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PlayStation 4 Pre-launch Review: First and Foremost, a Game Console

by Eric Smith | 11月 14, 2013

Sony held a two-day pre-launch event on November 11 and 12 in advance of its November 15 release of PlayStation4, taking over the Standard High Line hotel in midtown New York City. And by “taking over,” I mean cloaking every corner of the hotel in the iconic triangle, circle, X, and square of the PlayStation controller, filling half of the tower’s floors with game developers to provide walk-throughs and insights on launch titles, and a separate floor dedicated to hardware and UI introduction by staff and executives. The event drew upon the confidence that Sony has built through its nine-month campaign to introduce its next gen console to the world.

Upon visiting the developers of Killzone: Shadow Fall for a demo, it was quickly clear that the PS4 was built primarily for gamers. The graphics were so rich and engaging while the gaming experience was highly customizable and adaptive. The developers noted that the technological jump from PS3 to PS4 was so great that they were only limited by their imagination in terms of how many options they could give players, how many characters could be onscreen at once, and how much the environment could be manipulated by the player. In contrast, the jump from PS2 to PS3 was much less noticeable and they quickly ran into technical boundaries when developing their first games.

Next generation isn’t a label only limited to the graphics though. Sony is staking its claim on social gaming by allowing players to post videos of their gaming exploits on Facebook, screenshots on Facebook and Twitter, and to broadcast live gameplay (with 15 to 20 seconds of latency) through Twitch and UStream. Users are instantaneously notified of their friends’ activities in a section called “What’s New” on the home screen, creating a feedback loop wherein users further explore games or buy new ones with just a few button presses.

Despite boasting very smooth menu transitions and game loading, the console did freeze up for a tense minute in the middle of the guided hardware and UI introduction. Other than that minor hiccup and some latency in the Music Unlimited App (PS4’s music streaming service), the consoles on display performed well and seamlessly transitioned from task to task. After bringing a unit home for testing, I found a few other issues that didn’t work as well in the real world as they did during the event. First, the PlayStation Camera was a bit temperamental, having trouble picking up and tracking movement during games. Second, the PlayStation App intended to turn iOS and Android devices into second screens in some games did not function as it did during demos.

A 323MB firmware update is needed out of the box, but this was not a big hassle even considering my modest home network. Using a home Wi-Fi network (with an older router, mind you) on a 25Mbps downstream cable connection, the update stalled out once, and then downloaded again and updated without incident in about ten minutes.

The entertainment apps available at launch in the U.S. are adequate, including Amazon, Redbox Instant, Netflix, Crackle, Hulu Plus, NHL and NBA channels, and users may rent or purchase content from the PlayStation Store. There are just few too multimedia apps available at launch to stay captivating, but in the end, I expect more apps to get certified for PS4. The system should become a good substitute for smart TV for those with dumb or even (gasp) non-connected TVs – the UI is clean, easily navigable, and brings a full-screen immersive app experience to the TV.

One change that may shock current PS3 and PS Vita users is that online multi-player is only available to PS4 users who subscribe to PlayStation Plus, at a cost of $49.99 yearly. Certainly, there are other advantages that come with the Plus subscription, not the least of which is 1GB of cloud storage for game downloads, but turning online multi-player into a luxury may be an issue for some gamers. From a business perspective, though, Xbox has been doing this for years and PlayStation may have finally decided that they were leaving too much money on the table.

All in all, I was impressed with the system and stand by the forecast we published just a few weeks ago showing PS4 edging out Xbox One in global unit shipments in the first years of availability. PS4 delivers a quality gaming experience that will impress its current fan base while winning some conquest sales from former Xbox 360 fans. In the coming days, I will review the Xbox One and the competitive environment in which next gen consoles find themselves in more detail.

- Eric Smith

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