PS4 review - Is it the next-gen console for you?
To date the PS4 has taken an early lead in terms of sales over its main rival, the Xbox One, and here we’ll look at why it’s our next-gen console of choice. Eight months after its launch the PS4 is ticking along nicely, the first few months were pretty sparse admittedly, but prettier versions of last-gen titles and some indie gems kept the console ticking over. At E3 recently there was a lot of next-gen titles on show, though many won't hit until 2015 unfortunately. Thankfully there's still some mouth-watering titles to play this year.
Sony has positioned the angular PS4 as a purebred gaming machine, with a powerful hardware specification. Open the box and its clear that the vast majority of your £349 has been spent inside the casing. There's no bundled camera peripheral, only the bare minimum of ports on the back, and even the power brick has been integrated inside the chassis. It's neat, compact and powerful-looking. But will it fulfil its early promise and be the console to own for years to come?
The PS4 is an incredibly sleek piece of kit. The raked front and back make it seem like a solid slab of technology hewn from a larger piece. The mix of matt and gloss areas succeeds in looking classier than an either an all-matt or all-gloss finish would have. As plastic boxes go, this is among the best looking we've seen.
The PS4 is a smart-looking piece of kit and, despite it having PC-related components inside, it looks nothing like a PC
A recessed central gully contains the slot-loading drive and twin front USB3 ports, while a line bisecting the console the other way integrates the power and eject buttons and a strip of light that lets you know the console's power status and can provide notifications. We like the look, but we'd rather have had proper buttons that click in when you touch them.
Around the back is the HDMI output, Ethernet port, S/PDIF output and an AUX port for the PlayStation Camera peripheral. Power is provided by plugging in a typical figure-eight power lead and it draws from 80W idling, up to 140W in game.
There's not much in the way of ports at the back, but there's plenty of venting
Placed horizontally it's practically silent when idling, which is good for Blu-ray playback or streaming TV. However, it does pick up considerably when playing a game, and even more so when navigating the main menu while a game ran in the background. It's notably louder than the Xbox One and we couldn't help but be a little disappointed, you'll want to keep it as far away from you as possible when gaming. Position it upright and the fan noise increases further still, so best to keep it lying down somewhere with good air flow.
Inside the console Sony has used similar components to Microsoft, with a powerful AMD chip at its heart. For the PS4 this single integrated chip contains both an eight-core CPU and a GPU with 18 compute units. That's 50% more compute units than the Xbox One, providing a significant advantage in graphical horsepower, which can also be turned to use in special effects and advanced physics simulation if preferred.
The PS4's memory system consists of a single large pool of 8GB of super-fast GDDR5 memory - more than we've seen on even the most expensive PC graphics cards. The Xbox One by comparison uses the same amount of slower DDR3 memory, with a super-fast 32MB cache to help make up the difference.
At present, the PS4's simpler memory architecture and superior GPU has proved easier for developers to get to grips with. The PS4 has smoother frame rates and higher resolutions in the demanding multi-platform shooter such as Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts. With time, the Xbox One may be able to close some of this disparity, but the PS4 is undoubtedly the more powerful console.
The DualShock 4 is a huge improvement over its predecessor, and it needed to be. Though still recognisably a PlayStation controller the new controller is larger and more comfortably rounded. The back has a non-slip micro-texture and the front is dominated by a light that reacts to in-game events, identify players by colour, and allows the PS4 camera peripheral to track its movements accurately. That light was a little too bright for our tastes initially, reflecting off our TV screen in the dark; thankfully, the April 2014 update allows you to change it from the original Bright setting, down to Medium or Dim (simply hold down the PS button on the controller and select Adjust Devices).
It has a built-in 800mAh battery that charges over a micro USB connection. It's very convenient but it's limited battery life of around eight hours means you'll want to leave on charge whenever you're not playing. Thankfully you can set the PS4's USB port to output power while the console is in standby.
The new controller is more comfortable to hold, has more precise controls and a couple of next-gen features too - it's a fantastic evolution of previous DualShock controllers
The analogue sticks have more resistance and very little deadzone before they react to your inputs; they're also further apart, so you thumbs never touch, and are very precise. The d-pad is responsive with good feedback, though the face buttons could have clicked a little more positively. The triggers are good too, though they lack the vibration feedback of the Xbox One's.
The new gamepad also adds a touchpad, so you can execute swipes and other gesture-based commands. This also clicks in to provide a way to select options from onscreen menus. Less obvious is the built-in motion controls which are beautifully refined, giving you instinctive input in supporting games.
We love that you can hook up headphones to the controller for late-night sessions ...
... and you can control the volume by holding down the PS button and accessing this menu
One feature we love on the DualShock 4 is its microphone port. As well as being used to add a chat headset for multiplayer games (a basic one comes bundled), you can also output full stereo audio from the PS4 (game, movie, TV catch-up, anything) through it. It's brilliant for late night sessions with headphones without disturbing anyone else or running cables across your living room. There's a crisp mono speaker too for up-close sound effects and you can talk back thanks to a microphone.
For its controls alone, we narrowly prefer the offset stick layout of the Xbox One's controller, but as a complete package the DualShock 4 feels more next-gen.