Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My PS4 Review

After almost a year I'm back!!!. Hopefully this will not be another annual update. This post would be a little different, since this time, its going to be a review about the PS4. To set the stage, I should admit I have no experience with the XBOX eco-system, therefore any comparison I am making with XBOX is from what I have heard either through my friends who own them or from the internet. But I have used all of Sony's home consoles, therefore my comparisons with previous generation Playstations are based on my first hand experiences. Also I apologize for the crappy images since all were captured from my phone.

I got the PS4 in Sri Lanka for roughly 600 USD, much higher than the retail price of almost all the regions where the PS4 has been officially launched. For this review I will ignore the price factor, since this can vary from where you decide to get the console. In my case I got 1 year warranty as well.

The Packaging

The packaging is rather restrained with the box displaying a picture of a PS4 standing vertically using a vertical stand. The box comes with a carry grip for easy carrying, which is a nice touch. When you open it, you find the console neatly packed, along with the new Dualshock 4 controller, a single piece headset with a mic that can be plugged to the controller, USB charging cable for the controller and a HDMI cable. When you remove the console, you can find the user manuals packed beneath. All in all packaging is pretty neat and conventional. 

The Console

The first thing you notice when you look at the PS4 in person is how good its looks. It is roughly the same size as the PS3 Slim. However when you pick it up, it feels a little heavier than the PS3.

The console itself is sleek and its very refreshing to see that Sony actually took trouble to make it look nice, especially when comparing it to the XBOX One. You can shamelessly keep it in the living room and proudly show it around to any visitors without causing an eyesore.

However there are minor faults with the design. The power button and the eject button are so small that you hardly notice them at first. This is not a huge issue for the power button since you can always turn on/off the PS4 with the controller once it is successfully paired with the console for the first time.

Unsurprisingly all the ports including the power cable port, HDMI and the LAN are at the back. A minor quirk is that there are no USB ports at the back which can be problematic for some people. The front USB ports are wedged deep inside a crevice and its not the most practical place to have them. I think the reason for this placement is cosmetic, to make the PS4 look sleek. Unless you plan to plug in USB gadgets all the time, this is not a big issue.

The Controller

The new Dual Shock 4, although slightly larger, is an improvement over most aspects compared to the Dual Shock 3. It grips well and the new analog sticks are a joy to use. The thumb grips for the analogs now have a concave design which I really liked. The trigger buttons on the other hand are also revamped which is a welcome change. It feel more satisfying to press R2 and L2. Now some of the shooters bind R2 as the default button for fire and L2 for aim, instead of the R1, L1 combination in PS4. This can take a little getting used to at first, but its not a major hiccup.

The DS4 also comes with a touchpad. Currently only a few games use this feature and this might become a hindrance in the long run than a useful feature. There is no real value for hard core gaming that can be achieved using the touchpad. The positioning of the touch pad has forced sony to make the options button (which basically replaces the old start button in previous Dualshocks) smaller. I found this annoying at times when I wanted to pause a game in a hurry since its so small that you can't sometimes press it intuitively as you like to. 

You can also connect the headset to the controllers audio jack and route your in-game audio to the headset. I found this useful when gaming at night so rest of the household is not disturbed when you are chasing a racer with your horn blazing in NFS Rivals. Additionally the Dualshock 4 comes with a speaker as well.

The other addition is the new share button. This is a whole new feature that deserved a separate section to talk about, which I would do later in this post.

Before I move on from the controller, I should make a mention of the battery life. The DS4s battery lasts only about 4 hours for a single charge, which is woeful considering the DS3s life. This is slightly offset by the fact that you can charge the DS4 when the PS4 is in stand by mode, but still Sony should have put more thought into this.

The OS and UI

The PS4s OS and the UI is a major improvement from that of the PS3. Sony has put a lot of effort to address the shortcomings of PS3.

The first thing you notice when you start using the PS4 is the fluidity and smoothness of the UI compared to that of PS3. There is virtually no lag and the menu transitions and navigation between menu items is silk smooth. The new UI takes some inspiration from the old XMB interface in the PS3. The usual system specific icons are presented in a way reminiscent of the old PS3 XMB interface. These icons allow the user to go to settings, Playstation Store, check trophies, party creation etc. A layer beneath these lies the application specific stuff, which by default includes the browser, the playroom demo and installed games. This setup is easy to use and the smoothness of navigating this UI makes the experience more pleasant.

When Sony announced the PS4 in Feb 2013, they talked about an immediate gaming experience. I am happy to report that they have stuck to their words on this. Unlike the PS3, when you pop in a disk, PS4 does something called precaching, allowing the user to immediately play the game instead of waiting for an install. While you play the game for the first time, the OS installs the game in the background. Comparatively, you could not start the game until its fully installed on PS3.

Same goes for updates. Now you can download updates in the background. You no longer have to wait impatiently till the updates are downloaded and installed to play the game. However, its still a step behind the PC in this respect. When you buy a title on Steam and download, you download the latest fully patched version. This is not the case for PS4. Although you download the game + updates in PS4 in the background, you still download the unpatched game + updates seperately. This is a waste of bandwidth and can be particularly a big problem for users with data caps like myself. I experienced this on Resogun, which is luckily a small game. But if this happens with large patches, then it can become a major problem for people like me with data caps.

Users can also suspend a game and do other tasks on and switch back to the game seamlessly. A tap on the Playstation button on the controller would bring up the PS4 menu and you can do other stuff without exiting the game. This is a great improvement from the PS3 suspend functionality.

The UI can also be controlled using voice commands. The packaged headset, that comes with the PS4 allows the user to issue voice commands to the PS4. You can do basic things like shut down the PS4 or start an application. All you need to do is, say "playstation" and the list of available commands pops up. This worked surprisingly well for me.

The other interesting feature with the OS is the stand by mode. Instead of switching off the PS4 you can put the PS4 into standby mode. Which consumes less power and turns off the main CPU and instead, a secondary low power CPU is kept on. This CPU can handle downloads and uploads. Also you can connect the DS4 controller to charge it. This is a handy function if you want to charge the DS4 and download some games/updates while you are asleep.

Share Functionality

This is whole new aspect of next gen gaming that deserves a separate section. The PS4 comes with hardware level support to record game play and share them. The fact that the PS4 has hardware level support makes this a very simple and easy to use feature. PS4 records your last 15 minutes of gameplay and if you feel that there was something golden in that last 15 minutes you want to share, then all you need to do is to press that shiny new share button in the DS4. It brings up the share menu, where you can go through your saved footage and edit it (basically select which time block you want to crop and keep). Once edited you upload it to your facebook account.

Apart from that, you can live stream your gaming sessions on Twitch.tv. I did not try this feature due to my bandwidth limitations. So unfortunately I cannot comment how it is.

Games and Performance

Lets get to the good stuff. Unfortunately I do not own a lot of games yet. I only tried NFS Rivals, Resogun and Blacklight: Retribution. The PS4s launch library is not that large compared to that of XBOX one's. However out of the exclusives that make the quantitative difference between the two, only Forza 5 made me interested. On the other hand Sony's Killzone Shadowfall and Knack had mixed reviews. But everyone seems to agree that Killzone had awesome graphics, which I hope to try out soon.

Out of all the launch titles, the one that surprised me most was Resogun. Its a really cool game that shows off the PS4's graphical prowess. The main AAA title I played was NFS Rivals and its graphics are truly beautiful. The lighting and textures are highly improved from that of last gen and actually the PS4 version is more or less equal to that of the PC version when it comes to graphics. All the games I played so far ran pretty smooth without any framerate drops. I should also mention that PS4 is really quite even when playing games compared to the PS3. I could hardly hear a thing from the PS4s fans when I was gaming.

In terms of games selection, Sony has the most variety. Sony is not afraid to experiment with different game designs and there are plenty of examples on the ps3 with games like Heavy Rain, Beyond 2 Souls, little big planet, puppeteer and the pixel junk series. We can expect the same variety from Sony in the future with PS4. Sony seems to be having a good relationship with indie developers as well, which would result in even more unique experiences on the PS4. Microsoft on the other hand seems to have learned from Sony's practices and this time they have put more emphasis on exclusives compared to the X360. But it might be that Sony would edge ahead with the exclusives in the long run, but this can go either way in my view.

From what I can gather from the inter webs, it looks like PS4 has a sizable performance advantage of the XBOX One. Most of the early multiplatform titles do not render on 1080p natively on the XBOX while the PS4 is able to do it. We would see more about the performance gap in the coming years when developers unlock the potential of each console. Comparatively, XBOX has a different memory architecture with the inclusion of 32mb of eSRAM which is supposedly very fast. This seems to be making it difficult for developers to initially render games on 1080p. Once the developers unlock a way to properly use this, then we might see some parity with the PS4 in terms of resolution at least. The PS4s unified GDDR5 memory architecture seems to be pretty easy to deal with and had resulted in PS4s early success with game developers when it comes to visuals.

For multiplayer games, you need a Playstation Plus subscription which can cost you around 50 USD per year. For this, you also get monthly free games for the PS4, along with free titles for PS3 and PS Vita. However you do not need the Plus subscription to play multiplayer only free to play games such as Warframe, War Thunder or Blacklight. Nor do you need Plus for the sharing functionality. This is a good generous offer from Sony. In my opinion plus is nothing but a good thing since we are also getting free games and if Sony decides to give away AAA titles for the PS4 as they do for the PS3, it would be even more awesome.


I really do like the PS4. Its a huge step up from the PS3 in most areas. Sony has learned from the PS3 and made it easier for the developers and also made it a more pleasant experience for users in general.


+ Beautiful Console
+ Smooth UI and OS performance
+ Greatly improved graphics compared to PS3
+ Background updates and downloads
+ Seamless sharing functionality
+ Suspend functionality
+ Ability to route game audio to the headset connected to the controller


- Controller battery life is poor
- Options button is too small
- Separate patch downloads for new games 

My score 9/10