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Great gaming for 2016 and beyond
By Jeff Bakalar /@jeffbakalar
Nov 23, 2016Add to my Holiday List
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The good The PlayStation 4 serves up dazzling graphics, runs on a simplified and logical interface and boasts a fantastic controller. It has the upper hand in indie games and can stream a constantly growing list of legacy titles via PlayStation Now. The PS4 makes it super-easy to capture and broadcast gameplay online and generally delivers a zippier performance than its direct competition. It also doubles as a Blu-ray player and solid media-streaming box.
The bad The Xbox One has a slight edge in non-gaming entertainment features such as streaming content and media portal apps.
The bottom line The PlayStation 4's beautiful graphics, smart interface, blazing performance, near-perfect controller and better indie offerings give it an edge over the Xbox One -- though that edge is ever-shrinking.
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As the PlayStation 4 quickly approaches its third birthday, let's reassess the current state of Sony's flagship game machine.
When the competing consoles were first released, we gave the edge to the PS4 over the Xbox One. And at this point in time, the PS4 is still looking good. It continues to improve thanks to regular system firmware updates and a consistent stream of console-exclusive independent games. Exclusive AAA-titles are less frequent, but the PS4 has some promising titles coming down the pike, including The Last Guardian and , both scheduled to arrive in 2016. But if you're concentrating more on the exclusives 2015 has to offer, the Xbox One wins that immediate holiday battle.
The majority of games are available on both platforms and PC. We call these multiplatform games. In our testing, we've found that a handful of titles perform better on a PlayStation 4. The most recent example of this is Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
To be clear: The PS4 and the Xbox One are very closely matched. Both offer a growing library of third-party games -- mainstays like the Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed series, as well as newer titles like Fallout 4 and Rainbow Six Siege. And both double as full-service entertainment systems, with built-in Blu-ray players and streaming services like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus.
At this stage in the game we're still partial to the PlayStation 4. Our reasoning is below -- along with a few caveats about areas where the PS4 can improve.
Editors' note, November 16, 2015:This review has been updated to reflect the PS4's ongoing maturation, including new firmware features and software offered on the platform. We've raised the overall rating of the PS4 from an 8 to an 8.3 and have added one point each in the design, ecosystem and value subcategories. This review covers firmware version 3.11.
PS4, unboxed (pictures)(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)
PS4 consoles and bundles
No matter how you purchase a PlayStation 4, it'll ship with an HDMI cable, a DualShock 4 wireless controller, a USB charging cable and an earbud headset for game chat. The standard console goes for $350 though it seems like at almost any given time a PS4 bundle is being offered by Sony or another retailer. After a recent $50 price cut, the PS4 and Xbox One are nearly identically priced.
PS4 bundles usually provide the best overall value if you're looking to get started from scratch. Some franchise titles get exclusive PS4 consoles included in their bundles, most recently seen with thePS4 SKU.
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Major PS4 exclusive games (available now or soon):
- Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
- Infamous: Second Son
- LittleBigPlanet 3
- Until Dawn
Major PS4 exclusive games due by 2016 and beyond:
- Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
- The Last Guardian
- Horizon Zero Dawn
- No Man's Sky (console exclusive)
- Street Fighter V (console exclusive)
- Ratchet and Clank reboot
The PlayStation ecosystem includes various products with some shared functionality. For example, thecan stream PS4 games via "remote play" mode. The (PSTV) can also stream PS4 games as well as play Vita games and legacy PlayStation titles. Select phones from Sony's can also stream gameplay from the PlayStation 4.
Sony also offers, a cable TV alternative starting at $50 a month available on the PS3 and PS4. PlayStation Now, the company's legacy game-streaming service, is available on every PlayStation platform and lets subscribers play games from the Sony vault. If you purchase in three-month increments, it works out to around $15 a month.
Sony regularly updates the PS4's firmware -- as of this writing it's currently at version 3.11. Recent updates to the console have brought along features like:
- YouTube live game broadcasting
- Party chat
- Game communities and events sections
- Suspend/resume: The console can be put into "rest mode" and then woken up to resume gameplay without needing to relaunch a game.
- Share Play: Now PS4 owners can "host" a play session and "hand off" the game controller for up to 60 minutes to one of their friends on the PlayStation Network. At the end of the session players can simply restart. Share Play can also work with co-op games that let two players engage at the same time. Share Play works with any PS4 game and only the host player needs a copy of the game and a PlayStation Plus membership.
- Restore: You can now back up data stored on a PS4 and restore it.
The 2.00 firmware had some 2.01 update. Firmware version 2.02 (also a forced update) brought along more universal stability to the system., but Sony has addressed them with a recent
Here are the areas where the PS4 excels -- and where it has an edge over the Xbox One:
Compared with Xbox Live's Gold membership, PlayStation Plus still makes it out as the better overall deal. The Instant Game Collection titles that come with the subscription can be played across various PlayStation platforms and the quality of these titles tends to be higher, though recently the free games have started to underwhelm. You need PlayStation Plus to play online, and it also offers discounts, exclusive betas and demos, cloud save storage, game trials and automatic system updates.
PlayStation Plus is $50, £40 or AU$70 a year, while Xbox Live Gold is $60, £40 or AU$85 per year, although you may be able to get discounted vouchers from retailers.
Overall, the PS4's interface feels zippier than the Xbox One's, even with Xbox's new fall 2015 update. Games install quicker and moving around menus is a much smoother experience. It's by far an easier system to navigate, as opposed to the Xbox One's sometimes confusing presentation.
Sony's answer to backward compatibility is, a subscription service that allows PS4 owners to stream a game over the Internet. That said, your experience will vary depending on your Internet connection. Suffice it to say, playing shooters and other "twitch" games on PS Now isn't great, but it's certainly improving -- as is the growing collection of playable titles. When it launched we wrote PS Now off. Now we think it's a viable option for those who are passionate about legacy PlayStation games.
Xbox One recently introduced Xbox 360 backward compatibility, which works with physical media, as opposed to PS Now's digital-only operation.
Aside from a zippier all-around experience in the system software, the PS4 tends to install games quicker than the Xbox One. There's also some evidence that multiplatform games play better and run in higher resolutions than they do on the Xbox One. In some cases, the PS4 will also play at a higher frame rate than the Xbox One.
Game broadcasting and social sharing
The DualShock 4 controller has a button dedicated to broadcasting and sharing options. The whole feature set is wonderfully tied into the fabric of the system and makes sharing fairly painless. Players can instantly snap screenshots, tweet photos and broadcast gameplay to Twitch (a free online streaming-gaming video service), all within a few clicks.
PS4 owners can also save these videos and screens and put them on a USB drive, edit them on the PS4 or upload them to YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.
It's worth noting that publishers can block the ability to share content -- it's usually done to avoid leaking major plot spoilers in a game.
Sony has committed to bringing popular independent games to PS4. While a lot of these titles have previously been available for PC, games like Rocket League, No Man's Sky and SOMA (among many others) will only see console debuts on PS4.
User-accessible hard drive
The PS4 ships with a 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive (and is also available in a 1TB model), but you can easily swap it out for a 2.5-inch SATA drive with a larger capacity or a SSHD or SSD for potentially increased performance. The Xbox One, by comparison, doesn't allow the swapping of hard drives -- instead you have to attach an external USB drive.
DualShock 4 controller
The DualShock 4 is the best PlayStation controller yet and features a front-facing touchpad that can also be clicked. Players can bring their own headphones and plug them directly into the controller so they don't disturb the neighbors during nighttime gaming.
The controller is very comfortable and can be charged with a Micro-USB cable. The only real downside is the battery: unlike the Xbox One controller's battery, the PS4's can't be replaced. Its battery life is good, but not great.
The PS4's media player app supports a wide range of file formats and codecs. Files can be played off a home DLNA server or USB drive.
Here are the areas where the PS4 could use a little work:
Media apps: Good, but slightly lagging behind the Xbox One
The PS4 offers mainstay media and entertainment apps like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu Plus, but is noticeably missing apps that the Xbox One does have, such as ESPN, Comedy Central, Fox and Fios.
There is support for sports, though -- PS4 owners can use MLB, NBA (only on PS4), NFL Sunday Ticket and NHL apps.
PlayStation Plus cloud storage
Cloud save storage was recently bumped up to a generous 10GB worth of data, but only for PS+ members. We also think cloud saves should sync automatically no matter which PS4 you're playing on, instead of gamers having to manually upload saves from machines that aren't their "primary console." In this specific category, Xbox One has PS4 beat.
Wonky eject button
A collection of current PS4 owners have experienced an issue with the PS4's touch-sensitive eject button. Some complain that it can engage by itself, causing the console to either eject a disc during play or randomly make beeps.
Sony has since corrected this and now 1TB consoles ship with a tactile eject button.
PS4 vs. Xbox One
There's not likely to be a definitive winner in the current-generation console wars. While the PlayStation 4 had a clear advantage at launch, that edge is slowly evaporating as Microsoft has worked feverishly to undo most of the Xbox One's original missteps. The two consoles are now similarly priced and offer a lot of the same features.
Right now the PS4 and theare neck and neck with exclusives -- though the PS4 also has a better range of digital-only titles. But taste in games is always subjective; either those games will appeal to you, or they won't. Each console manufacturer has made exclusivity deals with various developers, so the sad reality is you're going to miss out on something great no matter which platform you choose.
You might read about the PS4's specs trumping those of the Xbox One, but it's important to keep in mind how that translates to actual results. You'll remember that the PS3 was originally poised to be a massive powerhouse that would leap past the Xbox 360, but in reality it didn't perform much better. You could even make the argument that most multiplatform games played more smoothly and looked better on the Xbox 360. That said, at the time of this writing (and having considered most of the multiplatform games currently available), the PS4 does seem to perform slightly better than the Xbox One.