PlayStation 4 touches down

Posted: November 15, 2013

MICROSOFT HAS been advertising the heck out of the new Xbox One game system, but Sony's beating them to market by a week with the PlayStation 4, on sale today. Is the latter worth a $400 investment? (The new Xbox will fetch $500.) Gizmo Guy's found a lot to like, and stuff that needs tweaking.

The new Sony system starts up stylishly, with bigger, bolder on-screen graphics to run the show from across the room.

The other core point of the PS4 introduction - the DualShock 4 Wireless Controller - has been significantly upgraded in ergonomics and features. A new, center-mounted touch pad is useful to fling robots, pinch maps open or draw content into a game.

A color-shifting lightbar on the controller's backside combines with a new, high-res PS4 camera (a $59.99 add-on) to identify and track player movements.

Most useful is the controller's new "share" button, which addresses the far more interactive, online-socializing nature of the new PS4 - the biggest shift in emphasis (and marketing potential) for the new system.

Tap that share button to show off your latest game triumph - a video clip on Facebook, a captured still on Twitter or even a "live" action broadcast to other subscribers of the PlayStation Plus online service ($10 a month, $50 annual) via Twitch and Ustream.

The PS4's 500 GB hard drive continuously stores the last 15 minutes of gameplay for this instant-replay feature. Xbox One's DVR grabs the last five minutes of action for a similar purpose.

By the way, that high-def, face-recognizing PS Camera (with microphone) can also summon up "Dynamic Menus" customized for as many as 16 different players and allow games like "Just Dance 4" to be played "controller-free" with voice commands. It's hardly the equal to Xbox One's Kinect2 controller with Bing-enabled voice search and body sensing, but it's a start.

Also way cool? Borrowing a page from the Nintendo Wii U system, PS4 gamers who own a PS Vita portable system ($199) will be able to shift some game action from the PS4-connected TV to the little portable's LCD screen in a blink via a shared Wi-Fi network.

Use a PS4 app on a tablet or smartphone to check up on a friend's game play and contribute - to a small degree.

Realism you can taste

Sports gamers are gonna love what PS4's far-greater computing power can mean for a title like "NBA Live 14." Ballhandling action is finally true to the laws of physics. And the way players perform is being updated - hourly! - using statistics from league trackers at Synergy Sports.

Action-adventure titles like "Assasin's Creed IV Black Flag" look more spectacular on PS4 than in one of Jerry Bruckheimer's "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. Rolling seas are so fierce and frothy you can taste the salty mist, and those horizons go on forever.

But beware the growing hordes of invaders in the new-gen games! More than twice as many warriors now shoot it out simultaneously in scenes from "Battlefield 4."

PS4 bests Xbox One?

Speaking on the record, game developers say they've achieved "virtually equal" results in titles for both the PS4 and Xbox One. Both systems deploy a lot of the same component parts.

Off the record, though, we've heard that the development kit to create PS4 games has been easier to work with, and data flows faster through the game system's "main bandwidth" pipe.

This might explain why "Dead Rising 3" and "Call of Duty: Ghosts" have been clocked running at 1080p resolution/60 frames-per-second on PS4, but only at 720p native resolution and 20 to 30 frames per second on the Xbox One. These are specs that determine the clarity (or lack of same) in a busy scene - and a player's ability to spot a sniper hiding in the crowd.

Multimedia pleasures

Every game that comes out on PS4 will be simultaneously available for streaming/download purchase, as well as in disc form.

Sadly, PS3 titles don't play on the new machine. Upgrading Xbox 360 owners will have the same problem with Xbox One.

But some software makers will let you "upgrade" a PS3 game with a downloaded new-gen version for $10, a process that requires you to hold onto and insert the old disc into the new machine. The good news is you'll be able to go to a friends' house, sign onto his/her PS4 with your PS Plus account and play your cloud-stored games.

While not able to spin CDs, the PS4 does plays DVD and Blu-ray movie discs (ditto Xbox One) and connects to a bunch of streaming movie sites and sports services - Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter and more.

PS4 is currently missing some biggies found on Xbox systems (like ESPN, Verizon Fios, HBO Go) and the only music offered in PS4's launch lineup is Sony's own Music Unlimited.

Takiff's final take: As first day launches go, the PS4 is in very good shape. Games will only get better. And there's lots of growth potential in this overbuilt system, including upgrading the video output to Ultra-High Resolution (4K) if/when that next big thing takes off.


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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