February 09, 2017

Les Dispositifs Terribles: Playstation 4

Well this is long overdue. I blame my mother. One cannot conduct a "mom test" when one's mother is in other countries! I'm not sure how helpful this is going to be, more than three years after the release of the console but, shoot, there must be people out there like me who wait to buy consoles, right?

...right? *crickets*
Um. Yeah. Not only is this way late for me, but Sony went ahead a released two new versions of the console recently, so this information is basically obsolete. But fuck it, this article has been half written since last March, so I'm posting it!
To be clear: we're talking about the original Playstation 4 unit. Not the slim, not the pro. The O.G.. Without further ado...

The Playstation 4 is Sony's - get this - fourth fully capable, non-portable gaming console. It was released in November 2013 to North America, and February 2014 to Japan, as an "eighth generation" competitor, alongside Nintendo's Wii U and Microsoft's Xbox One.
Of course, the PS4 was announced even earlier and made a valiant pilgrimage from its debut at E3, making a fool of its Microsoft rival. This battle was much talked about, throwing a whole new log on the "console war" fire. But I was sold on PS4 almost immediately, because I'm a fan of Playstation and because I know Sony has long-standing relationships with fantastic developers, it seemed a no-brainer to me. So this begs the question: why did you wait until 2016, Lo?

Simply put: Uncharted 4.
Yes, I'm one of those nerds. The first Uncharted was one of the earlier titles for last generation's PS3 and among my first experiences on that console, and knowing U4 was in the works inspired me to save myself for it once again on PS4. There's some cute story about it being my first on many Sony consoles there (Golden Abyss was my first Vita game), but I also knew the series had enough clout to warrant its very own limited edition bundle, and I wanted that Playstation, dammit! Then of course, U4 got delayed several times, and so too, did my days of owning a PS4. In the meantime, I watched many of my friends experience theirs, going from game to game; the evolution of the Playstation Store; the much anticipated and since canceled "P.T." Silent Hills game... it was all enough to get me going on my PS4 collection, in spite of the fact that I hadn't actually bought the console yet.

My first experience with my personal PS4 actually wasn't a very good one. I brought it home and set it up with no problems at all, got it all updated, internet connected and linked up my PSN account with no issues whatsoever. Then I popped in my copy of Uncharted 4, knowing that it, too, would need a lengthy update and I wanted to start playing as soon as possible. Not long after receiving the disc, the system immediately went to work downloading the latest patch, and I left it be while updating my twitter friends on my excitement. I left the room for a moment, and returned to find the system had turned itself off. This struck me as odd, and for a moment I thought this might be what 'standby mode' looks like now, but when I scooped up the controller and pressed a few buttons, nothing happened. So I tried giving the power button on the console a tap, and again, nothing happened. I then spent several minutes tinkering with the console, power cycling, disconnecting things... nothing. Naturally, I turned to google. I found a few others that had experienced an identical problem (light flashing, noise making, etc) only all of their posts were dated back to PS4's initial release days. I would expect a launch console to have a few behavioral issues, but it's been several years since launch and my PS4 was demonstrating this problem which, by the way, had no official resolution. I poked and prodded the console some more and eventually got it to turn back on, at which point I was greeted by unhappy messages about my console being powered off incorrectly... I got everything up and running, and my U4 update back on track, but decided if I had another scare like this, I was simply going to return the console and demand another. It was not out of the box one hour and had already pissed me off.
Fast forward to the next day, I was ready to continue my adventure with Mr. Drake and tried to boot up the PS4, and was once again met with difficulties. I was moments away from packing it up and taking it back when I decided to check google one more time, in case I'd missed something. A particular comment stood out to me this time, from a fella that said he merely switched out the PS4's included HDMI cable for one of his own, and never had a problem again. Being... y'know... me, I had dozens of extra HDMI cables laying about and decided I'd give the console one last shot with a new HDMI...

…haven't had a problem since. I'm simply not educated enough to explain why this simple fix helped, I'm just happy to have a functioning PS4, after all. With a little more time and experience, I've also come to fear the standby mode on PS4, as I'm relatively sure this had something to do with the whole debacle. If anyone has any explanation, please say so.

Beyond that, my time with PS4 has been very smooth, fast, and pretty much as expected. The boot up jingle is better but still not… pleasant. They should really allow us to customize that.

Physically speaking, the design of PS4 is rather stealthy. The ports are well hidden, and the system utilizes what I call the "eater" style for disc input. This is where there is simply a slot for you to push the disc in, and the console "eats it" rather than a pop out drive or whatever else people use these days. The eater style has bitten Sony in the ass in the past, so it's interesting that they went back to it… obviously much more confident in their hardware now (I wasn't too pleased when my U4 disc was being held hostage in my vampiric PS4 though...).
The system sits roughly 11"x2"x11", a mostly square, albeit slanted shape. Fair warning: the slanted nature of the console makes it a bit difficult to plug in, in tight situations.
It is designed to either lay flat or stand on end, for which Sony recommends a PS4 stand, but the weight of system alone will hold it up so long as your console is in a movement- and child-free area. On the front face, you'll find two USB ports and the disc slot hidden in the large valley, as well as the power and 'eject' buttons in the tiny creeks that spring from it. The back boasts a 'digital out' port, an 'aux' port, a 'HDMI' port and an ethernet port in addition to the power hookup within the system's rather industrial-looking grates.
The console also sports a light within its center crevice, which changes color based on the console's status. Lastly, there are two small, protruding "feet" on what would be the bottom of the console, if you choose not to stand it up.
In all honesty, the build of the product feels a bit fragile. If you push on certain areas of the outer case, the plastic creaks a bit. But the console is remarkably light to hold.
The system currently comes in just a few colors, most of which are meant to be limited editions. Case in point:

I desperately wanted a limited edition Uncharted 4 model (thus the several years wait), but this color is uhhhhhh-gly! Promptly ordered a different-colored Dualshock 4 (I'll want more than one anyway). The D4s come in a fun variety of colors, many of which don't match a standard color PS4 system.

CONTROLLER + SCREEN
Good news! I'm not poor anymore! ...yes I am.
Speaking of D4's, Playstation's iconic Dualshock controller underwent a small makeover for PS4. While still fundamentally identical, the controller is a little wider than its predecessor, therefore a bit more uncomfortable for my itty bitty hands.
Still symmetrical, they've swapped the start and select buttons for vertical 'share' and 'options' buttons, and moved the PS button a little lower to accommodate the newly minted touch pad in the center of the controller. As the name suggests, the pad is touch sensitive and works with many of the PS4's games and applications, but is also a button! The D4 also sports a small speaker on the center of the unit, as well as an 'ext' port next to a headset port on the bottom of the unit. The top - or front - now displays a light, whose brightness and color is dependent on your PS4's state and settings. For example, while in rest mode, the light will be a yellow color. Beneath that is the USB port for charging the controller.

ATTACHMENTS + ACCESSORIES
In your PS4 box you should find the system, a single Dualshock 4 controller, a power cable, a micro USB charging cable (for the D4), a small headset (ear bud type) and a HDMI cable - generally speaking, everything you need to use the system. However one might want to seek out a PS4 stand, a longer (extension) USB cable and/or charging station, a nicer headset and as mentioned before, perhaps a non-Sony HDMI cable.
Of course, additional Dualshock controllers are sold separately as well.
The PS4 also supports Playstation Move and Playstation VR peripherals, and can actually be controlled by the Playstation Vita as well! You can marry your Vita and PS4 with 'remote play' and/or use as a second (technically first, I guess) controller! Not ideal, but it's an option. Additionally, the PS4 can pair with many mobile devices which can also be used for visual access.
I haven't personally seen too many other notable accessories for the PS4, beyond a small keyboard which you can attach to the D4 to make typing faster.

GRAPHICS + SOUND
In terms of audio visuals, I'll begin by reiterating that I'm possibly the worst person to speak to about graphics. I can't extend any complaints about the visuals cranked out by the PS4... between the system and my massive television, everything looks bright, crisp and clear to me. The PS4 utilizes an AMD graphics proprietor and HDMI delivery system for up to 4K (pro model) output.
As sound goes... well that I am something of an expert on, but I can't say any of my expectations haven't been met in this department. The sound from the system through my telly alone can be pretty impressive - I'll take this time to remind you that I almost immediately quit my initial playthrough of Axiom Verge to seek out the soundtrack after the sonic quality blew me away. The PS4 is perfectly capable of conveying immense depth, if the game asks it to, and it doesn't hurt that the system has multiple options for output - for example: you can plug your headset into the D4 and mute the television sound so your wife has no idea you stay up all night playing video games!

BATTERY/POWER
The power supply to the console itself is a simple A/C cable. No giant brinks or wall worts required here. That said, I can't say I'm terribly impressed by the length of the cable - maybe three feet? If you've got a complex set up you may want to ready yourself for a short leash situation on your PS4.

More disappointing by far is the controller charge. Wirelessly, the Dualshock 4 lasts maybe 6 hours, depending on what you're doing. This is a steep decline from the Dualshock 3, which seemed to last forfuckingever, even on its last bar of charge. For core gamers, playing with the controller plugged in is a must, but you're going to run into issues there as well, unless you sit approximately three feet from your screen. You'll definitely want to invest in an extension cord otherwise.

MEMORY
So far, Sony has released PS4s sporting 500GB or 1TB internal hard drives. Many have opted to upgrade the drive on their own dime, but just beware the warranty implications if this is something you're considering! I understand PS4 also supports SSD, which is awesome.

HEAT + NOISE
The PS4 is definitely capable of cranking out some heat. This console actually changes the temperature of my game room when run for long periods of time. It's a little concerning, but I've not yet experienced heat related issues with the system.
In terms of noise, if you listen carefully you can hear the small hum of the PS4 doing its business, but unless you're seated very near the console, you probably won't notice. Honestly, my laptop makes more noise than my PS4. Other than that, there's definitely a distinct buzz when the system is accessing a disc, but again, unless you're right next to the thing, the sound coming from your tv will probably drown it out. It's not a particularly intrusive sound.

MENU/DASH
The dashboard of PS4 is broken up into three sections. The top layer - which you simply access by pushing up - is your lineup of typical Playstation features: notifications, your friends list, communities, events, messages, online parties, trophies, and your own profile, as well as the system and power settings.
The second layer is all of your content, as well as a "What's New" section which will give you a quick look at what's happening on PSN as well as on your friend's PS4s! This layer reorganizes itself based on what you've used recently, with the exception of the Playstation Store and What's New apps, which will always sit first and second, respectively. This has pros and cons - your most used stuff is always readily available, but it does make it easy to forget what you have downloaded if it gets pushed off to the end, and inevitably into the "library" folder at the very end.
The final section of the dash is informative. By pushing down from any of your middle-dash apps, you'll be given info or options based on what the app has to offer. The "What's New" section, for example, won't load much unless you ask it to by accessing this section.

GAME SELECT
When you pop a disc into your PS4, it will likely take you right to it on the dash (middle layer) after it has a moment to read the game. When you download a game from PSN, it, too, loads itself onto your dash, leaving a little thumbnail to let you know it's there for you.
That said, download times can still be lengthy, depending on the size of the game and your internet speed. There will be a status bar on the thumbnail of the download in question, and you can manage downloads from the associated tab in your Notifications menu (top layer).
Sony has improved the game management system for PS+ users, which is great. You no longer need to find your console compatible games buried in a massive list on your 'downloads' page on PSN, they'll be made available to you at the bottom of the PS+ feature in the top layer. Furthermore, when you select a free PS+ game in the PS Store, you simply need to ask it to "Add to Library" and go about your business, instead of waiting for it to decide if it will let you have it, then begin downloading, and then you cancel the download, but it takes four minutes to figure that out...ugh.

So, to open a game, you simply need to find it on the middle layer and press X.

EASE OF USE 
The UI is similar to PS3, a little more polished and perhaps a tad more simplified, and that brings us to the Mom test!
I asked mum to open Overwatch, and handed her the disc. She got the PS4 to eat it, and with some help from her glasses, managed to find the thumbnail and open it without any trouble at all. Afterward, I took a random screenshot from the game and told mum to go find it. She needed a little help with exiting the game (she's never really played a PS game before), but once we returned to the dash, and mum switched to even more powerful glasses, she went to work looking for where the screenshot folder might be. It took her a few moments to find it, since the folder doesn't have a bright and fancy thumbnail like the games, and the app was pushed way off the side since it hadn't been opened in some time, but she found it eventually, went searching for the 'Overwatch' file and found my screenshot. After that, I asked mum to shut the PS4 off. She spent a few seconds scrolling through the wrong layer of the dash, but soon realized there was a top layer, too, and managed to complete the task with no further fuss. (You can also access certain settings and features by pressing the PS button on the D4, but I wasn't about to confuse mum with this information.)

In summary: a newly minted Playstation gamer may need to spend some quality time getting acquainted with the system's UI, but if you have any experience with computers of any kind, you shouldn't struggle to navigate and play the Playstation 4. The functions mum struggled with most were the 'share' button features, and figuring out how to close the applications once we were done with them.
Typical of my parents, to leave every app open all the time, and wonder why their electronics don't work so hot...

OTHER CAPABILITIES
Like the PS3, PS4 also supports DVDs and BluRay movie discs. This makes PS4 a popular alternative to plain ol' BluRay players, and it can do other things for you as well! With an internet connection - and the system does support wireless, which in my experience has been very dependable - PS4 gives you access to Netflix, Spotify and other popular media apps as well as a general internet browser.
Right on the dash you will find a link to the Playstation Store, where you can purchase games and other digital goodies if you wish. There is also a simplified version for PS+ subscribers.
Playstation also added communities, invitation, party chat and event apparatuses to help players connect. It's worth noting that with these, some games can be played by two separate systems, even if only one player actually owns the game!
As mentioned before, the PS4 also comes equipped with folders to help you sort the media you capture with your 'share' functions (screen caps and video), and PS4 also let's you broadcast your gameplay live, right from the console.
In short: when it comes to the gaming community, PS4 is well-equipped for most of your needs.

One of the less than stellar features of PS4 is the need for a PS+ subscription in order to play most games online. I've spoken about PS+ many times in the past, and it does carry some benefits, but it's a shame that you're forced into a penny-heavy subscription fee just to play with your pals online.

Also worth a minute of your time is the Playstation App for mobile devices. With the app, you can log in and view the basic to dos of your Playstation life (i.e. friends list or messages) but you can also access the Playstation Store. This is handy if you're informed of a flash sale while at work, or while you don't have your PS4 handy. You can not only purchase games on the app, but you can tell it to send them to your PS4, too, so they'll be immediately ready for download the next time you boot up (or immediately if your system is on standby mode). The app also offers you the option to use your phone or tablet as a second screen. Pretty cool stuff!

Okay, so let's discuss this standby thing. For the record, standby mode on PS4 is officially called "Rest Mode," the alleged perks of which include steaming power and internet to your console, even while it's "turned off". While in Rest Mode, your console can charge your D4 - which you will need to do frequently - and can also work on your downloads and updates, without supplying power to be chewed up by all the other functions you don't need while you're not playing something. In theory, this is awesome, but I've grown weary of Rest Mode since I've had so many bad experiences leaving my PS4 alone.
Within your power options, you can program your PS4 to turn off certain functions or altogether after a certain amount a time, so theoretically: you can fire up a download in the morning, put the system to Rest Mode, set it to shut off after a couple hours, and the PS4 will be off when you come home. But when you boot it up, your download should be complete and ready for you. Neat concept, just wish it was more reliable. Have any of you had problems with Rest Mode?

PRICE/DEALS/AVAILABILITY
As I mentioned before, Sony has since released two new versions of the Playstation 4. That means the deals are pretty sweet right now for the original console!
The most popular deals I've seen are limited editions of the console, which are tethered with either Uncharted 4 or Destiny; or normal, black versions of the console with (any number of) pack in games, like the Nathan Drake Collection, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, or the Last of Us Remastered. These should run you no more than $299, and so far as I can tell, are still readily available at most electronics stores. That said, some of these models may in fact be offering the 2.0 version - the PS4 Slim. The slim apparently only comes in black and white so far... but don't quote me on that.
The PS4 Pro model - a PS4 on steroids - has a price of roughly $399 and only comes in black at the time of this publishing. You shouldn't struggle to find one of these at your favorite retailer or website.

Aaaaaaand, that's all I've got! I can't help but feel like I've missed a bazillion things, but I do actually want to get around to playing my PS4, and not just studying it...
But do let me know if you've had a unique experience with your Playstation 4, or if you've noticed anything new or different from it! Were you an early adopter? Or are you the type to wait for a slimmer model? Do you have a PS4 Pro? How do you like it?!

That means all that's left for me is a Xbox One. *Eerie music*

The proof is in the pudding:
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Game Binge - PS4 Edition

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