Editorials

Unboxing a monster: My first few days with the PS4

December 2, 2013, Author: Neil Hickton

My pile of shame was busy gathering more dust, when suddenly there’s a knock at my door. Each thud banging out a Morse Code-like message, suggesting that’s how they will stay. I’m suddenly excited, months of underwhelming PS4 related news and views over.  Finally it is here, after what has seemed a very long wait since I pre-ordered it. The delivery guy hands me a massive box, I sign for it on one of those delivery-guy-gizmos where, whatever you actually do, your signature looks like someone squashed a spider and then carefully removed the body.

I’m a little worried; the box is much larger than my AV cabinet.

I can’t help be enjoy the unboxing process of new technology. It’s almost as good as the feeling I had as a kid, opening my presents at Christmas. Opening the box was a beautiful thing indeed, everything wrapped and bagged. A box within the outer cover contains your new PS4, controller and leads and a secondary box (depending on which pack you buy; I bought “The Player” pack) provides you with the camera, game and extra controller. Power cable supplied uses the same connector type that the PS3 used, no separate power supplies.

A new small, sleek, black, particularly simple, angular designed case is okay to look at, but it’s not the prettiest Sony device ever, that’s for sure. It’s functional, though, two USB ports at the front are easy to find and use. This is unlike the PS3’s, that always seemed out of the way. You knew they were there but could never plug things in first time.

There’s a pulsing strip on the top from front to back, that apparently gives an indication of what function it’s performing. Though I haven’t worked out what its purpose is yet apart from being an occasional and unnecessary distraction. I refuse to read the manual; why the hell would I want to do that? Talking of which, I was greatly amused by the first test I was given. How the hell do I switch it on? Hmm…ahh, there!  I won’t tell you, it’s easy to find, logical, but I didn’t see it at first.

Something that really annoyed me about the PS3 and more so the Xbox 360, was the noise and heat they both generated. Sure, newer iterations where cooler and quieter, but it was that first evening that I fell out of love with the original Xbox 360, noisy and egg-fryingly hot. The PS4 is quiet; its gentle hum only noticeable when the disc-drive is in use or if it’s really quiet in the room. The PS4 design leaves the shiny black side cool and the textured black side warm to touch when it’s in use. Playing Killzone: Shadow Fall for a few hours didn’t seem to alter the temperature or noise levels eminating from the machine.

The new operating system is much faster and more responsive than the PS3 and, coupled with voice commands, makes for a handy and streamlined experience. The PS4 OS is much like the PS3′s, but with a clearer layout and some added flexibility. One example is that you can now run an application or game and switch out to the home screen and back again, none of this “you have to quit your game to make this change” that was experienced on the PS3.

PSN is still PSN, looking unremarkably like the version that we saw rolled out onto the PS3 earlier in the year. However, there are of course noticeably less things to choose from on the PS4 PSN store and the prices look nasty too. £54.99 for a game seems ridiculous and a joke, but these are currently much the same as the prices that you’ll find in store down your highstreet. The price of the next generation huh?

Those on a shoe-string should make a beeline for PS Plus; you get fifteen days thrown-in out of the box. An active PS Plus membership opens up new games to you as part of your subscription, usually every month, If it runs out, you can’t play those games any more unless you renew your membership.

Presently the games on offer via PS Plus on PS4 are Contrast and Resogun. Both are interesting titles for sure, though I’m not convinced that they really need the might of the PS4 to bring them to screen even though they both seem to be running at a beautifully crisp 1080p. Two other games are available to you immediately as they use a “free to play” model, those being Warframe and War Thunder. Both have fun to offer and definitely worth checking out.

One thing I hate about PSN store via PS3 is the select to download process. It’s just not quick enough for me; a proper grind. After finding the game or application of interest, you have to go into another screen to download it. This takes a while to process your selection and if you want to download many things you have to repeat, it’s painful. Unfortunately, this is still the case with the PSN for PS4. However, there is an improvement as once you select download, it will queue the download and install it for you, all in the background.

I had a few problems connecting my PS4 to my Wi-Fi, in fact, I’ve not managed to yet. This is unlikely to be the PS4 and more likely I’ve forgotten my router details, so I opted for a wired connection. Once connected, you can sign into your existing PSN account and follow the prompts to set-up your privacy settings and a few other things before you can finally use it.

Privacy settings seem clear enough, but the result is a little confusing. For example, I selected the option so that only my username is displayed, rather than my full name. However, when I look at my profile it still shows my full name. I’m assured that only my username is displayed to my friends, but I’m not sure why it feels the need to use my full name on the screen.

The best controller Sony have ever made?

The controller is bigger and feels nicer to hold in the hand then the DualShock 3. The lightly rubberised handles of the controller make it less slippery too. The L2 and R2 buttons are finally triggers, but still not enough. I still think the Xbox 360 controller (and perhaps the Xbox One controller) is the most comfortable and ergonomic of all the controllers I’ve ever used. The new PS4 controller, though, is a big step in the right direction, certainly feels good and long play sessions will be comfortable.

The controller has a few neat features. A touch pad/big button at the front and most impressively there’s a 3.5mm mic/headphone jack. If you just want audio to a favourite or standard set of headphones you can just plug them in, pop to the system menu and change it to “headset audio all”. I used a cheap set of headphones to so that I could play into the evening and just plugged them into the controller.  I found I had to change from Linear PCM to Dolby though, as there seemed to be some form of audio distortion in the game I was playing until I changed this.

The controller also includes a share button and this can be used to easily create videos or still images of your game sessions and – as the button suggests – share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter or Twitch. Another neat variant here is an On-live-style live stream, that allows you to watch and comment on people that are live streaming their PS4 games. I’ve not really dabbled in the area of sharing as yet, but I have to say I’m intrigued about the possibilities.

Voice control via the new camera or a headset, allow you to use rudimentary commands to control your PS4 by saying “Playstation” prior. Adding a few set words allows you to shut your machine down or switch between your home screen and the application you are running.

The camera is a higher resolution than the PS3 camera, plus it works in low light and requires less room to operate. This allows for a very clear image and given you can play in a dark(ish), small room, gives the device a much better chance of being a responsive and useful addition in future. The PS4 controller has a light bar on it so it can be used much like the Playstation Move with the camera, but I’ve no previous experience with Playstation Move to comment further on this experience. Sony are open that the camera isn’t a must-have purchase and given there is only Playroom available for it at this time, so I wouldn’t waste your cash on it just yet.

One feature I was really looking forward to seeing in action and thought I might be disappointed by was the connectivity with the Vita. The Vita is very easy to connect to the PS4 and once done you can control the PS4 using it, much the same as you could with the PSP and the PS3. Those of you that bought a PSP with the hope you could stream games from your PS3 were, like me, horribly disappointed. Yes, you could control your PS3, but streaming was limited to very few low-tech games. However, when you connect a Vita to your PS4 you will be happy, you will smile and you will be amazed at what Sony has achieved.

Some may think that this feature is pointless. Why, after all, would you want to play a next-gen screen-exploding PS4 game on a screen smaller than a postcard? Well, for me I don’t always have access to my main screen because my kids might be using it to watch what kids watch. Now I can carry on playing any of my PS4 games by streaming it onto my Vita. Sure, it’s not the same as experiencing it on the big screen, but the quality is brilliant and indiscernible from the full-screen version.

A match made in heaven?

A match made in heaven?

There are of course at least two problems with streaming PS4 titles on your Vita; small type fonts and buttons. Small fonts are only really a problem because developers are not really designing with this type of connection in mind. Missing buttons isn’t as much a problem as you might first think. Obviously the Vita is missing, if I’ve counted right, four physical buttons that the PS4 controller has. These are L2, R2, L3 and R3. However, due to a set API (Application Programming Interface) the missing buttons are configured using the rear touch pad. This on the whole works very well and is a small price to pay for functionality I very much have a use for. Perhaps future versions of the Vita will have more physical buttons? Yes, this sounds unlikely, but one can dream.

I’ve had only a short time with the PS4 so far, but I’m convinced that it is by far Sony’s best games console yet. 1080P resolution games with huge amounts of detail, coupled with low temperature and low noise, prove that huge advances in technology have been made since the last gen. The smooth interaction between the system and games is wonderful and it’s liberating to leave a game hibernated only to pop back into it when you’re ready. Like the Vita OS, you can only run one game or application at a time, but then it’s understandable that you want to focus system resources on the game or application you are running. There is always the possibility in future that we will see software updates that allow multiple things to be left in a hibernated state, but for now we’re limited, and that’s okay.

It is early days in terms of game availability and early adopters will perhaps find there are not enough games right now to fully justify the purchase of a PS4. However, I for one have been amazed by the quality of the launch line-up and it is definitely a varied list of games to make your initial selection from.

Choosing a gaming platform is less about what’s technically better than some may make you believe. In a year’s time we’ll have forgotten all about botched Microsoft announcements and the seemingly crazy rules they were trying to impose. Already, the Xbox One has by all accounts changed people’s blinkered opinions on its release and somehow Microsoft have scrambled back into form. Sure, a platform-exclusive game will be released that makes us think about another specific console to play it on, but I think choosing a gaming platform is all about you. You’re an individual; you enjoy playing games and whatever you choose is going to be right.

For now, I’ve made my choice, and I’m very happy with it.