[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ell the most striking about the PS4 is the size of the box, very slim and surprisingly small. So what’s contained in the diminutive packaging? Well there are no analogue video cables this time round so if you haven’t gone HD yet then you won’t be getting a PS4. It’s a minor issue no doubt but could alienate a handful of users still using TVs with no HDMI support. On the flip side this means that the console finally comes shipped with a HDMI cable in the box, so that’s certainly a plus.
Elsewhere there is one Dual Shock 4 controller with a micro USB charging cable, whilst it’s a lot easier making the move to micro USB, why on earth does the PS4 ship with a 1m cable? It’s unlikely to reach anyone’s sofa and seems poorly thought out especially when the DS4’s battery life is so much shorter than its predecessor. Admittedly, a 3m cable can be picked up for a couple of quid online but then Sony could have thrown this in at minimal extra cost, as it stands most people will find it impractical to play and charge. In addition to the above the box obviously contains a power lead (the supply unit is internal) and the console itself.
Thankfully when you get through the packing with a minimum of fuss it’s pleasing to say that the console itself looks great.
This is a refreshing change to have a small form factor in a launch console, without even mentioning the size of the Xbox One just think back to how big the first PS3s were and let’s be frank they looked terrible. It wasn’t until the PS3 Slim that Sony nailed a half decent design. The PS4 puts these concerns behind us and its angular look and plain black casing with a subtle but effective light strip produce a very ‘cool’ looking piece of kit that will stand out under your TV but never dominate your set up. It’s very easy to get up and running and you can in fact use your existing PS3 cables without having to unplug anything from the TV so top marks for set up!
But what about the controller, I hear you shout! Well to be frank it’s excellent and a massive improvement to the lazy outdated DS3. The analogue sticks are tighter and have a concave surface that your thumbs won’t always slide off and the L2 & R2 buttons feel like triggers now. The increased size really benefits the player and it’s a lot more comfortable to hold.
As for the touchpad and speaker, they seem solid enough but haven’t really been exploited by the launch software so the jury is out for the time being. One stupid feature though that has been a concern since the controller was announced is the light bar, utterly useless without the optional Playstation Camera, reflects off the screen (especially if you own a glass fronted plasma) and just drains battery life. Come on Sony, admit you screwed this up and give us the option to turn it off.
But onwards to what the machine is like switched on, initial set up screens a very similar to the PS3, having wisely been given the option to download the firmware update 1.51 to a USB stick (from a PC) our unit was started in safe mode and even from here it took two simple steps to put the new firmware on the system – enabling amongst other things, 2D Blu-ray play back.3D functionality is strangely lacking.
Once the machine boots you are treated a minimal PS sign and then into a very clean and simple OS screen, everything you have played/installed is lined up in a row, with the more familiar cross media bar now sitting above the home screen. In all honesty it felt a little underwhelming in comparison to other new console launches, just a little ‘meh’. But after a couple of days with it, the simplicity is appreciated and you can see the focus Sony intends to put on games this time around. The usual video apps are present and correct and easy enough to access, shoehorned off of the main menu in an easy to find section of their own.
Other noticeable improvements are the noise of the system, it runs almost silently in an average size lounge and you will only occasionally here it spin up a disc. The dreaded update screens have virtually been eliminated now as well and things download and install a damn site quicker than Playstation owners will be used to.
Sony’s Music Unlimited service can be played over games and the interface is much improved this time round. However at launch there is no media server, MP3 or audio CD playback but Sony appears to be addressing this with a future update.
Despite some minor niggles the hardware itself seems spot on, it looks great and is very easy to use, the only major issue to report is PSN being down for most of launch day and certain online features still being disabled two days after launch. Fair enough it was fixed quickly but it’s not good to have the service struggle at launch. A number of users may have brought the system without a physical copy of a game and would been left a very pretty brick for a number of hours. It’s been working fine since and finding an online game hasn’t been an issue so hopefully plain sailing from here.
Overall you already know if you are going to buy a system at launch or not so these kinds of reviews won’t always make any difference. Ultimately it boils down the games but that’s another discussion entirely.
As a piece of hardware the PS4 is an evolution of what worked on PS3 and the new OS won’t blow you away. However first impressions show it’s subtly getting everything right and in the long run you’ll thank it for not being overly flash and bringing consoles back to being games machines first and foremost.