Ten million gamers can't be wrong: The PlayStation 4 is the future of gaming. And why wouldn't it be? After all, the PS4 has a legacy of greatness.
The original PlayStation served as the launching pad for a generation of gamers, which was followed by the PlayStation 2, one of the longest-running consoles of all-time. The PS3 won the format wars and made blu-ray the standard HD video storage medium and the PlayStation 4, even though it's just now turning a year old, may very well leave behind a legacy of its own - one built on the pillars of sharing, streaming and connecting.
The path to greatness wasn't one without pitfalls and throughout it all its greatest contender, the Xbox One, has been hot on its heels, just waiting for Sony to slip-up. To paint a mental picture, the PS4 release date was November 15 2013 in North America and 29 November 2013 in Europe, and it's been outselling the Xbox One ever since. Sony's sold over 10 million consoles while Microsoft's moved only about 8 million units from the factory to store shelves.
A year later, though, and we still have yet to see a game that sells us hook, line and sinker on upgrading from the PS3. Like the Xbox One, the PS4 came out of the gate with some solid multiplatform releases but it wasn't until E3 2014 that we really got a taste of what's to come. Platform-exclusive games like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Bloodborne and The Order 1886 are on their way but, until they drop, we only have Infamous: Second Son and The Last of Us Remastered to lord over our Xbox counterparts.
What we have seen from the very beginning is an attractive price point. Sony started the PS4 at $399 and has held firm while Microsoft has shifted every which way to dredge up some competition. And the design (don't worry, we'll get there soon enough), from day one, was more than enough to have some of you trading in your old Xbox Live Gamertag for a PSN account.
Are you ready to join PlayStation Nation? Read on to get our full thoughts and opinions on Sony's dream machine, one year in the making.
One year out and Sony hasn't made any tweaks, fixes, or modifications to the PS4's initial design. Companies like Nyko, PDP and Power A have come along to offer additional products like intercoolers and clip-on charging stations, but Sony's rock-solid design has stood the earliest test of time. Here's what we said about the design one year ago:
One look at the PS4 and you know you're seeing Sony hardware. It's slim, sleek and jet black, roughly the size of a second generation PS3. The full measurements are 275 x 53 x 305 mm. It's a bit more compact than an Xbox One, which is longer and taller at 274 x 79 x 333 mm.
What's crucial here, though, is that Sony kept the PS4's weight to a manageable 6.1 lbs and tucked the power supply inside the system, leaving no external power brick to trip over. Microsoft's system has held onto its external power adapter - a feature inherited from the Xbox 360 - and weighs in at a slightly heftier 7 lbs.
The shape of the box is familiar, yet completely unique. Its slim, rectangular features brings to mind a PlayStation 2 in form and function, but its sloped, asymmetrical design helps us understand that nothing like this has ever existed before now. It's meant to lay flat but, if your media center can only accommodate a vertical machine, Sony has a plastic stand it sells separately for $14/£16.99 that 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, Ethernet and a digital optical audio out port, as well as a proprietary auxiliary connection for the PlayStation Camera.
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 tech. That's backed by 8GB of mega-fast 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. Sony says these do it yourself upgrades will not void the system's warranty.
For a reference point, the PlayStation 3 packed 256MB of XDR Main RAM and 256MB of GDDR3 VRAM, and managed to support visual feasts like The Last of Us and God of War: Ascension during its final days. How does that stack up against the PS4? 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.
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 year? The Sony-exclusive rental streaming service called PlayStation Now, Remote Play, Sharefactory and Share Play, which debuted in system firmware 2.0 codenamed Masamune. 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.
What's in the box?
Unless you're buying one of the new holiday PS4 bundles, you can count on seeing the following items in addition to your stylish black box: 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 old headset or pair of buds you already own into the controller's headphone jack, so it's not much of an issue.
Set-up largely remains unchanged from Day 1 and should look relatively familiar to anyone who's owned a PS3. Once your system'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. Just make sure you're getting firmware 2.02, the latest software version from Sony.
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 like Killzone: Shadow Fall, you'll be asked which portion of the game should be prioritized, 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 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).
PS Vita Remote Play
The one feature that hasn't changed all that much was PS Vita Remote Play. Initially, we thought this was going to be the missing link between Sony's shrugged-off handheld and all-new console. While it didn't sell many Vitas (considering customers have already spent a lot on a PS4), it certainly got current owners to dust off the system.The biggest change to the feature's functionality came earlier this year in PS Vita software 3.35 that allowed up to four PS Vitas to be logged into a single PS4 system.
Connect a PS4 to a PS Vita on the same WiFi network and use the Vita as a second, third or fourth controller in multiplayer games or transfer your game to your handheld and take it into another room with you while someone else is using the TV. Outside of the same WiFi 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. Not only you can use it as a controller, but as well as a second screen, Smartglass style. It's a great way to avoid using the on screen keyboard, if nothing else.
Like platform-exclusive games, we're still looking to Sony for that crucial reason to go out and buy a Vita and complete our Sony ecosystem. But, if you already own one, it's an impressive novelty at the very least.
Of all the functionality the PS4 gained in the past year, PlayStation Now is our favorite. PS Now is essentially a digital rental service that allows you to rent games for anywhere from two hours to 90 days. 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.
In just the four short months PlayStation Now has been in open beta, we've seen Sony add over a hundred new titles to the service including a number of AAA titles from the PS3's back-catalog. 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. 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.
Sharing gameplay videos
If the PlayStation 4 will be remembered for one thing, it will be its integration into this decade's "share everything" culture. Sharing in-game photos and videos have been a feature since console launch and the size and scope of its abilities have only grown in time.
One year ago, sharing videos and screens was limited to social networks and the PSN. Now, if you want to upload your video to YouTube or edit it in the PS4's basic video editor, Share Play, that's no problem. In a perfect world we'd be able to plug in a thumb drive and grab the raw video but, in the meantime at least, that's not allowed. But perhaps that will change in year two.
Streaming to Twitch.tv and UStream is just as simple as saving locally. Just tap the share button and select "Broadcast gameplay" and away you go on the path to internet stardom. It's quite painless to set up, especially compared to the third-party mechanics needed to employ this on a last-gen system.
If you're feeling antsy about an always-recording console you can always disable this feature from the settings, 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.
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.