Is now a good time?
The PS4’s first year has gone about as well as anyone at Sony could reasonably hope. Due to the fallout from Microsoft’s mooted always online policies and the price of the Xbox One, the PS4 has stolen an early lead. Phrases like “unassailable” are perhaps misplaced, but the figures speak for themselves. The PS4 has outsold the Xbox One even in Microsoft’s home territory of the United States for ten consecutive months.
Worldwide, comparisons of exact figures are hard to make due to a lack of transparency around numbers sold vs. numbers shipped, but by even conservative estimates the PS4 is outselling its competition by around 40%. With most early titles on the system being cross generational, being cheaper and more powerful has proven to be a winning combination thus far in a market where early adopters are keen to compare resolutions and frame rates.
But for those consumers who are still sitting on the fence, the big question still remains; which console should they spend their cash on? Do they stay brand-loyal to those who may have had their money in previous generations? Or do they opt for a new experience, which to them, could be a big gamble? This guide will give you everything you need to know about the PS4 right now, and what is on the horizon for Sony.
Key Selling Points
It's hard to escape the fact that both systems converge on things like app support, hardware functions and will host many of the same titles, yet each console, obviously, has their own set of unique features with which to entice people towards their systems.
Primarily a way to play games when away from your home consoles, thanks to the addition of the Vita and, more recently, Sony’s new Smart Phone range. Using an internet connection (or bluetooth, if you're within range of your console in the house), this enables players to control their PS4 from varying distances; be that at work or whilst commuting, you can take your game with you as long as you have a strong internet connection. Playing games from your console is an enticing proposition for those who are regularly away from their homes, and even within the house it works as a handy way to continue gaming when the screen attached to your PS4 is being used by others.
As part of the latest firmware update, players can now sit on the virtual couch and pass the controller to a friend, allowing them to try the game, help you beat a tricky boss or even to add them in as if they were there for a bit of local co-op, all without them paying a penny on the game itself; that is, providing the game features the service. At present, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Wolfenstein, among others, disable it. For those games that allow it, you have a 60 minute window in which to hand the virtual controller.
Instant Game Collection
In an attempt to sweeten the deal with having to subscribe to PlayStation Plus to play online with the PS4, Sony give away free games each month for you to download to your PS3, PS4 and Vita. These remain on your system for as long as your subscription lasts (which should be ongoing if you play online regularly) and add an immense amount of value to all your systems and the service itself. Subscribers are also given exclusive discounts and access to demos and features before general users of the service, so there are plenty of incentives to subscribe. The PS4 doesn't boast a large enough back catalogue currently to be giving away the more high profile titles that made the service such an initial hit on the PS3 - and it's not an entirely unique selling point as there's a similar service on the Xbox One - but if you're got multiple Sony systems it adds immense value and remains a handy way to swell your catalogue of games.
Not really a unique feature, as it exists on the Xbox One, but Sony's version differs slightly in how it's implemented, with a physical button on the controller for ease of use, allowing users to share clip and images from their games at the touch of a button. Using the ‘Share’ button on the controller, you can upload either a video or image of an event to social media or to your personal library. It may not seem like a revolutionary feature at first, but being able to share your experiences with friends and fellow gamers soon becomes second nature. It adds a new level of socialising within gaming that was missing from previous generations; capturing an epic kill streak on Call of Duty or sharing a humorous glitch never gets tiring.
The DualShock 4
The main area of difference is once again in controller design, but as before the choice of which you prefer will be entirely subjective. Sony have once again opted for a symmetrical stick layout and jettisoned the analogue buttons, but beyond that the biggest eye-catcher is the touch pad that adorns the face of the DualShock 4; the integration is hit-and-miss, but it will be used for such things as throwing grenades in GTA V and acts as a handy multi purpose button that should hopefully be utilised more in the future.
The PS4 is a gaming machine first, and a media centre second, but it does a very good job at providing a whole host of apps and services which enable you to watch your favourite shows and movies.
Popular TV streaming services are present, such as BBC iPlayer and Demand 5, with Amazon Video, Netflix and NOW TV also being included. A YouTube app also allows you to view your favourite clips and uploaders from your console without having to boot up the laptop or computer. You can even launch them via voice control, but presently the feature is not as widely implemented inside the apps as it is with the Xbox One's Kinect.
Sadly, the PS4 still lacks full DLNA support, meaning streaming content from a PC across a home network isn't as simple as it should be. In recent days however (and two months after it was released on the Xbox One) the Plex app has hit the PS4, which is considered one of the easiest ways to access your media files. Currently, it's video only, and you do have to pay for the privilege of the slick and user friendly features, but for many it's worth the Plex Pass subscription.
Unlike the previous generation, the PS4 doesn't feature CD playback. Thankfully with the latest firmware update you can now plug in your USB stick loaded with MP3s and listen to music through your console; a handy feature for custom in-game soundtracks, but still slightly hampered by the design of the PS4 only having two front USB ports and the angled plastic stopping chunky USB sticks from being fully inserted. As long as it slots in though, and your tunes are in a "music" folder at the root of the drive, it works fine.
Sony also offer their own movie and music services through Music and Video Unlimited (which require separate subscriptions) and allow you to watch movies on demand or listen to music whilst you’re gaming.
This is perhaps the one area that Sony has yet to truly prove itself as, for some, the best exclusive on the system is still arguably Resogun - a free PS+ title that launched with the console. Killzone: Shadow Fall was a serviceable launch game, but is now eclipsed by better shooters. Otherwise, the current the three big exclusives are a spruced up version of The Last of Us, the good fun but hardly groundbreaking inFamous: Second Son and the spluttering start of what one day will hopefully be the complete Drive Club experience.
There are, it should be noted, a reasonable amount of smaller titles to download, many of which are console exclusive at this point (i.e. also on PC, but not yet on the Xbox One).
Against the backdrop of having the more powerful machine, and at a lower price point, it's perhaps understandable why no titles were rushed out for this period. Launching this month though was LittleBigPlanet 3 (also on PS3), and barring delays early next year the likes of The Order: 1886 as well as Bloodborne should be making a splash in February. Then, later in the year, we're likely to see Uncharted 4 and No Man's Sky, which has the potential to be something genuinely special.
Should I buy a PS4 now?
If you're committed to the PS ecosystem of PS3 and Vita, then it makes total sense. The PlayStation Plus subscription necessary means you'll only be seeing further value for money sticking with the Sony brand, and if you own a Vita the Remote Play function can be a lifesaver for a gamer whose TV is tied up with family viewing plans.
There are enough games now - many getting ever lower in price - to make the jump and have sufficient things to keep you occupied on the console until the release schedule picks up again, especially if you're willing to look past AAA titles and delve into the world of indie gems and titles that've migrated from the PC.
As a media hub it's still perfunctory at best, with app support that merely mirrors many things you'll find on similar boxes, but it ties them all into one place nicely, with an intuitive and uncluttered UI. With each update though, the features swell, and nifty additions such as Share Play only enhance the image of a dedicated games machine. Now, we just need more games.
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