The PlayStation 4 is the most powerful games console on the planet and it now has been on the shelves and in living rooms for over seven months.
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 mojo, it has established itself as the next-gen console to beat.
It's a games console built by gamers, for gamers. It 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.
Coming in at $549.95, the PS4 is $50 cheaper than the traditional Xbox One bundle with the Kinect, making it appear terrific value. However Microsoft has since released a an Xbox One package that does away with the Kinect for a cheaper $499.
If you do want to get yourself a PlayStation Camera, it can be bought separately for $89.95.
The differences between the PS4 and Xbox One are actually 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 is small and sleek in comparison to the enormous VCR-like square cuboid of the Xbox One. And this means that the PS4's box is half the size and weight of the Xbox One. 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, cardboard and plastic to get in the way and make a mess with. The environment was not a concern for Microsoft when it designed the Xbox packaging, clearly.
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 – which remains the best selling games console that the universe has ever known.
One look at the PS4 and you know you're seeing Sony hardware. It's slim, sleek and jet black, sitting at roughly the size of a second generation PS3 Slim.
The full measurements of the body are 275 x 53 x 305 mm, making it much 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 PS4's slim stature, Sony has tucked the power supply inside the system, leaving no external power brick to stub your toe on or hide away. The Xbox One on the other hand retains the power brick of the Xbox 360.
PS4 sports a sloped, asymmetrical design, which is its largest design departure from PlayStations past. It lies flat on its belly by default, but can go up on its tiptoes with the help of a plastic stand, sold separately for $27.95.
On its face is a slit of a mouth for Blu-ray discs. To its right are two powered USB 3.0 ports, which can charge your DualShock 4 controllers when the system is turned off, a feature the PS3 sorely lacked.
Along the top, or the side if you've opted for the stand, is a light that glows blue when you boot it up, breathing 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, with Sony claiming that the PS4's overall performance is ten times that of the PS3.
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 tech. That's backed by 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, and a 500GB mechanical hard drive.
You can also remove that 500GB drive and replace it with a larger drive, or an SSD for better performance. Thankfully, Sony says these do-it-yourself upgrades will not void the system's warranty.
The two USB ports are the PS4's only front facing connections, while on the rear you'll find HDMI, Ethernet, a digital optical audio out and a proprietary auxiliary connection for the PlayStation Camera.
For wireless connections, the PS4 uses 802.11 b/g/n for WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 for its wireless DualShock 4 controllers.
The PlayStation 4 is a living room computer, more so than the PS3 ever was. Not just because of its specs and AMD-based architecture, but because of its robust feature set.
It's capable of bringing games, movies and TV shows quickly into your home, as well as connecting you to your friends and other online gamers through the PlayStation Network, as well as Twitter and Facebook, to share brag-worthy gaming moments.
What's in the box?
You're bringing home more than a just a stylish asymmetrical black console. 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, serviceable and you can actually plug any old headset or pair of buds you already own into the controller's headphone jack, so it's not much of an issue.
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 in the introduction the PS4 is super easy to extract from its box and set up, leaving minimal mess and very little environment-killing packaging.
After it's all plugged in and booted up, your new PS4 will ask to connect to internet. It wants that 300MB day-one patch, but it doesn't need it 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.
Sony won the popularity contest at E3 by promising not to fiddle with used game trade-ins, but gamers will still have the option to purchase any and all games on the day of release digitally through the PlayStation Store.
While opting out of a physical copy means no disc to resell down the road, a digital copy brings a level of convenience to your purchase that's reminiscent of Steam. It means no disc to lose, scratch or even bother inserting when you want to play. You won't have anything to sell to EB Games though, nor will you be able to lend out the game.
Games can even be played before a download completes. When purchasing a game like Killzone: Shadow Fall, 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, depending on your internet connection of course, you'll be able to start playing a 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.
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).
Finally, PlayStation Plus is offering a bit of financial amnesty for customers who've bought copies of games like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag or Call of Duty: Ghosts for PS3, and other titles that are available on next and current-gen. For a small fee, you can get the next-gen version, providing you insert your PS3 copy as a sort of proof of purchase.
You'll have to continue to do so, meaning that every time you want to play the PS4 Call of Duty you bought through this offer, you'll need to pop in the PS3 version. That last-gen copy will still work on your PS3 though, requiring the disc seems like a way to make sure customers can't use both simultaneously.
PS Vita Remote Play
When Remote Play for the PS Vita was announced, everyone chirped that the PS4 would be the best thing ever to happen to Sony's struggling handheld. While it may not sell many Vitas, considering customers have already spent a lot on a PS4, it'll certainly get current owners to dust off the system.
We used the PS4 and Vita over our home Wi-Fi, provided by a three-year-old Apple AirPort. The connection to the PS4 was lag free, to the point where you could actually use the handheld as a controller.
For those wondering whether the lack of an L2/R2 and L3/R3 buttons make the experience terrible, it all depends on the game. For a title like Infamous: Second Son, the L2/R2 buttons are mapped to the bottom corners of the touchscreen, and are actually super convenient to use.
And you can use it as a control pad, as well as a second screen, Smartglass style. It's a great way to avoid using the on screen keyboard, if nothing else.
Outside of the same Wi-Fi network as your PS4, Remote Play is not an option. At the office we couldn't get it to connect to our PS4 at home, and it simply isn't an available over a 3G data connection. In regards to this, Sony's official statement is:
"We strongly recommend that Remote Play be used within the same WiFi network where the PS4 system is connected. Remote Play may or may not work over a wide area network. For Remote Play to function over a wide area network, a robust and stable WiFi connection and broadband Internet connection is required, and the local area network where the PS4 system is connected must be configured to permit the PS Vita system to access the PS4 system."
Sony's statement holds true, so Vita Remote Play is really more like a Wii U Gamepad, letting you play in bed or get a game in while someone else is using the TV. It's not a strong reason to go out and buy a Vita, but if you already own, it's an impressive novelty at the very least.
Sharing Gameplay 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 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.
Sharing videos and screens is limited to social networks and the PSN. There's no way to get them to YouTube or Flickr, or create a private link to the video. That's a real disappointment, especially since the Xbox One offers you a lot more freedom with your clips, like uploading them YouTube. In a perfect world we'd be able to plug in a thumb drive and grab the raw video, but that's not allowed.
However, you can 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.