The camera: turn your lounge into The Playroom
Unlike the Xbox One, the PS4 doesn’t come with a camera, but there is one available – the ingeniously named PlayStation Camera. The wee unit, which looks as though it’s been constructed out of cubes, costs £65 and has two lenses on the front so it can gauge depth.
Once connected the camera can scan your features to enable facial recognition for automatic login, which is very quick and reliable. You can also use it for voice control. It’s far more limited than Kinect’s functionality, but the voice recogition is reliable and allows quick navigation between games, as well as hands-free screenshots.
But the best way to show off the PlayStation Camera is to open The Playroom, which is pre-installed on all PS4s. Once it’s talked you through correctly setting up your camera (I’m afraid you’re going to have to move that coffee table) The Playroom gives you access to three activities. AR Hockey is the only real game, as it pitches two players against each other in a game of Air Hockey that involves using the DualShock 4’s motion control to bend and twist the table to your advantage. The other two involve messing around with a floating robot called Asobi and a bunch of delightful little people called AR Bots. The most fun is to be had with the latter, who inhabit your controller until you flick them into your lounge using the touchpad. You can then kick them, make them dance, or throw them objects that you create using a connected tablet. The thrill is relatively short-lived, but as a way to show off the capabilities of your new console The Playroom is absolutely superb.
Remote play: PS4 + Vita is a match made in gaming heaven
And if you want more superb, dig out that old Vita you’ve left gathering dust. Connect Sony’s handheld to your PS4 across your home network and you’ve suddenly got the ability to play next-gen games anywhere in the house. Sony warns that you’ll need to use wired connections and have an amazing router, but we’ve tried Remote Play with both consoles connected via Wi-Fi to a bog-standard router and it worked an absolute treat.
You lose a little graphical fidelity, of course, but PS4 games still look quite astoundingly awesome on the Vita’s 5in screen, and while there’s a touch of input lag that will make it a poor choice for competitive deathmatches, for single-player gaming it’s barely noticeable. Extra buttons are cleverly mapped to the touchscreen and rear touchpad, too, and as everything you see is a mirror of what the PS4 is doing, you can simply use the Vita as a fancy extra control pad for the main console if you so wish.
We’re yet to try accessing the PS4 from a Vita connected to an external Wi-Fi network (we’ll report back when we have) but this is already a superb extra feature that we can see getting a huge amount of use. Find your Vita and get the PS4 Remote Play-enabling new firmware (3.00) downloaded now in preparation.
At UK launch the Vita and PS4 are able to connect to one another directly, as long as you've enabled the setting in the PS Vita Connection menu on the PS4. Providing both consoles are in relative proximity (bedroom to lounge worked just fine in our tests) the connection will be made in about 30secs. The Vita will even turn the PS4 on from standby.
The direct method is best for performance. Lag is minimal and picture quality is very good indeed. Using an external network is a bit more tricky. We've tried three times now, and only once did it work - unsurprisingly that was on a friend's cable broadband connection running at around 20mbps. The coffee shops we tried failed, presumably due to connections that dipped below 2mbps.
One exciting prospect is using your 4G smartphone or tablet as a remote access point for your Vita, but alas, that's something iOS devices can't do due to game-blocking NAT Type 3 settings. We're yet to try using Android but will update again as soon as we have.
PS4 versus Xbox One: still too early to name a winner
We know that some cross-platform games benefit from higher resolutions on PS4 than Xbox One, and we know that it’s £80 cheaper than the Microsoft console, but the new Kinect looks incredibly powerful, you can connect your PVR to the Xbox, and during the last generation Microsoft definitely had the upper hand in terms of online gaming.
Are those features enough to make up for the apparent graphical deficit and extra cost? We’ll have to wait for our Xbox One review sample to find out.
Without a final Xbox One sample it’s impossible to know whether the PS4 is the runaway winner of the next-gen console battle as many are proclaiming. But what we do know now is that it’s an absolutely cracking console.
Delivering on the next-gen promise of 1080p gaming and digital distribution are the core things, but that’s backed up by a super-slick UI that feels ‘live’ and interactive, and delivers the content you want with a degree of snappiness that the previous generation couldn’t get close to.
Add stand-out features such as Remote Play, which really is terrific, and you’ve got a massively strong launch for the PS4. And it will only get better as more games, apps and features are released.
Over to you, Microsoft.
Words: Tom Parsons
Slick, powerful and packed with stand-out features, the PS4 delivers on the next-gen console promise