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 and movies 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.
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.
Along with the tech stuff you also get coupons for a month of PS Plus, a month of Music Unlimited and $10 in PlayStation Store credit.
Setting up the PlayStation 4 is painless, especially if you have a PS3. You can actually use the same cables from Sony's last system, making for a very easy swap.
Setup is one place where the PS4's asymmetrical design actually got in the way. The extended slant of the system's rear obscures the ports, making it hard to see where to plug in power and HDMI when you're leaning over it. This can be aggravating when you've got your head in a darkened TV cabinet.
It's less of a problem if you stand the system up on its side. You don't really need the $14/£16.99 stand to do this, but if you're not going to keep it somewhere completely out of harm's way, you should play it safe and get one or just keep it lying flat.
Once 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 GameStop 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 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 are 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 touch 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.
Finally, starting in mid-June, you'll actually be able to pre-load games you buy from the PlayStation Store. Big game coming out next week that you want to play 12:01 Wednesday night? Pre-load it onto your console and the game will be ready for some action instantly after the game's launch.
While it will only affect certain titles (Battlefield Hardline, Bloodborne, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Far Cry 4, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, LittleBigPlanet 3, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, The Order 1886 and Uncharted 4), this should make getting a digital edition of a game on the first day easier than it's ever been.
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 WiFi, 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.
And you can use it as a controller, 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 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. 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. 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.
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.
One of the most anticipated features coming down the ever-flowing update pipeline is Share Play. Shown off originally at the PlayStation 4 announcement soiree two years ago, Sony promised gamers a feature that would allow friends to remotely jump into their game and take control of the console.
Details are scarce about the upcoming firmware 2.0 feature (which includes a dedicated YouTube app for video sharing and more modern friend suggestion tools), but Sony has gone on record telling an audience at Gamescom that only the player initializing Share Play will need a copy of the game.
This "virtual couch" idea isn't new for the system that came with built-in social media buttons, but the ability to pass the controller over the internet is something that we look forward to trying for ourselves.