Update: If you're looking to buy a PS4 in anticipation of Playstation VR launching later this year then you might want to wait a little while. According to one chief technical officer (CTO) working in the industry, Sony's upcoming headset might be "terrible" on launch PS4s, prompting the company to launch an updated 4K Playstation 4.
In an interview with the magazine EDGE the CTO (who chose to remain anonymous) said "PSVR was going to be terrible on a [launch] PS4. It was going to be truly awful. Something a bit more powerful starts to bring VR into range. If you want to deal with crazy requirements for performance in VR, you absolutely have to do this."
As you'll see from our review below, the PS4 is good for much much more than just PlayStation VR, but if the headset is something that's important to you then you might want to wait until after E3 2016, when Sony is expected to officially reveal the future of the PS4.
Sony's Playstation 4 is without doubt the front-runner in today's battle of the consoles. At the last count it had shipped well over 36 million PS4s around the world, with the competing Xbox One from Microsoft has only been able to shift around 20 million consoles.
What Microsoft hasn't got though is updated hardware and that's something the chunky, VCR-looking Xbox One needs to change.
The new PS4 hardware update, however, has been pretty low-key and is currently only available in 500GB trim. The current 1TB consoles out in the wild are all still running the older CUH-1100 series hardware - something to keep an eye out for if you're looking to pick up a new Playstation 4 this year.
This CUH-1200 series of consoles has had some pretty major refinements to its build, even if it isn't the anticipated 'slim' version that some were expecting.
There are a few cosmetic changes to the design. For a start the two-tone finish of the original PS4 is gone, replaced by a complete matte black finish.
Something that's going to be more divisive though is the way Sony has replaced the touch-sensitive power and eject buttons with actual physical press-buttons. Being able to register when they've been depressed is sometimes preferable, but I never had a problem with the original's touchy-feely buttons before.
And these slightly wobbly, hollow-sounding buttons definitely feel a little cheaper.
But it's the internal components which have seen the biggest changes.
The actual motherboard itself is smaller and there are fewer memory chips arrayed around the AMD APU at the PS4's heart. That doesn't mean there's any less GDDR5 memory in the new CUH-1200 series consoles, Sony has simply used higher density Samsung 8Gb chips so it doesn't need to use as many of the 4Gb memory chips it previously used.
Sony has also used a re-designed Blu-ray drive inside it. Which probably goes to explain why you get less drive/disc noise from the new unit too.
The drive spins down a lot quicker and doesn't seem to have the same aural note as the original device.
And noise is a key factor in the new design too.
It's subjectively quieter than the original PS4; almost noiseless when sat under your TV. That's also largely down to the fact the new PS4 runs cooler thanks to its lower power draw, which means the fans need to spin up less when the machine is being taxed.
It's really impressive what Sony has managed to do in terms of the power draw of the new CUH-1200 series of consoles, and that has had a knock on effect on the whole device.
At idle the new Playstation 4 uses around 20% less power and around 36% less when running in Rest Mode. When in that state the new machine is now drawing only 9W from the wall.
The most impressive change though is what's going on when the PS4 is running at full tilt in game. I ran a graphically-intensive section of The Last of Us Remastered on both consoles and while the original machine is hitting 151W at peak the new PS4 is only hitting 114W at most.
That's a huge saving in power - around 25% less.
The manufacturing moves haven't affected the console's performance, just made it cooler, quieter and more efficient. And when Sony can do that with likely a cheaper bill of materials (especially given the simplified Blu-ray and less memory silicon) it only helps boost its margins.
And could also mean a price-cut this year might be on the cards. We may find out at this year's Paris Games Week after Sony avoided Gamescom 2015 to make a splash later in the year.
Elsewhere it's exactly the same as the original console which has so effectively claimed dominion over the current-generation console war.
The controller hasn't been altered and it runs exactly the same firmware revision as the standard console. There has also been no change in gaming performance - and so no move towards getting 4K gaming anywhere close. But that also means existing PS4 owners shouldn't be too worried.
What it does mean though is that if you're going to be buying a new PS4 this year you absolutely need to make sure it's this updated one. And that, at the moment, means limiting yourself to the 500GB version as the 1TB CUH-1200 series still hasn't found its way out into the wild.
Handy hint - if you are looking to buy a new PS4, check the box before you buy.
Around where it mentions the hard drive capacity it will state the model number. If it says anything like CUH-1200 (in the UK our model number is CUH-1216A) then you're golden, but if it's CUH-1000 or CUH-1100 then put it back.
Getting ready to celebrate its two-year anniversary in November, the PlayStation 4 is really getting into its stride now and is well on its way to becoming one of the most successful games consoles of all time.
After selling an incredible one million units in just its first 24 hours on sale in the US, the PS4 has now been snapped up by nearly 24 million gamers worldwide at its last count.
That's a huge number which is even more impressive when you consider it's almost double the number of Xbox One consoles that have sold in the same time period. The sales gap is growing every day, too, despite Microsoft's price cuts to bring parity to the dual.
Things certainly don't look like turning round for the PS4 either.
Sony has recently redesigned the console for the CUH-1200 model, with a less power-hungry PSU and quieter operation as well as a fully matte-black design.
With more graphical power than the Xbox One, 32 times more system memory than the PS3 and a firm focus on pure gaming experiences rather than media might, the PS4 has established itself as the console to beat of this generation.
It's a games console built by gamers for gamers and won the hearts and minds of many from the word go, with lots of prospective next-genners left feeling alienated by some of Microsoft's bizarre policies and choices for the Xbox One – many of which were reversed as a result of a backlash.
What's more, the PS4 is now available online for less than £300, which is about the same price as Microsoft's Xbox One bundle without Kinect. It doesn't come with the PlayStation Camera but this can be bought separately for £39 if you really want one.
We don't think it's necessary, but we'll get to that.
The differences between the PS4 and Xbox One are evident before you even switch them on.
Despite the two consoles both sporting similar half-matte half-gloss finishes and containing very similar internal components, they really couldn't be more different.
For a start, the PS4's parallelogram form is small and sleek in comparison to the enormous VCR-like cuboid of the Xbox One. And this means that the PS4's box is half the size and weight, and with the new PS4 versions arriving later this year they're getting even lighter.
The Sony console can be extracted from its packaging and plugged in and booted up in a couple of minutes.
Xbox One on the other hand comes in a huge, hulking box. It's fiddly to open and unpack, and it's full of little compartments, with loads of cardboard and plastic bits to get in your way.
This is the kind of streamlining that typifies the PlayStation experience with PS4.
It's a console designed for gamers to play games and in this respect it could be described as more of spiritual successor to the PlayStation 2 – still the best selling games console the observable universe has ever known.
One look at the PS4 and you know you're looking at Sony hardware. It's slim, sleek, available in jet black and shiny white, and amazingly it's roughly the size of a second generation PS3 Slim.
You could also pick it up in PSOne grey for a limited amount of time, but that didn't end so well...
The full measurements are 275 x 53 x 305 mm so it's a lot more compact than an Xbox One, which is longer, taller and squarer.
In a feat of engineering worth tipping your hat to, and in spite of the PlayStation 4's slim stature, Sony has tucked the power supply inside the system, leaving no external power brick to trip over.
The Xbox One on the other hand retains the external power brick of the Xbox 360, leaving you with more mess behind your TV, though without the ol' 360's overheating issues.
The PS4 is meant to lay flat on its belly but, if your media centre can only accommodate a vertical machine, Sony has a plastic stand it sells separately for £17 which helps the system stand up straight.
On the front-facing side you'll find a slot-loading Blu-ray disc drive and to its right two powered USB 3.0 ports, which can charge your DualShock 4 controllers even when the system is turned off and are used to sync controllers when taking gamepads from one place to another.
Spin the system around and you'll be met with an HDMI (still only 1.4 m'afraid), Ethernet and a digital optical audio out port, as well as a proprietary auxiliary connection for the PlayStation Camera.
Along the top - or the side if you've opted for the stand - is a light, which glows blue when you boot it up. It breathes some life into the otherwise cold industrial design of the system. Turn it on and it blinks a yawning hello.
Inside, the PS4 is all business. It has a custom single-chip processor that combines an eight core x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" CPU with a 1.84 teraflop GPU based on AMD's Radeon graphics technology. That's backed by 8GB of mega-fast GDDR5 RAM, and a 500GB mechanical hard drive.
There is also a new 1TB version of the PlayStation 4 on its way in July if you don't want to take to your console with a screwdriver.
Overall, Sony claims that the PS4's overall performance is ten times that of the PS3.
For wireless connections, the PS4 uses 802.11 b/g/n for WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 for its wireless DualShock 4 controllers.
What's in the box?
You're bringing home more than a just a stylish, black or white parallelogram. In addition to the actual system you get a power cord (not a big power brick), an HDMI cable, an earbud microphone combo, one DualShock 4 controller and its charging cable (we charged our DualShock 4 pad using the Xbox One and the world did not end).
Extra controllers don't come with another charging cable, so don't lose that one.
Also, note that we said earbud singular, not earbuds, as in just for one ear. It's cheap but serviceable, but you can actually plug any headphones you already own into the controller's headphone jack, so it's not much of an issue.
If there's a team that works harder than Sony's internal development team, we'd like to meet them. As it is, they roll out monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) updates that drastically change the interface and feature set of the system.
The biggest changes of the past years? The Sony-exclusive rental streaming service called PlayStation Now - finally now in paid beta form in the UK- Remote Play, Sharefactory and Share Play, which debuted in system firmware 2.0.
Of course there have been myriad minor changes like the ability to turn off HDCP, play games while they're downloading, upload clips to YouTube and set themes and background images for the home screen in that time as well.
All of these features can be found sporadically throughout the new PlayStation Dynamic Menu, the primary GUI of the PS4. It's capable of delivering games, movies and TV shows into your home at lightning speeds as well as connecting you to your friends and other online gamers through the PlayStation Network.
Remember to use the ability to post to Twitter and Facebook to share your best brag-worthy gaming moments and, if you're feeling outgoing, you can stream to Twitch here too.
Sony has also recently boosted the PS4's capabilities as a media player too, by releasing a new PS4 Media Centre app. Finally Sony's console has almost the same excellent non-gamey playback as its PS3 forebear.
Yes, you can now play .mkv files, you lucky people.
Setting up the PlayStation 4 is very easy, especially if you have a PS3. You can actually use the same cables from Sony's last system, making for a very easy swap.
As mentioned above, the PS4 is super easy to extract from its box and set up, leaving minimal mess and very little environment-killing packaging.
Once it's all plugged in and booted up, your new PS4 will ask to connect to the internet. It wants to download the latest patches which could take a while depending on your connection, but it doesn't need them for offline play.
You are able to skip WiFi or ethernet altogether and just pop in a game. Unlike the Xbox One, you can get to the homescreen without initially connecting to the web and patching.
Once you do connect to the internet, you'll need to let the PS4 update before you can make purchases from the store or play online.
The PlayStation Store is your portal to every shred of content Sony has available on its system. You'll use it to shop for the latest games, movies and featured content that the Big Blue thinks you ought to know about.
Of course featured games have come and gone over the course of the past year, but one new feature that's stuck around is the ability to buy a digital copy of a game and have it install days before its retail launch.
You won't be able to start it until the midnight of its launch-day, but just having a game the second the clock strikes 12 is convenient.
If you're not buying a game the minute it comes out, you can even start playing part of the game before the download completes.
When purchasing a game you'll be asked which portion of the game should be prioritised, single player or multiplayer, essentially letting you choose which part of the game you want to hop into first.
In a little less than an hour, you'll be able to start playing a brand new title.
It may seem like something only the truly impatient would enjoy, but when you consider that many releases weigh in excess of 35GB, it's real luxury feature, and another impressive bit of engineering.
And might put a stop to some of that midnight queuing.
Then there's the PlayStation app for iOS and Android. With just the stroke of a touchscreen, you can remotely purchase games and get the download going on your PS4 so it's ready and waiting when you get home (the console will turn on, download and switch off on its own).
PS Vita and Xperia Remote Play
When Remote Play for the PS Vita and Xperia smartphones was announced, everyone chirped that the PS4 would be the best thing ever to happen to Sony's struggling handheld.
In short, a WiFi connected PS4 can stream gameplay to a Vita or recent Xperia handset, much like a gaming PC streaming Borderlands 2 to the Nvidia Shield, or the Windows to Linux streaming of Valve's Steam Box.
We used the PS4 and Vita over our home WiFi and the connection to the PS4 was lag free so you can actually use it as an additional control pad, as well as a second screen. It's a great way to avoid using the on screen keyboard, if nothing else.
Sharing gameplay and videos
When Sony pulled the PS4 out of the shadows and started rattling off features, it mentioned one truly original and intriguing feature: saving and sharing gameplay videos with the press of the Share button on the DualShock 4.
At all times when playing a game, your last fifteen minutes of action is being recorded.
This can be disabled, if you find it creepy or want to save on hard drive space, but it's switched on by default. There are also places where recording or screen grabs are locked out by developers. It's usually during cinematics or in certain menus.
Right on the console you can manipulate the video to a limited degree, more like trimming than true editing, and then share it to Facebook, YouTube or on the PSN. You can also take a screenshot by holding the Share button, and then attach it to a PSN message, Facebook or tweet it.
You can also stream live gameplay for others to watch over Twitch and Ustream, something PC gamers have enjoyed for a while now. It's quite painless to set up, especially compared to the third-party mechanics needed to employ this on a last-gen system.
Share Play allows players to let friends take control of the game they're playing, watch their in-game progress, and even lets them invite friends to play with them co-operatively or competitively (depending on the game). The most interesting aspect about this is that both players don't need to own the game in order to have a shared session. It's pretty simple to use; simply hit the Share button on the control pad and a menu pops up in which players can select the Share Play feature. Then it's all a matter of sending out an invitation to a player in their friend list. You can read more about Share Play on the Network page of this review.
DualShock 4 pad + PS Camera
The PlayStation 4 is one hot combination of industrial design and gaming hardware, but what about those accessories? How are they for interacting with the system?
Out of the box you've got one DualShock 4 controller and its charging cable. Sold separately, a spare will cost you £35 in black, with more exotic colours like red and blue available for a touch more.
Then there's the PlayStation Camera. It's available online for £45, and while it lacks the robust feature set of its new Kinect rival, the fact that it's sold separately is likely why the PS4 was originally able to undercut the Xbox One by £80.
So thank it for that, at the very least.
DualShock 4 controller
The PlayStation and its DualShock pad have been peas in the proverbial pod since the brand's inception. Ever since the introduction of the twin analog stick design in 1997, Sony has changed little about its signature gamepad.
The DualShock 4, the current controller model that ships with the PlayStation 4, is the most refined iteration yet. And while it might look an awful lot like a DualShock 3, it's far from the same old controller from the past seven years.
It's built on a series of tweaks, rather than an overhaul, of the last Sony controller.
Most alterations made to the DualShock seem based on user feedback, targeting a specific annoyance gamers had with last gen's model. For example, the twin analog sticks are now spaced a little bit further apart, so it's no longer possible to smack your thumbs together when pulling both sticks towards each other.
The tops of the sticks are now dimpled. They also have an extra grippy rubber texture, making them very easy to manipulate. Shooter fans especially should appreciate these tweaks.
Over long gaming sessions we still found its symmetrical stick layout to be more fatiguing than Xbox's asymmetrical design. The DualShock 4 is the best DualShock yet, but die hard fans of Microsoft's gamepad, or long time DualShock haters, won't be won over.
We would certainly say that the new Xbox One pad is a lot nicer to use, but this is all about personal preference.
The L2 and R2 shoulder buttons, which commonly function as triggers, have been extended. They're a lot easier to catch and grip, and it's more comfortable to rest a finger on one, ready for that quick reaction shot.
Sony has also stepped away from the classic DualShock design by shifting from Start and Select buttons to Share and Options. Not only are they labeled in a way that better fits their functions, they're no longer rubber. They're fitted flush, making them hard to hit by accident, and they feel closer to a mouse click then the spongy button we were used to.
Speaking of a mouse, the DualShock 4 also sports a touchpad.
It's metal construction feels great to the touch. Fingers glide smoothly and it can be clicked, just like on a laptop. In fact, it feels a lot like what you'd find on a MacBook; the overall construction is excellent.
While it's underused by the current crop of games, the touchpad is a smart addition. It's fabulously intuitive, and will certainly be a boon for both menu navigation and casual gaming.
Borrowing a feature from the Wii Remote, the DualShock 4 has a little speaker. It leaves us wondering if Sony will best Nintendo here by figuring out something useful to do with it. Right now the best we've encountered is the way Resogun pipes important bits of narration through it, leaving us free to mute the game and blast our own music.
There's a 3.5mm headphone jack too, so you can plug any old headphones or headset right into the controller. It's extremely convenient, and a great money saver since you can use earbuds or whatever else you already own. The sound outputs in stereo, so it's a bit of a waste to use a fancy 5.1 cans this way, but the sound options in settings let you choose between piping chat or game audio into your ears.
Sony has also streamlined the whole "who's player one?" question. Each controller has a light bar that glows one of four colors: blue, red, green or purple. Players are now identified by color, rather than a number.
It's now much easier to know who's who at a glance, but these glowing controllers can get obnoxious when you're trying watch a movie in a darkened room. There's really no reason why they should be lit up when you're using Netflix, or when there's only one controller turned on, for that matter.
The only solution is to turn the controller off, which means having to wake it when you want to pause your movie.
The DualShock 4 also has less battery life than the previous model.
A day of moderate gaming, or leaving the controller on when you watch a film, puts a serious drain on its charge. Our controller frequently ran dry before the end of the day, to the point where we seriously suggest owning at least two, especially if your TV is too far from the couch to play while plugged in.
Basically, you need to remember to keep a controller plugged into the PS4 whenever it's not in use. Thankfully the system can charge a DualShock when it's off or on standby, something the PS3 shockingly could not do, so at least Sony has addressed that major last-gen oversight.
Nothing says next-gen like voice and face recognition technology, hence the PlayStation Camera.
While it's a shadow of its rival the new Xbox One Kinect, it's a massive step up from the PlayStation Eye Camera, thanks to controller tracking and a built-in microphone.
It's still a rather unnecessary accessory, at least at this point in the system's life. There are hardly any games that use it and the interface doesn't depend on it in any meaningful ways.
At login, the PS4 can use the camera to recognize your face. It actually needs you to hold up a DualShock, where it uses the light bar's color to figure out who's player one and so forth. It's amusing and futuristic, but doesn't really speed up the sign in process, which is already as simple as clicking on your name.
The PlayStation Camera has a microphone, which can pick up simple spoken commands. The PS4's voice controls are limited, especially compared to the Xbox One. It can be used to launch games, put the system in standby or capture a screenshot. However, voice functions can also work through a microphone, either by plugging the ear bud that comes with the system into your controller or through a fancy third-party headset.
As far as games go, only one title truly requires it: Just Dance 2014. For gamers, this should be the deciding factor: do you want to spend an extra £54.99 to play just one game? Personally, we'd recommend waiting until there's another title or two.
But given that it's half way through 2015, and we still can't find anything worthwhile beyond Just Dance 2014 to recommend it, we'd argue the chances of a killer app coming out for the PS Camera are pretty slim.
There is the Playroom, a sort of tech demo that comes with the PS4. It's a showroom feature, the kind of thing that gets otherwise uninterested people engaging with the console. But nearly two years down the line, we're rather bored of it.
The closest thing it has to a game is air hockey, but the most engaging feature is AR Robots. Here, AR stands for augmented reality.
The camera puts you and your living room on the screen, surrounding you with little squealing robots. You can interact with them in limited ways, knocking them around or vacuuming them up with the controller.
Since there's no goal and limited gameplay it's a really just a tech demo. It's amusing and terribly cute, until you run out of friends to show it to. After that, you'll quickly stop visiting the Playroom.
Basically, the PlayStation Camera works well and has some amusing features, but it's entirely inessential. While these camera probably won't fly off the shelves, we're happy that Sony chose not make it essential.
The PlayStation 3, with its with its 256MB of XDR Main RAM and 256MB of GDDR3 VRAM made it seven years, and managed to support visual feasts like The Last of Us and God of War: Ascension during its final days.
So it's pleasing to see a whole 8GB of super-fast GDDR5 memory sitting at the heart of the PS4. That's future-proofing right there, and enables the PS4 to perform tasks extremely quickly.
You'll be surprised at just how fast the system can boot and yet you into a game. Once in games, loading screens slip past almost without you noticing them.
The PlayStation 4's interface has been streamlined considerably. Now known as the Dynamic Menu, it's composed of two horizontal feeds. The primary menu serves up games and apps, the one above it hosts your trophies, friends list, your PSN profile and system settings.
Coming out of a cold boot, you're on the homescreen in less than thirty seconds. The same goes for coming out of standby. There's still some icon pop in, meaning the menu needs a few extra second to populate. None of that is terribly impressive, performance will undoubtedly be better for those who upgrade to an SSD.
As far as responding to player inputs goes, it's very fast. You can drill through menus almost immediately, and everything moves in the blink of an eye.
This homescreen is never far away, just pressing the PlayStation button summons it and pauses your current game. Also, if you get lost in an avalanche of menus, the PS button will bring back to the primary feed, a simple alternative to spamming the back button.
Switching from one game to another will end your current session; the PlayStation warns you of this and asks you to confirm the shutdown of whatever title you have paused in the background. Better make sure you've reached a checkpoint, as the title will boot fresh the next time you play it; it does not pick up right where you left off.
We said the interface is streamlined and it is, practically to a fault.
That primary feed constantly reorders itself, putting the recently accessed applications first. That's fine if you're only playing a game or two, but getting at something on your back burner means scrolling to the end of an ever growing list. Icons towards the back also need a second or two to appear.
The Dynamic Menu also lumps all your streaming apps into one icon. Everything from Netflix to Amazon to whatever else is found under TV & Video. Only Sony's Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited are allowed to hang out on the homescreen.
The only icon that never moves is What's New, basically the PSN's news feed. It's always at the front of the line and clicking into is to enter a jumbled nightmare that would make Mark Zuckerberg cry or laugh, we can't decide which.
It's an asymmetrical mishmash of icons representing everything your PSN friends have done, from play games to earn achievements to share gameplay videos and screenshots.
It's a total mess, especially compared to the neatly laid out Dynamic Menu.
The biggest problem with What's New is not the eye gouging layout, but the fact that there's not much to be done with 80% of the information there.
Suppose there's an icon saying Joe played Battlefield 4 for three hours last night. Clicking on the icon just provides a description from the PSN Store and a link to buy the game. And you can "like" the activity, adding yet another icon to everyone's jumbled feed.
The PlayStation 3 was beloved among AV enthusiasts and home theater techies as a simple, relatively inexpensive DLNA media server. Without breaking too much of a sweat you could have it streaming music and videos from your PC, playing them back over your stereo and HDTV.
The PlayStation 4 came with no such features when it first launched, not even having the capability to play MP3s, MKV or MPEG video files. These features have since been added though, we're relieved to say, via the new Media Centre app.
Streaming video apps
Like a good little console, the PS4 is playing host to a plethora of third-party apps for streaming movies and television. While it's neck and neck with the Xbox One in terms of library size.
Media streaming apps currently available on the PS4 include BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video and Demand 5. You can stream your own video files over your network to the PS4 using Plex.
New hardware rumoured for 4K video
Although there is a possibility that 4K video will be possible on the existing PS4 hardware, Netflix announced that there would be a new PS4 designed to offer support for the format in full. The existing console would only be able to play 4K video content at 30fps - a limitation of its HDMI 1.4 output - while a new one sporting HDMI 2.0 would allow playback at 60fps.
Also important would be the new Blu-ray format that supports 4K movies and HDR, Ultra HD Blu-ray. If Sony really did launch a new console, it would make sense for it to include that too. But at what cost? Will anyone pay more to support disc-based movies in these days of steaming?
But it looks like any actual hardware updates are off the table this year. The arrival of the new, lighter, less power-hungry, 1TB PS4 in July looks to have put pay to that.
We may see a hardware update, with HDMI 2.0, Ultra HD Blu-ray and the all-important HEVC compatibility for 4K playback, coming some time next year. Maybe with the arrival of Morpheus?
No matter what happens with video playback on the console, it's very unlikely we'll see any 4K games on this generation of hardware.
There are no third-party music streaming apps on the PlayStation 4. Same goes for Xbox One. Microsoft has its Xbox Music, and Sony has Music Unlimited, a proprietary app very similar in execution to Spotify.
It requires a subscription fee of £10 a month if you want playback from mobile devices. It lets you stream whole albums or create stations, or channels, as it refers to them, from a massive library of artists. There are enough genres here to cater to cover the majority of mainstream music, some obscure stuff as well, and a strong showing of comedy albums.
The best part of Music Unlimited is how it's been gloriously well integrated into the console's interface. Music can be streamed over gameplay, with playback controls just a long press of the PS button away. You can also access the Music Unlimited app without closing your current game.
If Music Unlimited is Sony's Spotify, then Video Unlimited is its iTunes or Amazon Instant for movies and TV. It works much the same way as those services, offering streaming playback of movies and TV in standard or high definition.
It's a bit of a change from the PS3, which allowed you to download movies for local playback. If you have an unreliable connection for streaming, this probably isn't the best option for you, but to be fair, Netflix and others won't fare much better. Those services are streaming only as well.
The selection is pretty close to its rivals as well. We did our best to stump it, but found a wide library of new and classic movies and television.
The roadblock here is that your playback devices are severely limited, namely to Sony devices. Only Xperia Android devices will be able stream your purchases, with no support for any other flavor of Android, iOS or even Mac computers. There is an app for playback on Windows PCs, and it did not appear to be limited to Sony Vaio machines.
Amazon uses a similiar tactic with its Prime Instant Video, only providing streaming video service for its Kindle Fire devices. It does offer playback on iOS over WiFi though, while Video Unlimited does not.
Basically, while Video Unlimited has competitive selection and pricing, we can't recommend buying anything more than a rental from it, something that you'll watch in one sitting on your PS4 or PS Vita. Unless you own a few more Sony devices, you won't have a lot places to enjoy your library.
In the last generation, Sony's PlayStation Network, or PSN, was always number two to Xbox Live.
PSN was by no means poor, but it was a get what you pay for situation. Xbox Live Gold was around £30 for a year, got you access to online multiplayer and streaming services (even ones you might already be paying for, like Netflix) and had a robust list of features that made it easy to communicate with friends and join their games.
Sony gave away online multiplayer for free with the PlayStation 3, but you could opt for PlayStation Plus status for digital store discounts and other perks. Now the arrival of the PS4, Sony has given the PSN a major renovation, and introduced a paywall for online multiplayer.
The PSN on the PlayStation 4 has gotten a major renovation. It has new features and benefits, and compelling reasons to spend £40 for a year of PlayStation Plus: it's now required for online multiplayer.
Unlike Xbox One, Sony's console does not need to be connected to the internet for its initial setup. There is a sizeable patch to install when you first set up, but if you live in a lead-lined bunker without a trace of WiFi, you'll still be able to pop in a disc and enjoy some single player without downloading it.
During the initial setup, the PS4 will ask to be connected to internet, like any PC, phone or tablet would do. As we said, you can deny it, and still get some gaming and DVD watching done. However, you'd be missing out on a lot of the fun.
The PSN now supports a party chat function, which lets you group with friends outside of a game for open mic chat. If you do enter a game, you'll be able to communicate privately with each other. The mic quality is clear, but we do suggest investing in something beyond the tinny earbud that comes with your system.
Your PSN profile can now be linked to your Facebook account. It's relatively well executed, but take your time going through the setup menus or you'll end up spamming your friend's news feeds every time you play a game or earn a trophy.
There's an option to make your real name public to everyone yahoo you encounter online. We opted to make it private, meaning that after your friend someone, there's a can send a second request to make your real names visible to each other.
This is a smart, well executed feature. This second request can be sent at any time, allowing for a "getting to know you" period with the people you meet online. Of course, if you're dealing with someone you know in real life, you can go ahead and send the request. Using real names makes it easier to keep track of who exactly HeadShot9999 is, and makes for a much nicer looking friends list.
While the PSN did have some hiccups during the first 24 hours of the system's North American launch, it's smooth sailing now. We've been able to maintain a steady connection with a fast ping on our home internet connection, in both first and third-party games.
On the PlayStation 4, Sony has followed the Xbox Live Gold example and put online multiplayer behind a paywall.
While it's easy to find that disappointing, it was an inevitability, and Plus still comes with all its old benefits, and it's priced a bit less than Xbox Live (£40 versus £32.49 for Live). Also, you can still access services like Netflix without buying into Plus.
If you have an active PS Plus account from your PS3 or PS Vita it'll carry over and apply to all your Sony systems. Benefits like digital store discounts, monthly free games and early DLC access are still part of the package.
You now get multiplayer access and game patches that download and install automatically while in the PS4 is in standby. Firmware and overall system updates will download automatically even if you're not a Plus member.
Plus also gets you 1GB of cloud storage for your saved games. While any PSN member can sign into a friend's PS4 and access their digitally purchased games, only Plus subscribers will be able to yank their progress out of the cloud.
Right now, two of the best benefits of PlayStation Plus are Resogun and Contrast, the games you currently get to download at no extra for charge for subscribing to Plus. It's a rotating selection, so eventually these won't be the freebie games, but those who were subscribed to Plus during their reign will get to keep them as long as they have Plus.
Sony also has a pretty forgiving system for those who let their Plus lapse. Should it lapse, your free games won't be removed from your hard, but they will lock up. Once you buy back in, they be accessible again. It would be pretty draconian of Sony to take away your games just because you're not auto-renewing.
While it is sad to see free PSN multiplayer go the way of the dodo, Sony has done a lot to sweeten the Plus deal. We think it's an essential part of the PS4 experience, and totally worth the price. At the very least, use the free trial that comes with your system and grab Resogun and Contrast before they disappear.
Of all the functionality the PS4 gained in the past year, PlayStation Now is our favourite. PS Now is essentially a digital rental service that allows you to rent games for limited periods.
Instead of downloading a copy of the game that will take up space on your hard drive and time to download, you'll actually stream the game from Sony's servers. It takes about 25-30 seconds to get a game going, but once you do it's relatively smooth sailing.
It's a feature previously only available in the US, but a UK version is currently available as a paid beta. Sony has added over a hundred new titles to the service including a number of AAA titles from the PS3's back-catalogue.
The only major problems the service faces at this junction are the fact that pricing starts at a ridiculous $3.99 to rent a game for two hours and can skyrocket up to $29.99 to rent a game for 90 days, and the overall experience is entirely dependant on your connection speed.
In the UK that's translated to £4.99 for two days' rental or £9.99 for a full month. With Xbox One's new Backwards Compatibility function offering access to your old 360 games for free PlayStation Now is looking mighty pricey.
You're going to have to hardwire your system to a decently fast router (minimum 5 mbps) if you want the best experience. The pricing is something that could change once the service goes live sometime in 2015, but until then we're not holding our breath.
Share Play is Sony's novel concept to bring back local multiplayer to its games. When you load up a particularly tough section in a game, you can invite a more experienced buddy from your friends list to take control of your console remotely and do the dirty work for you. If the game supports local multiplayer, they take over the second controller and play your game with you without ever owning a copy of it themselves.
The downside, however, is that both players will need to be PlayStation Plus subscribers and sessions are limited to an hour each. That doesn't mean that you're limited to one session a day, but it does mean that you'll need to send an invitation to your friend every hour. Your friend - assuming you're the one hosting - will only see the game in 720p and if you're the host, you're the only one who'll get trophies.
Share Play's still a bit too new to really judge how well it works. Initial tests suggest that it could add a new level of social interactivity, but until everyone "gets it," it probably won't see the same amount of prestige that some of the other new features have gotten.
The PlayStation 4 looks slick and it's chocked full of gigabytes, but what exactly can you play on it? That's the question gamers should be asking before lining up at the local electronics store.
The PS4's library isn't large, some standouts have already emerged. For more, we turn to our sister site GamesRadar. If you still need something to play after reading this, check out their list of the best PS4 games.
Infamous: Second Son
The new Infamous is the first game that looks like it's actually putting all that fancy hardware to work. An open world game with an incredible amount of detail, it boasts excellent production values and a dark, comic book-style story.
"If you're looking for a next-gen showpiece to demonstrate the power of PlayStation 4, inFamous: Second Son will definitely do the trick--it looks great, plays well, and gives you a dozen or so hours of city to explore. The gameplay itself isn't all that revolutionary, but the stellar presentation and enjoyable characters assure you'll enjoy your trip to Seattle--even if you'll wish there was more to do there."
Hands down, The Last of Us was the best game on the PS3. It shocked us with a heartfelt plot wrapped around a brutal world full of creeps, weirdos, and one genuinely nice guy. With fully remastered graphics and updated soundtrack, The Last of Us Remastered finally gives next-gen adopters a chance to play the game we've been raving about for the past eight months.
A pirate's life for ye? Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag takes the naval aspects of the series and turns them up to 11, crafting a sea faring, sword fighting, treasure taking adventure that's at once a return to form and a departure for Ubisoft's time-traveling series.
"An ambitious start for Assassin's Creed on next-gen. The vibrant Caribbean world and bloody piracy shine brightest, while the only sour notes come from contrived series story beats and repetitive missions--both need rethinking for AC5."
Resogun is a fast-paced, addictive 2D-ish shooter. Beyond the simple fun of a neon gun show, it's a major selling point for PS Plus. Subscribe and you'll get it with your monthly payment. If Plus keeps stacking up games like this, it'll really have Xbox Live Gold looking bad.
From GamesRadar's review:
"Resogun looks incredible and provides plenty of arcade fun. It's only held back by sudden difficulty spikes and some frustrating point-scoring mechanics."
Imagine the best Matrix game never made and add in a bit of Assassin's Creed-style exploration. What you've got is Ubisoft Montreal's Watch_Dogs. Following Aiden Pierce as he dismantles a power-mad society from the inside out, the game is an absolute blast and one of the biggest games of 2014.
Calling Destiny ambitious is a disservice to the game. It's an ambient world (er, galaxy) that operates in real time. It combines single- and multiplayer into a single campaign, seamlessly transitioning between the two. It's from the team that made Halo, so while Destiny may not have the iconic face of Master Chief plastered on the box, it will have the same creative minds doing what they do best: sci-fi.
"Bungie had a lot to do with what the first person shooter has become today. Now that the developer's time with the landmark Halo series is over, the developer is setting out with a brand new IP. With the company's next project--an open, shared-world shooter called Destiny--it looks like the creators of Master Chief are aiming to change the face of the shooter once again."
Well, that's maybe also a little vague, but Hello Games has promised its vast, procedurally-generated universe will be coming to the PlayStation 4 (along with the PC, but not the Xbox One) this year.
Featuring trading, dogfighting and endless exploring, the beautiful space epic has been getting us all excited since it first tipped up at last year's E3 show. But it's tantalisingly close now and should have a final release date very, very soon.
Another far off Sony exclusive took the unusual step of announcing a Kickstarter for its development at E3 2015...and hit $2 million in just nine hours of launch. A lot of money did come from Sony itself, but there are a lot of people desperate for the third in the series of cult RPG classics and will willingly pay for its creation.
The delay to the latest entry in the adventures of Nathan Drake was one of the most bitter for PlayStation fans and even the announcement of the remastered trilogy-so-far, the Nathan Drake Collection, isn't enough to temper it.
Fingers-crossed the delay is only to make the game even more awesome, because the gameplay footage we've seen of this Indie-y adventure looks fantastic.
The PS4 has come a long way since launch day. Small changes over the year, along with a few huge additions like firmware 2.51, PlayStation Now, and Share Play, have added up to make the system a better value console now than it was 12 months ago.
It's faster, more vibrant and has more content available than ever before.
The PlayStation 4 isn't perfect, though. While it's made several improvements to its interface, the PlayStation 4 is still lacking in the one area that counts: console-exclusive games.
Out of everything else, though, this may be the hardest to fix. There's hope on the horizon that games like The Last Guardian, No Man's Sky and Uncharted 4 will give gamers a reason to call the system "the best of the generation" but, until we get the games in our hands, there will still be a distinct lack of first-party content there to win us over.
So, you ask yourself, is it worth jumping in now at £300 or wait just another six months to see if I can get a cheaper bundle down the road? Let's break it down.
The system is cleanly designed, functional and a downright joy to putter around its interface. Everything is speedy and responsive right from minute one, and the interface is full of clever design choices that speed things up. Games begin to install the second you pop in the disc, and firmware updates download while the system is on standby.
Games themselves look loads better here than they did just one year ago at the peak of the PlayStation 3. The graphics aren't mind-blowing if you're used to high-end gaming PCs, but when compared to the Xbox One there's a small, but notable improvement on Sony's system.
Even the controller is better than last generation's. The DualShock 4 controller is a significant upgrade over the DualShock 3. The most bothersome aspects of the DS3 have been addressed, resulting in a comfortable controller that's more functional for games of all genres.
PS Plus (and the PlayStation Network in general) are more enjoyable now than they've ever been and, while it's a bit disheartening to see online multiplayer go behind a £40 paywall, Sony has tossed in a lot of stuff to sweeten the deal.
You get improved standby functionality, discounts on games in the digital store and freebie downloadables that are actually quite good.
The PlayStation 4 did all this without losing any shred of its Sony DNA. It's hands-down the best media-streaming system on the market, capable of playing lag-free Blu-rays and creating a minimalistic interface for Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Instant Video, especially now it's got a dedicated Media Centre app.
The PlayStation 4 also has a more fleshed out ecosystem than the Xbox One thanks to the PlayStation TV micro-console and PS Vita handheld. It's also very apparent that Sony is concerned about growing the console and its feature-set for the long-term. It's refusing to let its console grow stagnant by providing monthly patches and forecasting interesting features down the road.
Again, we could drill home the point about there not being enough console-exclusive games, but there are larger problems to address here. Sony has made it clear that it's branch out or die. To add a new feature every six months or pack it up and call it quits. This amiable drive to create something from nothing every six months has given gamers a reason to pick the PS4 over the Xbox One.
The downside, however, is that Sony often forgets to improve what features the PS4 already has. Remote Play has given PS4 owners four-player functionality but little reason to actually go out and buy a PS Vita - there are few games built with cross-over play in mind and even fewer that make for a compelling case to drop the extra cash.
And the list of innovative-but-forgotten features continues with everything from the touchpad on the controller to the unwieldy "What's New" section of the home screen. The speed at which new features come out seems like it has outpaced Sony's ability to refine and hone them. The potential for real change is buried inside the hardware of the system but, as it stands, the PlayStation 4 feels more like a PlayStation 3.5 than a real evolution of the platform.
And, yes, it's still missing those coveted console-exclusives too.
We'll say it again: the PlayStation 4 is a great piece of hardware. It's fast, nicely built and has a streamlined philosophy that puts games front and center. And let's not forget the price tag. It was the first console to be priced at £325 and continues to offer great value for the money at under £300.
What's more impressive was that it had a fantastic first year jam-packed with new features and firmware updates that improved the stability and speed of the system.
The last year has been a little lighter on top content and big new features, but with PlayStation Now rolling out in the UK things are looking up. And next year will certainly have some seriously exciting games to offer.
These may end up hurting if Sony doesn't take some time to really work and refine the feature-set it's already put out. But, for the time-being, seeing monthly updates has only reinforced gamers' decisions to buy Sony.