Friday, February 5, 2016

Forced Upgrade: The Playstation 4 Is Good, But Less Initially Impressive Than Its Predecessor.

The Good: Great online speed, Awesome capacity, Incredible graphics processing
The Bad: Overly complicated programming, Large physical footprint, Not backwards compatible for Playstation 3 games
The Basics: The Playstation 4 is a decent video game system, streaming console and Blu-Ray player, despite being more complicated to use than the Playstation 3.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the disc drive on my Playstation 3 (reviewed here!) kicked out. For years, my wife and I had been using the PS3 as our primary entertainment console, for watching DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, streaming our Netflix shows and only occasionally playing video games. We replaces our PS3 during the holidays with a brand new 500 GB Playstation 4 gaming system! After two months of solid use, I figured it was time to finally review the new system.

Our Playstation 4 came as the Star Wars: Battlefront bundle and I have already played more video games on the Playstation 4 than I ever did on the PS3! It's a cool system, though it is not a flawless one and, from a functioning perspective, it is a step back from the PS3.

Our Playstation 4 was connected to our Sony Bravia HD television (reviewed here!). Despite the age of the television, the Playstation 4 instantly recognized the television and was able to flawlessly transmit HD audio and visual information to the Bravia. The Playstation 4 came with the needed HDMI cable. Set up for the Playstation 4 was incredibly easy. The ports for the High-Definition signal and the hardwire internet cable are clear and instantly recognizable, even to a layperson like me.

As far as programming the Playstation 4 goes, it is mostly intuitive, though it does require one to create a Playstation account to access the system and get the most current operating system update. The system already requires an OS update, so one needs to connect it to the internet immediately to get it to update. That said, the Playstation 4 set itself up when properly connected to both the internet and the television.

The Playstation 4 comes with a single controller and it is predictably expensive. The controller is a simple handheld device designed to be held in two hands and use the thumbs to operate. There are keypads with four controls on each side and little joy-stick controllers in the middle. Most operations involve manipulating the left joy-stick and entering information with the confirmation enter button (bottom button of the right quartet) on the right side. Setting up things like user accounts means navigating an annoying on-screen keyboard where one moves the cursor to each letter or character before entering it, with entirely different on-screen pages being necessary to get things like capital letters and symbols like periods, asterisks, etc.

The moment it comes on line, the Playstation 4 has options for programs, like streaming services - Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon - an internet browser, Spotify, video games that one loads (as opposed to have the discs for), etc. The system does not play a lot of online videos as it does not support Adobe Flash, but it plays video games and discs amazingly well. Unfortunately, it does not play Playstation 3 video games.

The Playstation 4 is intended to be a storage and play device for video games, DVD/Blu-Ray discs, and compact discs as well as other music mediums. One of the big features is share play and I've had the opportunity to try that out on several games now. The share play feature is easy enough to initiate, but it is not intuitive to set up. So, while one may touch a button to start share play with a friend one has invited (the Playstation 4 software is like Facebook where one searches the Playstation network and adds friends to share information and games with), doing things like giving a friend a virtual controller requires someone who knows all the little nooks and crannies of the operating system to navigate. The process is in no way intuitive and it requires an additional subscription fee to actually share play, which is irksome when one owns the game one wants to play over the internet with a friend.

For video games, the Playstation 4 plays only Playstation 4 1 games, though the Playstation Network features previously-released games for some of the prior Playstation platforms. These are stupidly problematic, though. To wit, the Star Wars Battlefront bundle that my Playstation 4 came as included a voucher for four previous Star Wars games. At least two of them were entirely inaccessible, as the first screen in the games requires one "press start" . . . and the Playstation 4 controller no longer has a "Start" button! No combination of button mashing allowed me to access the original files; they all had to be upgraded around the simple problem. That said, the games I have played on the Playstation 4 have had mind-blowingly good graphics and have been fairly playable. It's a leap for me to have the games on the console, like a PC, as opposed to on discs!

Our experience with DVD, Blu-Ray and digital video files has been simple: it flawlessly plays them all. DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and music compact discs are remarkably easy to play in the Playstation 4. When one puts a disc in, the disc boots up immediately. There has been no type of solid media that has not played and connecting our MP3 player to the Playstation 4 also yielded flawless recognition of the contents. This is, truly, a system that is intuitive to set up and use. That said, there is an annoying issue with the menus on the Playstation 4; when one leaves a program, there are extra steps to shutting down the program. Unlike the PS3, where one simply hits the Playstation button on the remote and they are given options, like "stop program" right there, the Playstation 4 brings one out of the program when one hits the PS button and then they must go through the "Options" menu to find things like the way to turn the program off. This might seem like a minor grievance, but I have a real issue with needlessly complicated things and the extra steps on the Playstation 4 are just annoying and add time to what should be simple processes.

As well, the social aspect of the Playstation 4 is annoying and not immediately fixable. While gaming, I received a "friend" invitation from a fellow gamer, despite my personal privacy settings being the highest I could make them. Now, I get constant inviations from this person I do not know whenever I am on my Playstation 4 . . . which is annoying in the middle of my watching movies and such. Despite changing my notification settings on the Playstation 4, I keep getting updates and invitations and I ultimately resorted to unfriending the otherwise friendly gamer because my Playstation 4 is my primary entertainment console, not just a gaming system.

Like prior Playstation systems, the controller does not have any type of battery that is accessible. Instead, one needs to plug it into the USB port on the Playstation 4's front to recharge it. The Playstation 4 and its controller may be programmed to go into a powersave mode - which I like - after an hour or ten minutes, respectively. This, again, is an easy setting to set that even electronics-ignorant folks may easily avail themselves of. The USB ports on the front of the Playstation 4 also makes it possible to move files to the Playstation 4 or plug in a USB keyboard.

Despite being a little less intuitive to operate, the Playstation 4 is absolutely simple to set up and it remains fairly easy to use, especially after the first day or two. It is a great alternative to those who want something to both watch solid media and stream on. For me, the video gaming is a bonus! If only it played the PS3 games I already had, instead of pressuring me to shell out more money for another monthly service to play them . . .

For other electronic devices, please check out my reviews of:
Netgear WNR1000V3 N150 Wireless Router
Auvio 1201241 Synch/Charge Cable
GE 34205 HDMI Cable


For other electronics reviews, please visit my Electronics Reviews Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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