Whether you like the PlayStation 4 will essentially depend on what kind of person — not gamer — you are.
The PlayStation 4, which replaces the seven-year-old PlayStation 3, couldn’t be more Sony in its overall design. It’s sleek in a very conservative way, modern but cold, and completely obsessed with its high-tech abilities but awkward in the way it presents it all. If the Xbox One is the kid who likes to command attention to brag how cool he is, the PS4 is the smart one who is uncomfortable in the spotlight. It comes across in the marketing, and the final product.
One of the biggest problems with the PS3 has always been its unnecessarily confusing user interface — an overly complicated and unattractive series of screens that felt almost off-putting. That is often the case of the interfaces found on most electronics hardware for any company — software designed by tech geeks and not prettied up by designers with a creative eye.
But the PS4 packages things in a far more friendlier way, relying on tiles (a very Microsoft way of doing things) to show off games and entertainment apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Walmart’s Vudu. PlayStation’s obsession with its icy blue color palette will always make it feel cold, but its new software helps it warm up its appeal.
The entire system is easy and quick to set up, once you get through the usual lengthy process of pecking out your email addresses and passwords. There aren’t a lot of cords required, just a power and HDMI cord that connects to a TV or home theater system.
And the games on the PS4 look great — they should, given the list of technical enhancements packed inside the slim case. While Sony likes to talk about the number of teraflops inside its new machine, consumers only need to know it’s a powerful device that eliminates long loading times when playing games or other glitchy features found in the now older-generation of consoles.
It’s also seamless in the way it can quickly switch from a game to an app with the click of a button.
But the PS4 seems designed more for the hardcore gamer — a major selling point for the gaming community.
Sony’s new DualShock 4 controller for the PS4 is a marvel. The entire controller has been redesigned to feel more ergonomic, lighter, and include a touchpad and larger trigger-like buttons that feel less like an afterthought. A built-in speaker borrows from the Wii U and will enable publishers to pipe in sounds during gameplay. A share button on the device also makes posting to social media a breeze.
A button on the controller enables users to share clips of games, and the PlayStation camera enables them to record themselves playing and post to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter instantly or live stream to Twitch and Ustream. Expect YouTube to soon be flooded with more videos of people staring at a screen with a controller in their hand.
Sony’s also been smart to turn its handheld Vita into a second screen device and remote control.
But gaming is the core purpose of consoles like the PlayStation 4. No longer must it do much of the heavy lifting to boost Hollywood’s homevideo industry and grow Blu-ray as a new format the way the PS3 did. This time, the PS4 is about delivering games with better graphics and more connectivity with other gamers without unneeded distractions.
Yet as a hub for the digital streaming of movies, TV shows and music, the PS4 is also an important platform. Netflix’s own redesigned interface looks great on the PS4 and will help make the streaming service an even bigger draw for people and its original programming. If Sony can figure out how to make owning digital copies of films more attractive through the PS4 (the way Comcast plans to do through its cable boxes), Hollywood could have an important new ally on its hands as it looks to steer consumers away from rentals.
For $399, the PS4 is attractively priced and you get a lot for your money (the PS3 originally launched at around $500 to $600). Microsoft’s Xbox One costs $499, but comes bundled with the Kinect motion and voice sensor; Sony’s PlayStation Camera is sold separately.
Is the PlayStation 4 a device that will revolutionize gaming? Hardly. But Sony shows that it’s clearly taken notes over the years, eliminating many of the annoyances of the bulkier PS3 that came before it. It’s a more grown up piece of hardware that’s matured along with its core gaming audience, housed in an attractive system worth showing off, that along with Microsoft’s Xbox One will prove an important player in cementing video games’ position in the entertainment industry and convert those that have been holding off so far on investing in a gaming console.