August 28, 2014 Update: a lot has changed for the PS4 since its release back in November. We've recently updated this review to include additional information on upcoming releases. Original review by Alex Roth.
The battle for the living room isn't a cold war any longer. Sony's PlayStation 4 has gone thermonuclear, launching on store shelves November 15.
Housing some of the most powerful hardware ever to sit before a television, Sony's new console is two sleek slabs of industrial design fused together for one purpose: living room dominance.
Since it was first announced at E3 2013, the PS4 has been in hot contention with Microsoft's Xbox One. When its rival stumbled with a now-reversed "always online" policy that had gamers fretting, Sony jumped at the chance to win hearts and minds and rack up pre-orders.
Manufacturer messaging aside, both systems have the same goal: to become your sole source for movies, music, TV and gaming. After a hefty day one patch, the PlayStation 4 will be begging for you to pack it to the gills with streaming media apps and any of its twenty-two launch titles, which range from a handful of mega-budget AAA titles to download-only indie darlings.
The PlayStation 4 is already seven months old, but is still short on AAA titles. Like the Xbox One, it came out of the gate with some solid multiplatform releases, mostly uprezzed last-gen titles like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, NBA 2K14 and Battlefield 4. As far as exclusives go, though, it really only has Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son and the HD re-release of The Last of Us to brag about.
In an ideal world, every gamer would get to have both. The two consoles would share shelf space in living rooms worldwide, cats and dogs would frolic together, Apple and Android fans would laugh off their differences and everyone would have grown up with a pony.
The reality is that neither machine is cheap, and they're both vying for the same spot in your entertainment center, your heart and your hard-earned dollars. Even if you plan to eventually buy both, essential questions remain: what can the PS4 do that the new Xbox cannot, and vice versa? For the long and short of Sony's new system, read on, dear gamer, read on.
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.
The PS4 is 6.1 lbs, about two MacBook Airs heavy. In a feat of engineering worth tipping your hat to, Sony has tucked the PS4's power supply inside the system, leaving no external power brick to trip over. Microsoft's system has held onto its power adapter, and weighs just a little bit more, tipping the scales at 7 lbs.
PS4 sports a sloped, asymmetrical design. That's its largest 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 $14/£16.99.
On its face is a slit of a mouth, a slot loading Blu-Ray disc drive free from the jutting and breakable disc tray of the Xbox 360. 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, which glows blue when you boot it up. It breathes 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. 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 technology. That's backed by 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, and a 500GB mechanical hard drive.
Sony claims that the PS4's overall performance is ten times that of the PS3. In an official FAQ, Sony also stated that the PS4's hard drive can be removed with a little tinkering, and can be replaced with a larger drive, or a solid-state drive for better performance. Sony says these do it yourself upgrades will not void the system's warranty.
Those two USB ports are the PS4's only front facing connections. In 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.