The PlayStation 4 has some serious guts. Sony has been bragging about its 8GB of GDDR5 RAM since it was announced, and frankly, the system needs it.
While 8GB is a lot of memory right now, how much will it be a few years down the road? 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.
The PlayStation 4 needs to go the distance. So how is it performing now, one year into its life?
The PlayStation 3's interface was dense, and plagued by pop in. While it got you to the homescreen quick enough, all the icons needed a little more time to appear.
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. All of this lays on top of a customizable theme.
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.
What's New is in desperate need of a filtration system. There needs to be a way to reduce the trophy spam and see just the things you can actually interact with. Being able to see gameplay videos posted by friends is cool, but not so cool that that you'll dig through this feed to find them.
From a design perspective, the Dynamic Menu needs work. It alternates between too stripped down or absolutely cluttered. The saving grace is that it's fast and pleasant looking, minus the pop in.
Alright, the stuff that truly matters. The PlayStation 4 is indeed a graphical step up from the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The games look very good, and everything loads quite quickly. Beyond the speedy, one time install when you first pop in a new game, it's hard to even notice the loading times. There's nothing that even comes close to the disconcertingly long load up of the PS3's The Last of Us.
The graphics are good, but not mind blowing. If you've played on a PC that costs two or three times what a PS4 goes for, you've seen as good, if not slightly better.
It's the fact that you're getting it for so much cheaper, and on your HDTV, that's worth something. Just don't expect your head to explode and your eyes to melt like it's the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
There's an impressive level of detail on display in Knack's character models. Killzone shows off some vistas with a draw distance that would have melted a last-gen system. The most muscle being flexed on the PS4 comes in subtle ways from the performance side. The fact that Battlefield 4 can manage 64 players with just a brief load before a match is the kind of stuff worth noting.
The third-party titles on the PlayStation 4 have one foot in next generation and the other in the last. Games Call of Duty: Ghosts and Madden 25 look better than their last-gen counterparts, and they certainly perform better, but they're not on par with Sony's private stable of titles.
The one exception to that is NBA 2K14, which is truly striking. The animations, the renderings of famous players, the detail of the crowd and the accuracy of its animations make it something to write home about. It stands among the first-party titles as one of the best looking games on the system.
We're being harsh but only because we know that better games will come. If you rush out and buy a PS4 now, you'll be wanting for titles to show you what this system can truly do. There's a reason Sony made such a big deal out of confirming a new Uncharted game, the best is truly yet to come.