Sony PS4 review

PlayStation 4 sheds some weight – and some notes off its price tag

TODO alt text

Our Verdict

An excellent console with a great catalogue of AAA games, the slimmer, smaller PS4 is better in almost every way compared to the original, barring one notable exception.

For

  • Great games
  • Good value
  • Improved power efficiency
  • PS Plus still a great deal
  • DualShock 4 better than ever

Against

  • Optical audio removed
  • No 4K Blu-ray player

Slim consoles are nothing new. The PS3 and Xbox 360 both got slim versions a few years after initially hitting store shelves, and the PS2 got absolutely tiny by the time it was replaced by its successor. Even the original PlayStation got its PSone slimline version.

Now the PS4 is getting the same treatment with its 2016 redesign which many are dubbing the 'PS4 Slim'. Slightly confusingly Sony has decided to call this new console the PlayStation 4 (as opposed to the PS4 Slim or PS4 Lite), since it will become the default PS4 going forward.

We still have the 4K PlayStation 4 Pro to look forward to in November, but until then we've got the new slimline PS4 to dig our teeth into, which retails at £259 / $299 / AU$599.99 for the 500GB model, with a 1TB model expected further along down the line.

The PS4 Slim might have entered the fray as Sony's budget PlayStation offering, but that doesn't mean it's scrimping on its specs. In all key areas it matches the original PlayStation 4 console, and at many points outperforms it too.

It's also a far smaller console, shrinking the machine down by almost a third in volume, knocking 16% off the original's weight and offering notable improvements in both power draw and noise output.

The best PS4 games are among the finest available on any platform at the moment, with showstoppers like Uncharted 4 and Bloodborne the envy of PC and Xbox One gamers alike. They'll all be compatible with the new PS4 Slim, as will every game going forward – Sony made it explicitly clear that every game for the PS4 Pro will work here, too.

On top of the games themselves, the PS Plus network offering is as good a deal as it's ever been, allowing you to partake in competitive or cooperative online multiplayer play and offering up a selection of three free games on a monthly basis too.

In terms of competition, the PS4 Slim really only has two rivals – the existing PS4 and the Xbox One S. Nintendo can't really compete with its Wii U (though it'll be interesting to see what the so-called Nintendo NX brings to the table).

And it's against the Xbox One S where the PS4 Slim has its toughest fight. Only a tad more expensive, the Xbox One S looks great, has a fine selection of its own games, and comes packing a killer 4K Blu-ray player built in, making it a far more rounded media player than the PS4 Slim. For the time being, the Xbox One S has the edge with HDR color support too, though a firmware update will bring this to all PS4s shortly, levelling the playing field.

But what's on show here is still very, very cool. Should you buy the PS4 Slim? Read on to find out.

Design

It may be hard to remember now, seeing how much joy gamers have gotten out of the original PS4, but its off-kilter shape was met with some raised eyebrows when it was first revealed three and a half years ago.

2016's slim PS4 more-or-less retains the core visual identity of the first PlayStation 4, but shrinks everything down into a more dinky parallelogram package, with newly-rounded edges.

Whereas the original PlayStation 4 measured 27.5 x 30 x 5.3 cm, the PS4 Slim is just 26.5 x 26.5 x 3.8 cm. That's roughly a third smaller than what the original measured up as, and its weight is comparably lighter, too.

PS4 Slim

Whereas the first PS4 had a finish that mixed shiny plastics with matte ones, the PS4 Slim goes with a simple matte black finish all over. It also drops the top-mounted colored light bar indicator - showing sleep, wake and off statuses - in favor of small illuminated dots over the power button. These are more difficult to see, so be careful to check them carefully before unplugging the console from the wall, or risk corrupting your data.

The disk drive slot remains front-facing, sitting above small, physical power and eject buttons. More recent revisions of the PS4 also featured physical buttons on the console, but it'll be a marked difference for gamers used to the launch edition PS4, which favored touch-sensitive controls instead.

Two USB ports sit on the front of the console, as was the same on earlier PS4 models. But they're now spaced much further apart, making them slightly easier to plug into, and possibly making space for the PS VR headset's processing unit.

PS4 Slim Front

Though a 1TB model is on the way, the PS4 Slim launches with a 500GB hard drive. That's pretty small considering all games require a mandatory install, some tens of gigabytes in size. But move around the back of the 2016 PS4 Slim and you'll find a dedicated panel for opening up the console, allowing a user to manually install a larger hard drive in a much more convenient way than the original PS4 did.

Also on the back you'll find the power plug socket (no need for an external power brick here), a HDMI port, the PlayStation Camera's expansion port (set to get more use once the PS VR virtual reality headset launches) and an Ethernet network jack socket.

The only casualty of the slimmed-down design is the Optical Out port on the rear. While HDMI will suit the needs of many gamers when it comes to carrying audio signals, the Optical Out port will be missed by those hooking up older home cinema receivers, or souped-up gaming headsets.

PS4 Slim Rear

The slim PS4 has lots of nice design touches dotted around its chassis though. The iconic Square, Triangle, Circle and Cross symbols of the PlayStation brand are stamped into the side of the console (with the Circle acting as a fixture for those wishing to stand the console upright with a base accessory). And those same symbols are found stuck to the bottom of the new PS4, acting as feet to raise the machine off a surface for improved airflow.

All in, it's a well considered design the complements the existing range, markedly justifying its "Slim" street name.

Setup

Setting up the slim PlayStation 4 is very easy, especially if you're upgrading from the original PS4, or even a PS3 since you can use the same cables, removing the need to stretch behind your TV.

Simply plug in the included HDMI and power cables and connect to the internet to download the console's various patches and updates.

Alternatively, you are able to skip Wi-Fi 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.

Media

Since the very first PlayStation, Sony's home consoles have led the charge when it comes to media playback support. The PS One made for a great CD player, the PS2 was many gamers' first DVD player, and the PS3 their first Blu-ray deck and USB playback device.

The PS4, while not introducing a new format of its own, picked up the baton passed by the PS3, offering wide-ranging streaming service support, Blu-ray and DVD playback, USB media functionality and even banging out the tunes with its own Spotify player.

What the PS4 Slim doesn't do, however, is offer an answer to the Xbox One S's 4K Blu-ray player. It instead sticks with the original PS4's standard full HD Blu-ray player. It's still a strong deck, but anyone looking to show off their 4K TVs with the new PS4 will be disappointed. It's a feature that's set to be notably absent from the PS4 Pro, too.

You could argue that, with 4K TVs a relative luxury for gamers at the moment, it's not a desperately needed feature, especially if it keeps the overall cost down. But it will age the console, preventing it from being fully future-proofed. What's perhaps more annoying is the complete removal of the optical out audio socket, which could cause headaches for those with older AV equipment.

However, one upgrade that is coming to the entire range of PS4s along with the PS4 Slim is HDR support. It adds greater detail to light sources in an image, and is considered the next big thing in TV tech. The roll out is still in the pipeline, so we've not been able to test it yet. But rest assured that the PS4 Slim will support high dynamic range shortly.

All other streaming services and apps featured on the PS4 return for the PS4 Slim. They include (but are not limited to) Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, as well as BBC iPlayer and TV from Sky in the UK, and HBO Go and Hulu in the US. Sony's own movie rental platform is available too if you're looking for the latest Hollywood releases. YouTube is available, as is Twitch game streaming, and a Spotify Connect-enabled version of the popular music streaming service, letting you control tunes on your telly from the comfort of your smartphone.