PS4 Impressions After a Full Day

I’ve had my Playstation 4 since Friday afternoon and have had a good chance to work with it and can give my impressions.

When I first hooked it up on Friday, I had planned to manually perform the required Day 1 patch from the patch file that I had on a USB flash drive. It turned out that the PS4 was faster at downloading it over the network than I was at figuring out how to convince it to update from the flash drive. The update went smoothly, as have all the PSN interactions so far. The rumors on Friday of total collapse of PSN seem to have been exaggerated, because downloads have been smooth, the store has worked well, and my small number of friends show up just fine. So kudos to Sony for a good launch!

I don’t have the PS4 camera yet, because of a screw up with my Amazon order. While I’m partially to blame for that, it was somewhat Amazon’s fault. So my angry glare looking north towards Washington state is not at Microsoft, for once, but at Amazon. When I get the camera, I’m looking forward to checking out the Playroom tech demo that looks so cool in all the videos.

The PS4 is, as you know from all the pictures is quite an attractive machine. As you can see from the photo below, it is smaller than an original PS3 and 2nd generation Xbox 360, and feels solidly built. I first hooked it up via HDMI to the TV and optical audio to my surround sound system. On Saturday morning, I tore all the cables out of all the machines and hooked all three game systems to an HDMI switch that connected to the TV. The TV then has an optical out that sends the sound to the audio system. This new setup meant I could get rid of my old component video switch that I was only using to switch optical audio from the PS3 and the Xbox 360. This setup works well, which is good, because there seems to be a problem with the optical audio on the PS4. When I was at the menu screen, the pleasant-sounding background music sounded good, but when I started a game (Resogun or Contrast, for example), the audio broke up and became very rough and awful. This happened when the audio output was either Dolby 5.1 or DTS 5.1, but if I forced it to use PCM stereo, it was OK (though stereo, which is not ideal). Things seem to be working better with the HDMI audio, so I’ll stick with that.

Game Machines

The Playstation Store is much quicker and more responsive than it was on the PS3, but of course that may be because there isn’t much content there yet. It does seem to be a better design, though. It launches quickly and getting out of it is fast and easy. The thing missing is the list of prior purchases. I preordered Warframe in order to get the preorder bonus, but I don’t know if I got it or not when I downloaded Warframe from the store. In the PSN section of the Settings menu, there is a “Services List” item within “Account Information” that shows I apparently have it, but such things should be accessible from the store, not from hunting 3 levels down in the System menu.

The Dualshock 4 controller is quite good. It is comfortable and has a good feel to it, mostly. The “Options” button, which is used in place of the Select and Start buttons on the PS3’s controllers, is not in a convenient spot, yet games tend to use it a fair bit. DC Universe Online is the worst offender I’ve seen so far, using it to bring up a circular menu to get to everything, like your inventory and skills and journal, so you need to hold the unwieldy Options button, then navigate to the selection. Not a comfortable proposition, but that isn’t why I won’t spend much time playing DC Universe Online (more in a future post). The battery life of the DS4 is also quite lousy – certainly worse than the Dualshock 3.

The PS4 has a standby mode and an off mode. In the standby mode, it can download updates, finish downloading games you’ve purchased, and apparently be awakened by a PS Vita for remote play (I don’t have a Vita, so haven’t tried it). For the ability to do those things, it consumes 10 watts. Always. Sounds like lazy engineering to me, Sony. I could see that it would take 10 watts when downloads and installs are happening and the DS4 is charging, but then it should throttle back to a watt or two. Y’know, cut the Ethernet to 10Mbps, reduce power on the WiFi like tablets and smartphones do, etc. We as a world, and I, in particular, consume too much energy as it is, so having millions of brand new units that are designed to consume 10 watts when they are ostensibly off is unfathomable to me. I will do my best to turn the damn thing off, even though the power button puts it into standby mode. Oh, and that DS4 that needs charging so often – it needs standby mode to charge. I turned my PS4 off last night with the DS4 plugged in, because I had heard it charges when the PS4 is off. It isn’t charged, so apparently it doesn’t charge in the off mode. Darn.

Downloads and updates are much smoother on the PS4 than they were on the PS3. Multiple downloads can happen at once, and they continue while games are running unless the games need the network. Overall, a big improvement, and pretty nearly where my PC has been for many years. Game updates are an interesting conundrum, however. When you first put in a game disk, it immediately starts copying the game to the PS4’s hard drive, so we will all fill our drives reasonably quickly. And though the game is cached to the hard drive, we still need the disk in the optical drive for, you know, piracy and inconvenience reasons. Once part of the disk has been copied over, the game can be started, which is a nifty feature that we don’t have to wait for 50GB to be copied. But, once you start the game, if there is a patch for the game, it will start downloading, but your play will not be interrupted. Now I’m guessing they won’t patch a running game, so this means you’ll be playing an unpatched game until you quit and allow the patch to install. While this is perhaps more friendly than the PS3’s system of making us wait while a patch downloads, I don’t like the idea of playing that unpatched game when the patch may be downloaded and be sitting there on the disk. So if I see a patch download notification, I quit the game and let the patch happen before I’ll play it.

Finally (for this post), the PS4 comes with some nice coupon codes, including one for a free month of PS Plus (PS+). PS+ is $50 a year and was essential on the PS3, because it allowed a PS3 to update itself automatically, much like Windows has been able to do for years. It also gave members lots of free games, some of which are truly great, so it is well worth it. I have been a PS+ member for a while, so I had to check what happened when I applied that free month coupon. Digging around in the aforementioned “Services List” menu item, I saw that the free month was properly applied at the end of my PS+ subscription, but the auto-renew was turned on for an option much more expensive than the $50 per year plan. So if you use that coupon, disable the auto-renew or you’ll have a nasty surprise!


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