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The PS4: What We Know, What We Like, What We Need To Know

We’ve had a few days now with the PlayStation 4. Sony provided us with the retail hardware during its launch event in New York City. It’s been a great opportunity to get our hands on the console, its UI, and some of the launch software. As of this writing, however, we’ve only had a short while with the console following a major system update. This update added functionality such as Remote Play on the Vita, access to the PlayStation Store, and basic elements such as the ability to view trophies. We still have plenty of thoughts on what we’ve seen and experienced, even if we’re not ready to provide a final hardware review at this moment.

Here’s what we know about the PS4, what we like about it, and what we need to know more about as we move ahead.

The Form Factor

What we know
The PlayStation 4 is a beautifully designed piece of hardware, with sleek angles and a contrasting shiny/matte black finish. There’s a lot of power inside, too. Check out the first section of our previous PS4 coverage for the specs. Thanks to that finish, you may want to handle it with care; it picks up fingerprints easier than a CSI veteran. Sony cleverly hid the power and eject buttons on the unit as well (some might say too cleverly). It takes a little over 30 seconds to power the system, which is slightly longer than the PS3.

What we like
It’s gorgeous. It’s also flexible, supporting both horizontal and vertical orientation. It’s quiet, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll melt through your entertainment console; after five or so hours of heavy use, it was warm but not hot to the touch. We appreciate the lack of a power brick, too.

What we need to know
We won’t know how reliable the system is until after it’s been out in the wild for a while. The lack of heat is encouraging, but until people have marathoned games on it, spent weekends using it to watch Blu-rays, and ran it ragged, we won’t know how well built and engineered the machine truly is. 

 

PlayStation Companion App

What we know
PlayStation 4 owners can download a companion app on their supported Android and iOS devices when the system launches. The free app will allow users to check messages and respond to them by voice or text while away from the console. Players can also make purchases from the PlayStation Store using the app, at which point their systems will power on and begin downloading the content.

What we like
It’s cool that players can fire up their smartphones and download a game when they’re away from the house. It certainly beats scrawling down the name of a game your friend recommends and hoping that you’ll remember to fish it out of your pocket when you get home. Sony says that developers can use the official app in their games as an alternative to developing their own full-fledged apps, which is also nice. And you can’t beat the price, either.

What we need to know
Aside from the messaging features, how much social networking will the app support? Communicating and sharing with friends is a huge pillar of the PS4’s overall strategy (keep reading), and it should be interesting to see just how much access the app provides. Can users browse their complete “What’s New” section and see what everyone’s up to?

 

Social Features

What we know
When Sony announced the PlayStation 4 earlier this year, they hammered home the point that it was being built with social networking in mind. The system fills your friends’ activities into a special What’s New feed on the console, so you can see what trophies they’ve earned, the movies they’ve been watching, and games they’re playing. Players can also share their real names with trusted friends, which makes the feed feel more personal.

What we like
Players can now send out and respond to group messages, which could make life easier for people trying to organize multiplayer matches. 

What we need to know
The What’s New feed has a lot of potential, but we’re concerned that it could essentially become background noise over time. When everything you do is blasted out, do individual communications lose their meaning, and will the most important bits get drowned out? We’ll have to wait and see if it becomes a powerful way to see what types of interesting things are happening at a glance or something that people largely ignore.

The PlayStation Camera

What we know
The optional PlayStation Camera features dual cameras to capture video images, including depth, as well as four microphones to detect audio. The camera can recognize faces, which can then be associated with individual users. The process is simple, requiring users to move their heads around in several positions for a few seconds. The camera also enables voice commands for basic functionality, such as taking pictures.

What we like
The camera quality is markedly improved over the PlayStation 3’s counterpart, offering nearly twice the resolution. 

What we need to know
The big question for the PlayStation Camera is simple: Will any third parties take advantage of it? Since it’s not bundled in with the console like the Xbox One’s Kinect 2.0, we’d be surprised to see it widely embraced by developers. We’d also like to learn more about how accurate voice recognition is across a variety of different settings. People don’t all live in silent environments, and previous attempts at this technology have had mixed results. 

 

Capture and Streaming

What we know
Sharing video content from the PlayStation 4 can be as easy as pressing a few buttons. Players can stream their videos on Twitch and Ustream, though only Twitch will allow those videos to be archived on the site. Players who pick up the PlayStation Camera can also embed their images onto the footage.

What we like
Easy is good, and this is about as easy as it gets. This could be a tremendous equalizer for people who have wanted to dabble in streaming but were intimidated by external capture devices. Having the Twitch chatbar beside the stream is pretty slick as well, so players don’t need to juggle a laptop to keep up with the comments. The console also keeps a constant record of the past 15 minutes of gameplay even if you don’t have the immediate intention of sharing your exploits with anyone. If you pull off something amazing – or run into a hilarious glitch – you can quickly scrub back to the appropriate part in your timeline, trim the footage, and share it online. 

What we need to know
Sony says that it will be patching in support for external capture devices at a later date. As it stands, the console has built-in encryption that prevents users from easily connecting the console to a capture box using an HDMI. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.

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