While Australian's wait until 29 November for the PlayStation 4 to grace our shores, the US and some other markets got their hands on the next-gen console on 15 November.
This review is the hardware component of the PS4 review from CNET. While we don't foresee a vastly significant difference between the software available in the US and that in Australia, we'll update this when we've spent time with the local retail version of the new PlayStation.
While we have given a score to the PS4, we acknowledge that a console is a "long game" and not something you can draw a line under so soon after launch. We anticipate that we will update this review — and possibly the score if required — in the days, weeks and maybe even months after the Australian launch.
At first blush, Sony and Microsoft's respective consoles could be separated at birth. Both offer powerful HD graphics that nearly match high-end gaming PCs. Each delivers a small initial set of non-gaming streaming entertainment apps and a relatively underwhelming slate of exclusive games out of the gate. Meanwhile, both offer a near carbon-copy line-up of third-party games, including the requisite roster of EA Sports titles and the latest instalments of the Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed and Battlefield franchises, all of which have already been released on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
The PS4 and the Xbox One also share one ugly defect: neither console can play games purchased for their respective predecessors. Your library of PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 discs is not welcome here.
Even the pricing is similar, with the PS4 costing AU$549 versus the Xbox One's AU$599. So, let's look at what the PS4 offers.
What's in the box
Included inside every PlayStation 4 box is the console, power cord, a 6-foot HDMI cable (finally!), a DualShock 4 controller, a micro-USB cable (to charge the DualShock 4) and a monaural earbud for online chat. (The earbud plugs directly into the DualShock controller; you can alternately use any pair of headphones with a standard 3.5mm plug.)
Despite its smallish size, at least compared with an Xbox One, the PS4 packs a lot of power under the hood. The box is 53mm high by 275mm wide by 305mm deep, weighs 2.8kg and packs in 8GB of DDR5 RAM. The CPU is a low-power x86-64 "Jaguar" eight-core chip, and the graphics are powered by a 1.84 teraflop AMD Radeon "next engine". The fine print may not impress the layperson, but suffice it to say, the PS4's innards are in line with a mid- to high-end gaming PC.
Like previous PlayStations before it, the PS4's 500GB hard-disk drive is user replaceable (a standard SATA laptop hard drive or SSD will work), something we're thrilled Sony has decided to keep intact. That 500GB may seem like more than enough storage, but with game sizes beginning to flirt with 50GB apiece, that might not cut it a few years down the road.
The PS4 boasts a striking angular design with a modestly low profile. The front end angles toward the user, sleekly hiding two USB 3.0 slots to the right and a slot-loading 6x Blu-ray drive to the left. Between these two ports are touch-sensitive power and eject buttons that give off familiar PS3 beeps when activated.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
Around back of the PS4 are four simple interfaces in addition to a standard power connect — the same size plug each PlayStation in the past has adorned. From left to right, there's an optical audio, HDMI, Ethernet and auxiliary port, which is used for the optional PlayStation Camera.
Note that the PS4 must be connected to an HDTV with an HDMI input; there are no analog (composite or component) outputs for this PlayStation.
The PS4 is equipped with wireless 802.11 b/g/n protocols (but not 5Ghz nor the new 802.11ac standard) and also supports Bluetooth 2.1. That said, Sony has indicated that most current Bluetooth peripherals, including headsets and older DualShock 3 PS3 controllers, won't work with the PS4. The main exception is the PlayStation Move — if and when there's a PS4 game that's designed to work with it.
Unlike the Xbox One, which must rest horizontally, the PS4 can be used vertically as well. Sony recommends using a dedicated stand for vertical operation, but the PS4 seems to sit on its side just fine by itself.
So what does playing a PlayStation 4 feel like? Quite honestly, it's a lot like the PlayStation 3. There's a noticeable bump in graphics, of course, but it's logical to assume the real heavy hitters won't have their day until we're deeper into the system's life cycle. Like we mentioned earlier, the jump in visuals is not as dramatic as it was going from SD to HD. Also, PC gamers with the luxury of a souped-up machine probably won't be much impressed at all. It's also worth mentioning that some cross-platform games, such as Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, don't look nearly as good as PS4-exclusive games, like Killzone: Shadow Fall.
Games-wise, we tried the PS4 across a number of titles, but paid specific attention to the two PlayStation exclusives, the aforementioned Killzone and Knack.
Killzone is undeniably pretty and slick to look at, but it seems all too aware of this and a bit desperate to show off. Every light sports a lens flare, rain splatters down on an open surface and people spend a curiously long time looking at you, as if begging you to notice their well rendered facial features.
Knack goes the opposite route, providing kid-friendly colours and characters that seem to echo the likes of Spyro and Jak and Daxter. It's surprisingly tricky and at least fairly enjoyable, but it's an odd choice to try use a cartoonish game to highlight the power of a new console.
The other titles we played — including the 'patched to 1080p' COD: Ghosts — all looked great, but we're yet to see a "killer title" that would be worth purchasing the console just to play. Perhaps Infamous: Second Son or a new Quantic Dream offering may have done it.
We did take a look at what was on offer in the Instant Game collection for PlayStation Plus subscribers which was just Resogun and Contrast although we'll check this again after the official launch.
In terms of gameplay, the PS4 experience is greatly improved thanks to the fantastic DualShock 4 controller. Nearly every genre we tested seemed to benefit from the redesign.
During any gameplay session you can suspend the action and back out into the Dynamic Menu. Double-tapping the Home button will bring you back to the game, or you can manually select it from the menu. However, if you put the system in standby mode or turn it off, you'll lose your gameplay session.
Of course, we can't overlook backward compatibility. For all intents and purposes, there is no disc-based backward compatibility at all on the PS4 — none of your PS3 games will work on this machine. (Xbox 360 games are similarly incompatible on the Xbox One.)
However, Sony has teased streaming capabilities that the company plans on implementing thanks to its acquisition of Gaikai last year. The service won't go live until 2014, but the plan right now is to have a portion of the PS3 library available for streaming play. Of course, that will require a wicked-fast high-speed internet connection and, probably, the repurchasing of the titles you want to play (or at least a subscription to Sony's PSN Plus service).
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
While the Xbox 360's controller was the seemingly perfect evolution of the original Xbox's pad, the DualShock 4 is just as much, if not more, of an impressive realisation. It felt absolutely wonderful and addresses nearly all of the shortcomings of the DualShock 3 (the predecessor controller that shipped with the PlayStation 3).
Unlike the slippery dome coverings of the DualShock 3's sticks, the two analog sticks on the new controller have smaller embossed faces that make for much easier control. The DualShock 4's sticks flank the familiar PlayStation Home button and audio speaker that is built into the controller. (Don't worry — audio from the controller can be turned off.) Below the PS Home button is the headset jack (for online chat and game audio) and an "EXT" port for use with something else down the line.
Sending PS4 game audio through the controller will only give you stereo sound, but just having the option to do this is a small revelation. If you want to send chat and game audio through the headphone jack, the audio being sent through the HDMI port will cut out. You'll need a mic-equipped pair of headphones (like you might use with your smartphone) to have game audio and chat in one shot.
The PlayStation 3's Cross Media Bar has given way to the PlayStation 4's Dynamic Menu. In an interface that appears simple and actually quite elegant, with a top line icon nav, with a graphic representation of your installed games and apps underneath. You can drill down further to get a more detailed look at your recent activity or game info from so-called Live Items.
(The background music, it must be said, sounds like a bad relaxation track from a massage parlour, so turn it off immediately.)
It's fast and slick, feeling far more responsive than the PS3. You can also sync the whole PS4 in with Facebook and Twitter, not just for sharing videos and images, but also to get real-name data on friends, as well as actual photos of your online gaming chums.
Live Items information.
(Screenshot by Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
Apps, media and more
There is, sadly, a distinct lack of TV and video apps. The PS4 will launch with just four in Australia: Vidzone, Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited, which are all from Sony and IGN. The Xbox One, in comparison, has SBS and Tenplay.
This will, of course, change but people who've been using a PS3 for iTunes, Quickflix or any other catch up TV or video on demand services won't find much to interest them.
Those who own a PlayStation Vita can connect the portable to the PS4 to activate remote play. Setup is fairly simple and it actually works well, but performance all depends on the strength of your home network. The concept is similar to what Wii U owners can do with that console's GamePad controller except for the fact that PS4 remote play uses your home. It's a godsend when your PS4 TV is being used up, but it's not a bulletproof work around because of its reliance on an ever-changing connection speed. While it's entirely possible down the line, you won't be able to play your PS4 outside of your home network.
In addition to PS4 games, the PS4's disc drive is capable of playing back Blu-ray and DVD discs, but it can't play audio CDs or SACDs. It's hard to believe that the PS4 can't play a CD, but if you stick one in the drive you'll get a message that says "disc unsupported." In a sense, the PS4 is a step back from the "plays everything" nature of the PS3, although that could change with a future firmware update.
If you're willing to give the PS4 a pass by not supporting the 30-year-old compact disc format, it's harder to explain away the fact that it's not DLNA-compliant and can't play MP3s. Again, that may just be a launch-day limitation, with more features added in a future firmware update, but at least for now, the PS4 isn't nearly as capable as the PS3 is on the digital media side.
Finally, since a PS4 in standby mode can now be remotely turned on, a purchase made through the Sony Entertainment Network site can be downloaded to a PS4 without having to be in front of the physical console. Essentially you could make a purchase at work and have it ready to play by the time you get home.
The PlayStation 4 is a worthy successor to the PlayStation 3, but like most launch consoles, there's a ton of promise for the future and not a whole lot to write home about out of the gate.
So what does that mean for the prospective next-generation gamer? If you already own a current-generation gaming system and don't necessarily need the absolute latest and greatest, it might be smart to hold off on a purchase. More PS4 features are planned to go live in the coming months, and there's no shame in waiting to see how the dust settles.
An awful number of PS4 games already exist on the PS3 and Xbox 360, not to mention the enormous library of well-established media-streaming software currently available right now. It might be wishful thinking, but another PS3 or Xbox 360 price drop could also be right around the corner. Odds are you won't be missing out on a lot of new gaming experiences if you already own a current-generation console.
With the PlayStation 4, Sony is giving us a very clear indication of where the company wants to take gaming, with its focus on streaming, social networking and sharing. The meshing of the PlayStation Network into the console's OS is a compelling narrative on paper, but whether it pans out is still up in the air.