games & Apps
10.0 Remote Play
11.0 Wrap-Up

1.0 A Quick Note

Unlike other gaming sites or blogs the purpose of this article is merely to present my thoughts on the Playstation 4 software and hardware without resorting to arbitrary scores.  I find it next to useless to assign some random number or star rating to a console, especially during launch, since the system will undoubtedly be a different beast a year or two from now.

Although I list some little oddities and annoyances here and there one need understand that with big corporations like Sony and Microsoft behind the helm the fact remains that people should expect that these things will be ironed out as soon as possible.  With what is at stake there is no conceivable way anyone should think either of these companies will knowingly release busted software or hardware as the console war is serious business and any misstep could portend doom.

Sure, some functionality might not be there at launch but that does not necessarily mean it will never arrive and it is a much better strategy to delay these items to a time when every kink is ironed out as doing the opposite and releasing something undercooked will inevitably lead to a furious reaction from consumers.

A console launch is merely your first taste of a ten course meal and without knowing what is coming it is highly dubious to rank something with an arbitrary rating.  Remember, whether or not you choose a PS4, Xbox One or Wii U the fact remains that you are very much basing your decision on POTENTIAL and while that is obviously not scientific, the features currently present, even in a slightly busted state, will more than inform you as to whether or not the system is meant for you.  That statement aside let’s look at the PS4.

2.0 Preamble

First off, I have to take a few moments to talk a bit about my launch day shenanigans.  I had pre-ordered my PS4 at Ebgames way back in June, the day after Sony’s big reveal at E3 and because of that my system was basically guaranteed for me to pick up at midnight on November 15.  I had debated all day whether or not I would be able to make that midnight opening and in the end decided for the Hell of it to go pick it up.  So I drove over to Fairview Mall at midnight thinking that, at worst, I would be there for an hour standing in the line to pick up my unit and lo and behold I was mostly correct as upon arrival there were approximately 50-70 people in front of me.

However, mall security had everyone lining up outside the damn mall and only allowing 5 people to enter about every 10 minutes.  That might have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact that it was a “balmy” -4 C and the thought of freezing my ass for what appeared to be another 90-120 minutes before entering the mall was too much to take so I promptly went home.

The next morning after dropping my son to school I promptly drove back to Ebgames, walked straight in and finished my transaction in about five minutes.  The moral of the story: I feel like an ass even attempting to go and pick up my console at midnight but also feel extremely frustrated that due to some obscure laws that mall security didn’t bother to allow people to wait inside the building in an orderly line instead of freezing outside.  Oh well.  The next time I’m pre-ordering online.  Actually, that’s what I did for my Xbox One so hopefully the delivery truck isn’t late come November 22.

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3.0 Physical Impressions

Stupid launch-day story aside, the first impression of the PS4 is that the unit is surprisingly svelte especially when compared to the Xbox 360 or PS3 Slim.  It really is smaller than the Slim PS3 which is certainly a wondrous feat of engineering considering Sony managed to still keep the power supply internal as opposed to Microsoft which once again has a massive external power brick.

The PS4’s angular look really feels as if Sony’s designers were making a conscious approach to pay design homage to the monolithic inspired PS2 instead of the PS3’s curvier appearance.  That’s fine in my book especially considering the fact that the original PS3 was really an abomination in terms of design aesthetics bearing such a hefty weight that it could easily have been labeled a dangerous weapon as someone could kill another by clocking them over the head with it.

The PS4’s sharp angles might not seem like such a big change from the monolithic PS2 design but this simple change speaks volumes that Sony intends consumers to purposely notice how the console sticks out like a sore thumb.  Positioning the PS4 amidst the current gen Xbox 360, PS3, Wii or Wii U presents a stark contrast in design styles and the PS4’s angular sharp edges remind me somewhat of the audacious Royal Ontario Museum’s controversial “exploding” crystal design which is meant to do nothing but capture your attention.

At the same time Sony’s designers have gone the extra mile by making one side of the unit (the top side if sitting horizontally) out of shiny reflective plastic material which manages to give the unit a kind of premium-feel but one which really stands out if you manage to position the unit vertically in a sunlit room where the surface seems to magically reflect its surroundings like a giant mirror.  Yes, it doesn’t “do” anything other than to draw attention to itself but that is the whole point that Sony is trying to convey.

Comparing the PS4 directly to the launch PS3 is almost a farcical experience as I clearly remember being totally turned off by the use of the garish Spiderman font that Sony decided to use for no apparent reason.  That phat monstrosity with its loud chrome accents was also meant to attract your visual attention but it ended up being too gaudy.  The PS4 eschews that for its angular look but with the exception of the shiny plastic area the rest of the console is decidedly understated with even the PS4 logo seemingly lost amongst the matte plastic.

The console looks fine sitting in a horizontal or vertical position although, for some reason or other, I still feel the need to buy a stand to ensure that it doesn’t fall over when propped up on its side.  If you are careful there really is no need to buy a stand but for those who have butterfingers or have a video game setup where consoles and other hardware are in a cramped space a stand will certainly make your life easier.

The unit itself has a front-loading Blu-Ray drive and two USB ports that are all nicely “hidden” in a kind of plastic recess that doesn’t interrupt the unit’s overall design aesthetic.  About the only negative I can surmise is that the console only has those two USB ports on the front with no USB option in the rear.  It might not sound like much but more USB ports are always welcomed and there are certainly some users that do prefer to plug their controllers and other peripherals in the back to hide them from view.

About the only moment where I was initially confused was finding the blasted on/off and eject buttons.  Yes, it sounds awful but it took me a few minutes fumbling around with the unit to discover the two extremely thin buttons near the Blu-ray player and even now I wonder if it would have helped Sony to make them a bit bigger.  Nevertheless, it is no big deal and I suppose it will just become second nature in a day or two.

One weird observation I had concerned the back of the unit which is nothing but huge-ass vents and the requisite connections.  For some reason or other the only way I can describe this area is to think of the reboot Battlestar Galactica’s engine exhausts as the angular nature of the PS4 really looks similar.  Yes, it’s probably a stupid observation but for the most part gamers aren’t going to care how the back of the PS4 looks like.  Still, those huge vents are there for a reason and it won’t be long before anyone notices that the unit blows out quite a bit of hot/warm air.

Gaming on the PS4 for 3-4 hour sessions each day since launch the unit has certainly gotten warm, especially the middle of the console but overall it has never felt scorching.  Expect some heat even when the console is turned on and doing absolutely nothing except display the user interface.

That said the unit is very quiet with the big exception being when the console has to read from the Blu-Ray drive.  It is not as loud, as say, the initial Xbox 360s which sounded like placing your ears next to a wind turbine but the noise is certainly jarring considering the unit is usually so quiet.  That isn’t a knock on the PS4 since I have no doubt even the Xbox One’s Blu-Ray drive will have a similar sound output.

On the plus side all that whirling at least results in blazing fast copy/install times from disc which should please any user.  The console automatically installs game data from disc straight to the internal hard drive the very first time the game is inserted into the system.  Then again, if you buy a physical copy of the game the disc always has to be inserted for the game to work unlike digital copies which obviously read all content from the hard drive.

4.0 So should you buy digital or physical games?

If Microsoft had their way back in E3 2013 the Xbox One would certainly have been a near digital-only console and though everyone in the tech industry understands the day is coming when physical copies are extinct as the dinosaurs, that day has not yet arrived.  The PS4 comes with a standard 500 GB mechanical hard drive but out of the box users only have access to approximately 408 GB.  While that seems like a lot the fact remains that diehard gamers or those who really buy a ton of content, be it games, TV shows or movies are going to run out of space FAST.

For the sake of argument, if you decide to go digital only and download every currently available game (including the free ones) for the PS4 this is how much space it will take:

Game Title Install Size
Angry Birds Star Wars 1.5Gb
AC4 Black Flag 21.2GB
Battlefield 4 33.9GB
Black Light Retribution  4.9GB
Call of Duty: Ghosts 31.1GB
Contrast 2.3GB
DC Universe Online 22.7GB
FIFA 14 9GB
Flower 1.8GB
Injustice: Gods Among Us 22GB
Just Dance 22GB
Killzone Shadow Fall 38.5GB
Knack 35.6GB
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 6.4GB
Madden NFL 25 13.1GB
NBA 2K14 41.8GB
NFS Rivals 15.9
Resogun 460.8MB
Sound Shapes 3.4GB
Super Motherlode 393.6MB
Trine 2: Complete Story 2.6GB
Warframe 4.2GB

Add all that software up and you get roughly 334.7 GB of space meaning you’d only have 73.2 GB of free storage left.  Yikes!  There goes that hard drive.  The situation gets much worse when one considers that the PS4 can also record video of your gameplay as well as take screenshots.  It is not inconceivable to save a ton of videos and suddenly wake up to find your hard drive storage being whittled away to nothing.

Not all is lost though as the PS4’s internal hard drive can be easily replaced with off-the shelf parts.  I haven’t tried this myself but at least this is an option for those who want more storage space.  You can even use expensive SSDs that really will cut down the time needed to boot into games although the price really is not worth the upgrade.  There have been reports of some users utilizing hybrid hard drives with good results but I’d recommend you search the Internet for more details.

Nevertheless, it has to be stated that casual gamers/users will probably never upgrade their hard drive themselves thus the only recourse is really to do what most people do with their smartphones and that is to become better managers of space.  Old games need to be deleted and videos that are no longer useful should be promptly dumped ASAP.  The downside obviously is that if you want to play the game again you’ll have no choice but to re-download the whole thing from the Playstation Store or do another install from the physical game disc but at least players should not fear as the save games are not deleted by default.

Make note of your Internet plans ahead of time as those with hard caps will quickly blow through them with even a single game download depending on what you’ve subscribed to.  If you don’t watch out the cost of a digital download could seriously negatively impact your Internet bill.  At the same time also make note that currently there is no difference in price between retail and digital copies which is mildly disappointing considering both Sony and Microsoft are aiming for a digital-only future.

Also note what download speed you have on your Internet plan as these next-gen games be they on PS4 or Xbox One are huge and those with slow connections are going to wait, quite possibly, half a day for them to finish downloading.  That will seem like an eternity, especially if it is a game you are dying to play.

Personally, I’m old-school and will stick to physical copies when I can and only really buy digital games that are not available retail.  Not to mention, you can always lend out your games to friends in this fashion as there really is no way to do so with digital copies.  On a final note, you can also sell your used games to video game shops or friends whereas this is currently impossible for digital titles.

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5.0 PS4 User Interface

The Playstation 3 XMB interface was something of a mixed bag which suffered from occasional lag especially in the Sony Store which oftentimes made the system feel as if it was wading through thick quicksand.  Thankfully, Sony has learned its lesson and the user interface for the Playstation 4 is not only slick but much more intuitive than the PS3.  The UI is basically two XMBs stacked on top of one another but the icons and sub-menus are much easier to navigate.

The PS3 interface was filled with areas which required users to constantly drill down through a ton of menus to find specifically what they were looking for and, for the most part, this is completely rectified on the PS4.  The home screen automatically displays from left-to-right your most recent activity and below that is basically your social media feeds from your online friends.  That means you have easy access to what your friends are up to such as which trophies they have obtained in various games or uploaded media.  The only real issue with the social media area of the UI is that everything isn’t sorted in the least and those who have tons of friends will essentially have to keep scrolling down through tons of update boxes to find what they are looking for.

The PS4 UI is exceedingly snappy, even the new store specifically for the PS4 which moves just as fluidly.  One quirk I found that had to do with the massive hammering Sony was taking on launch day was that the content occasionally bugged out and there were many times when the game icons did not load at all due to network congestion.  Another few times nothing loaded at all including the menus but once again chalk this up to Sony’s backend where they clearly did not anticipate the stress on their servers.  That’s not particularly re-assuring considering Sony has long had hard data as to how many units would be in the hands of consumers come launch weekend but hopefully it is all sorted out soon.

The network issues also played some serious havoc with a couple of my digital game installs such as DC Universe Online which kept failing to download and install no matter what I did.  This is one area of the UI where Sony needs some work as it was aggravating to see software seemingly download fine and then go to install but mysteriously get stuck for hours on the “installing” screen.  A small progress bar or some sort of notification as to how the process is going would be appreciated.

Concurrently, there seems to be something amiss in Sony’s notification system as I received two copies of each notification update for no reason.  For instance, the system would notify me that Resogun had finished downloading twice and then another double whammy message that it had begun to install.  I’m not sure what is going on there but it’s highly annoying to be told twice that an event had occurred.

While I have complimented Sony for crafting a much more intuitive UI for the PS4 there are still a few areas where things aren’t as clear as they should be.  For instance, the PS4’s vaunted video and screenshot sharing features are great but it took me forever to figure out how to delete items I didn’t want.  You would think that opening the sharing functionality and staring at your list of videos and photos would include a delete feature but lo and behold it’s not there at all.

Instead, you have to essentially leave that application and then jump through hoops through dreaded sub-menus to get to the ability to delete.  It might not sound like such a big deal but the fact of the matter is that it is more of a hassle than it should be.  However, I’m sure this sort of issue can be and will be rectified in future patches so I’m not concerned that it won’t be sorted out.

Still, overall, the new PS4 UI is a great start for the console and if these small niggling issues like PSN congestion, recurring notifications and a few oddball features that are buried in all the wrong places are corrected, the entire experience will be all the better.

6.0 Additional Bugs/Issues

When I first turned on the PS4 the console did what Sony informed everyone it would do, namely download the 1.5 patch update.  Thankfully, this went off without a hitch for me and it was all done in a matter of minutes.

However, once I got into the initial setup and it asked for my PSN ID things got a bit weird.  Now, this was done at 9:30am on November 15 so I have a strong feeling that Sony’s network wasn’t being hammered by the large mass of consumers who would pick their units up after work but lo and behold I still encountered some hiccups.

After I entered my PSN ID it took around 10 minutes of waiting before it moved to the next screen.  That was slightly annoying but after I entered all my new info and was in the last step something went wrong again and when it was attempting to contact Sony the unit just hung there for almost an hour.  After that time I decided something was wrong and tried to back out or pound any other button on the controller and nothing worked.  In the end I had to turn off the unit and turn it back on hoping for the best.  Thankfully, as soon as I booted up it recognized my PSN ID and it worked fine.  Weird.

Another odd issue I have noticed happened three times while I was playing Killzone Shadow Fall where all of a sudden as I was playing I lost all signal to my TV for a second before the image appeared again.  Now this was scary.  One moment I was shooting an enemy and suddenly the picture just outright cutout and came back.  I also experienced this once when I was on the home screen when the signal just died for a second before coming back on.  I have no idea what is going on but so far the system doesn’t seem to be experiencing anything worse so hopefully it’s just some random quirk and not an early sign of something worse.

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7.0 DualShock 4

I’ve liked the DualShock controller ever since the first Playstation although, to be fair, I now like the 360 controller better.  That said, the DS4 is by far the best controller that Sony has ever put to market.  While it seems as if it is nothing more than a modest iteration over the DS3 all the minor tweaks add up to one ergonomically pleasing experience.  For instance, the DS3 analog sticks were rounded and convex while the DS4 is now concave with an additional raised edge around them so that it allows your fingers better grip and decreases the amount of slippage.

If you rewind history a bit do users even remember the original controller for the PS3?  You know, the one which did not have vibration motors in them making the controller feel exceedingly light and cheap?  The DS3 felt very much like Sony doing a major course correction when they realized their folly in not having vibration and as such merely took their DS2 design and renamed it the DS3.  In short, the DS3 didn’t feel “next-gen” at all giving the impression that Sony had essentially stood still while the industry completely surpassed them.

In comparison, the DS4 seems very much like a brand new experience.  Sure, it still feels as if it comes from the long line of DS Sony controllers but you can tell much thought this time around was placed on not only ergonomics but also to additional features that would not only differentiate it from the Xbox One and Wii U but could potentially allow developers to come up with innovative ways in which to play PS4 games.

The DS4 feels very nice and ergonomically designed in my hands as the weight distribution seems right.  I’ve had no issues using it at all as both the analog sticks and buttons feel responsive.  The only thing I would say though is that so far I’m not exactly convinced that any of the games I’ve played make good use of these new features.

The touchpad in the middle of the controller works well enough but using it to issue commands to your Owl sentry in Killzone Shadow Fall doesn’t exactly scream next-gen and the Battlestar Galactica Cylon light, dubbed the lightbar, on the front of the controller makes a bad flashlight but so far it is of no real use to me.  The onboard speaker is certainly a cool addition but once again none of the games has presented a situation which warrants its inclusion and it has to be said that the actual audio output isn’t exactly the best in class.  On a funny side note, I had forgotten that the DS4 had an internal speaker so you can imagine my shock/surprise the first time a loud voice boomed out of it while I was playing Killzone.  It’s too bad that I didn’t have a Playstation Camera to capture that moment.

Still, that’s no fault of the controller but the software developers who have to figure out ways in which to properly utilize this new tech.  I’m confident that someone will make a game that really brings these new features to the fore but so far the proof isn’t there yet.

I understand that the lightbar is supposed to be more useful if working in conjunction with the Playstation Camera but seeing as I don’t have one on hand I can’t exactly comment on the functionality.  On the other hand, try as I might, I couldn’t find any way in which to turn off the lightbar at all which is not such a bad thing when playing a game but certainly could be annoying if watching a movie.

What does work on the new controller are the new sharing features that are accessed through the, you guessed it, share button.  With a simple press of this button the PS4 boots into the system’s sharing features where you can save screenshots and video and then upload them to different services such as Facebook and Twitter.  Pressing the share button works anywhere whether you are playing Killzone Shadow Fall or just moving around the user interface and the feature is not only seamless but ridiculously fast.

As an occasional game reviewer this feature is a Godsend since I can now take easy screenshots of significant points in any game and then save and upload them to the big social media services.   This also works for video as well although the only place you can currently upload to is Facebook.

While this all sounds like a great start let’s hope that Sony adds more places you can upload to.  Facebook and Twitter are obvious choices but it would be great to throw in other services like Flickr to provide more options.

8.0 Live-Broadcasting

Then there is the much vaunted live-broadcasting feature and so far it works flawlessly as well.  This feature is launched from the “Live from Playstation” area of the UI or by accessing the share features while playing inside a game.  This allows players to either watch live-feeds from other gamers around the world or to live-broadcast their own streams to either Twitch or Ustream.

I’m not exactly the type of gamer to do such a thing but the feature is there and in conjunction with the ability to upload video and screenshots the future is certainly rife with social media potential here.  The ability to basically have your own TV video game channel is certainly exciting especially since you can see comments from other gamers pop up on the sidebar as you play.  If you have a Playstation camera you can also broadcast the feed from that as well although there is no way in Hell I would watch myself sweat and curse while stuck playing the beginning of Chapter 8 in Killzone Shadow Fall (more on that in my upcoming review).

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9.0 Games & Apps

I’ll write separate blog posts about each game but so far I’ve played and completed the single-player campaign for Killzone Shadow Fall and beat Resogun on easy mode.  Yes, both of these accomplishments are rather pedestrian but I’m trying to hurry up and play as much as possible.  I’ve spent about an hour on Need for Speed Rivals and about the same amount of time with Knack and Flower HD.  I’m going to need much more time playing these games before I can write a serious review so hopefully those are coming soon.  At the very least I’ll pen a post with impressions.

Those who have just got their console I highly recommend that you download all the free games and try them out as well as subscribing to PS Plus for one year at $49.99 considering you get Contrast and Resogun for free in that deal while also allowing you to play online multiplayer.  Yes, this is like the Xbox now meaning you need PS Plus as much as you needed Xbox Live to play online.  It sucks but what can you do?

As for those free games…they are actually rather intriguing since they are all on-line multiplayer titles with built in microtransactions.  The big surprise is DC Universe Online which is actually a port of the PS3 game but this is the first time in history that I can recall that a MMORPG is launching with a new system.  Try it out since it is free to play although that 22 GB install is rather hefty.

Actually, I am sure both Sony and Microsoft will be experimenting with this new free-to-play structure found mostly in mobile gaming.  It is not something that excites me since I’ve seen how it can ruin mobile games into huge grinds where the designers purposely force players into a slow progression path purposely to stall them and entice consumers to use real money for upgrades.  Still, in this case, to have a few of these included at launch actually is a good idea considering the total number of gaming choices are incredibly slim.

Seeing as I’m in Canada there really aren’t many Apps to download from the Sony Store yet and what is there is rather mundane such as Crackle, NBA, NHL, Netflix and Crunchyroll.  NBA, NHL and Netflix are all self-explanatory but Crunchyroll is great for anime lovers since it’s basically streaming anime and Japanese/Korean dramas.  It does have a thirty day trial so you can see if the service is a good fit for you.  Still, as a Canadian user, I can’t help but feel a bit like those who criticized Microsoft’s Xbox as being only fully functional if you were a resident of the USA.  I understand that many apps are simply not possible in International markets due to local laws and restrictions but having only a small selection available something that needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

Aside from those app issues, each PS4 comes with preloaded Sony services the first of which is Music Unlimited.  This is, awkwardly, the only option for users to play music on the PS4.  That’s right – dumping an audio CD into the system results in….nothing whatsoever.  Ramming a USB Flash drive filled with MP3s into the system also results in…nothing whatsoever.  In fact the PS4 didn’t even recognize that I had inserted a formatted USB Flash drive anyways.

Thus, if you really need some sort of music feature, the only avenue left is Sony’s Music Unlimited which is basically a subscription service to stream music over the Internet.  There is a free 30-day trial so that anyone can demo the service but much like other streaming services like Xbox Music, chances are not many consumers will eventually pay and sign up when the trial expires.  The Music Unlimited app is simple to navigate but unlike the rest of the PS4 UI something is clearly amiss with this service as it takes forever to boot into.

Additionally, the PS4 comes with a web browser.  The end.  Seriously, I doubt consumers used the browser on the PS3 and though the PS4 one is better, there are far easier and more comfortable ways to surf the Net than to do it on a console.  Without a dedicated mouse and keyboard it takes forever, as it always has, to manually plug in each letter with a controller and in the end most people will probably just give up.

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10.0 Remote Play

Ah, the much ridiculed Playstation Vita has a final kick at relevance in what could be a very important feature that differentiates the PS4 from its primary rival, the Xbox One.  Microsoft has gambled on their Smartglass application that now spans Android, iOS and its own Windows Phone for a second screen solution whereas Sony has its answer in Remote Play.

In a nutshell, Remote Play allows users who have a Playstation Vita two big options to make the system work hand-in-hand with its big brother PS4.  Remote Play is actually simple to set up merely by performing the newest system update on the Vita which adds the PS4 Link application to the Vita’s menu and then entering a set of 16 generated numbers.

By accessing this application gamers will be presented with two basic options of “Second Screen” or “Remote Play.”  The less grandiose feature, at least at the moment, is “Second Screen” which basically turns your Vita into a Wii U controller type of device and can only really function with a PS4 game that supports the feature.  The concept is to have the game play on your TV while the PS4 console streams a secondary screen to the Playstation Vita which could include extra information such as maps or inventory load-outs.

On the other hand, “Remote Play” is something totally different.  What remote play does is allow gamers to stream PS4 content, meaning games and anything else, to the Playstation Vita.  That means you can play Killzone Shadow Fall or any compatible PS4 game on that little portable Vita device.  What’s cool is that the PS4’s most vaunted features such as sharing screenshots and video also work as well.

Unfortunately, there are a few significant downsides to this the first of which is that the Vita obviously does not have the same button layout as the PS4 so you end up with some awkward controls which become mapped to the back of the Vita’s mostly underused touchpad.  It just does not feel comfortable in the least especially if you are playing something like the Injustice fighting game where you really need precision button presses.  The first time I played Resogun I by mistake unloaded my bombs just because the button was now mapped to the back touchpad.  In other words, you need to take some time to re-acclimatize yourself to the controls and though it is not a game breaker it is still slightly annoying.

Another niggle is that with “Remote Play” what you are getting displayed on the Vita is an exact copy of what is on the PS4 screen.  That sounds grand…until you realize that the tiny text or aiming reticules on the big screen suddenly become totally illegible on the Vita.  Yeah, that’s no fun at all and though some gamers might not care to read text from Killzone or Injustice what happens if it is a massive RPG like Final Fantasy which has reams of text?  It’s going to be a nightmare that’s what.  Can this be patched?  Of course it can so hopefully Sony is on the ball and fixes this issue or gamers are going to suffer from extra eye strain.

The final issue could be a deal breaker and that is that playing PS4 games on the Vita in this fashion inevitably suffer from a lower framerate, although to be fair, it also depends on how stable/good your WiFi connection is as well.  So far I’ve found that the experience still feels futuristic and fun but even the most technically challenged consumer will be able to discern the framerate difference.  Many gamers will still not care but I’m sure others who demand the utmost perfection might be annoyed.

Now, if you were able to use your Vita to play your PS4 games over the Internet from, say a coffee store, now that would be super cool and definitely a system-selling feature but alas that functionality is not included…yet.

So why would anyone really want to control their PS4 or play games through their Vita?  Well, this is somewhat of a different beast.  I suppose someone could be watching a movie on the TV while the other person is streaming a PS4 game to his Vita so as to not interrupt the film.  The feature does seem to work much better than what happens on the Wii U which basically requires line-of-sight from the controller to the Wii U console in order to even function.  Not to mention, the Vita remote play seems to also work at a much greater distance.  Therefore, it is not inconceivable for someone to leave their PS4 turned on in the family room while using his/her Vita to play while sitting on the bed (assuming it is within the recommended range).

In other words, while this feature works as advertised its use so far is obviously very situational and it really isn’t something that seems totally cooked yet.  In other words, merely mirroring what is on the PS4 onto your Vita might initially feel futuristic but no developer has really shown how this can improve or innovate in a gameplay situation.  I’m sure someone will figure out how to properly use this to present something fresh and innovative but so far it seems more like a nice but mainly useless feature.

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11.0 Wrap-Up

Simply put, Sony has done their homework and just about every negative that could be leveled at the Playstation 3 is seemingly rectified here on the PS4.  To quote Steve Jobs, “It just works,” and that is something that cannot be said for many past console launches.  Sony has managed to release what most techies consider the graphically superior console within a compact and stylish body and the included new functionality such as its sharing/live-broadcasting all work seamlessly out of the box.

Still, while that all sounds great, the fact remains that as a consumer you better know what you are getting.  From the start Sony has marketed the PS4 as the best gaming console ever created and while that is debatable, due to the somewhat mediocre software offering, the company has a formidable opponent in Microsoft which isn’t going to simply magically disappear.  The PS4 is first and foremost a gaming machine and while the social aspects work well the jury is out if the console is going to win over the hearts and minds of those who do matter in the marathon console war namely, the average casual consumer. The answer to that is far from decided and both Sony and Microsoft are going to be spending millions of dollars in an attempt to convince those individuals that their console is the best choice.

For Sony, the PS4 is a great start to the next generation of console video gaming and those who do pick one up this holiday season or sometime in the future will find a solid device that does everything as advertised.  It might not be the mythical set-top box that everyone is talking about, at least not yet, but I have a strong feeling gamers will not be disappointed in the least at the new user interface nor the hardware itself.  As for the current launch games…that’s another story but considering Sony’s previous history with the PS2 and PS3 having strong first party line-ups, I have no doubt the compelling PS4 software is just around the corner.

Good job, Sony.  Now let’s see what Microsoft brings to the table…

© 2013 The Galactic Pillow

Additional Screenshots of the UI

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