Thoughts on the PS4 after a month

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It’s a lovely, elegant little machine. No bigger than my PS3 Slim. Very quiet but it does chuck a fair amount of heat out of the back. Much, much neater than an equivalent powered PC.

The Dualshock 4 is truly fantastic. Using a Dualshock 3 after it feels like a cheaply made Chinese 3rd party knockoff. They have finally caught up with the Xbox controller and with the touchpad, motion control etc they have more features if games come along to use them.

The new PS Eye is nice.

The OS is slick and simple to use. Everything works much faster than the PS3.

Both Netflix and iPlayer work so much faster than the PS3 version.

The new Vidzone is nice too.

DVD playback upscales to 1080p like the PS3 and looks as good if not better so there are no worries in that front.

Bluray playback also looks great although it would be nice if it displayed the Disc info when you insert it like the PS3 did.

All Disc video playback settings have an automatic setting now to match your TV which is good.

Games are the real problem at the moment. After 7 years PS3 games have reached their zenith and so far I have seen nothing on the PS4 to really compare with Uncharted 3, GT6 or Tiger Woods 14. Yes everything is now running in 1080p which looks very nice on a 1080p TV but – Resogun apart – nothing really looks optimised yet. 1080p does make a big difference with double the resolution of 720p but the machine has 10x the power of the PS3 which games are not really using yet. FIFA 14 is not super smooth, Killzone is ok but doesn’t blow my socks off, NFS: The Rivals looks very nice but isn’t exactly super smooth. Marvel Super Heroes, to be fair, is a big graphical step up from the PS3 version. Sharper, smoother and a lot more detailed if you like that kind of game. What we are really lacking at the moment is a game where you can say there is no way you could do that on a PS3. Maybe Driveclub will be that game and it’s coming in February I believe.

There are also the issue of certain basic PS3 features being missing in the PS4 which is an issue if you only have space for one machine under your TV. It’s ridiculous that you can’t play a CD in it never mind a SACD. You can’t network it to your PC to use it as a Media Player either. It won’t even play audio or video files off a USB stick. These are unnecessary annoyances. Sony has to achieve feature parity with PS3 to get more people to upgrade. If they could implement SACD and HD Audio file playback that would be even better.

My conclusion at the moment would have to be: Great machine but save your money until they fix the missing OS features or a great game comes along that you really must have.

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PC vs PS4

I’ve been wondering about this for a while. How much do you have to spend to get a PC better than a PS4? Even then how will the two experiences compare? A quick look at Digital Foundry shows that their 2012 £300 PC is hopelessly outgunned by a PS4 but a couple of tweaks to it would bring it up to scratch in hardware terms…..

Digital Foundry £300 PC spec:

CPU: Intel Pentium G840 at 2.8GHz – £54.83
Graphics Core: MSI Radeon HD 6770 – £69.90
Motherboard: ASRock H61M-VS – £34.03
RAM: Crucial Ballistix 2x 4GB RAM – £32.99
Hard Drive: 500GB Seagate Spinpoint F3 – £55.00
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-222BB DVD Rewriter – £12.98
Power Supply: Corsair 430W V2 CX Series – £36.40
Case: Casecom MA-1199 mATX – £16.64

These prices are about a year out of date but they are still in the ballpark. The Intel Pentium Chip may seem weak but it’s actually about the same, or better, performing than the PS4s octo-core CPU. In any case you can now swap that for a newer IvyBridge or Haswell one for about the same price for a performance boost. The real problem with this spec is the GPU which is hopelessly outgunned by the PS4. To get above the 1152 GCN shaders and access to 8GB of GDDR5 in the PS4 we are going to have to splurge on a 4GB Sapphire R9 270X card at around £170 and a better PSU to feed it. That, along with 8GB of ram on the motherboard should cope with most everything but we are now looking at a tower that’s costing around £450 and it doesn’t have an OS or a Controller or even a mouse and keyboard which are still necessary on the PC. Until Steam OS comes to fruition in maybe 2 or 3 years we are still looking at a 64-bit Windows OS and along with a mouse and keyboard and a wireless Xbox 360 controller that’ll take our total price up to around £550 or £650 if you really want to upgrade that Pentium to an i5 just to be safe.

Suddenly the PS4 is looking like a svelt, power-efficient bargain. Even more of a bargain if you take the view that a hardware equivalent PC can’t actually match an integrated box with the abstraction penalties of programming for Windows and Direct X. I have never seen any good solid information on this but it seems likely to me that it is maybe possible to get double or more the performance from a console compared to an equivalent PC because of these issues. A few games of GT5 or Uncharted 3 on the PS3 or Forza 4 on the 360 might convince you of this although, in reality, most games are cross platform and don’t extract that level of performance out of the systems. Certainly I don’t expect to see that kind of expertise show up on PS4 for a few years. Maybe when AMDs Mantle patch for Battlefield 4 shows up we’ll get an idea of what penalty DirectX really puts on a system.

So my conclusion after this little thought experiment is that if you think you could build a PC better than a PS4 then you absolutely can but you can’t do it for anything like the same price. Not this year. Probably not next year either. Maybe in two years it would be possible but by then the PS4 will be cheaper with a bigger HD too. There are other considerations too. The Playstation Plus program is awesome value (Especially if you have a PS3 or Vita too) and there’s nothing like that available on the PC and just the seamless, integrated, pick up and play experience of console play has not yet been matched on the PC.

All of these points can and will change over time but for the moment I will keep my PS3 and get a PS4 and keep an eye on developments in the PC world. It is possible that if Steam OS works then this could be my last console. Time will tell.

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Return to PC Gaming

The last time I really played current games on a PC there were no GPUs and they ran on DOS which required a degree of patience and often a degree in Computer Science to get working. The year was 1996 and the game was Geoff Crammond’s GP2 which ate a large chunk of my life. The Pentium was quite new still and a half decent 8mb ram PC with 14″ monitor would cost about a Grand. To be honest that was one of the few games I ever played much on a PC. i have always preferred consoles and arcade games (and still do) but fast forward 17 years and computer graphics have come so far and gotten so cheap now that I have just aquired the latest £90 Sapphire Radeon 7790 last night to go with my Pentium G840 system. This is basically an upgrade on the Digital Foundry £300 Gaming PC spec. I just wanted something capable of playing Elite: Dangerous better than my Intel Graphics and let the kids play Minecraft and Superhero Squad Online. According to Digital Foundry this is basically a faster version of the graphics chip in the new Xbox One so I figured that has to be worth £90? I shall update this post over the next couple if weeks as I try out different things but I did install it last night and here are my original thoughts…..

I don’t have a lot of PC games so I ran Passmark on it and got 3256 which is above the average on the Passmark site for this GPU. I also ran 3D Mark 06 and got 16174. 3D Mark Vantage gave me 12871 and the 3D Mark 11 result was 4367. (I presume these scores are not directly comparable.) My overall impression watching all these benchmarks was that it is indeed at least 10 times faster than the integrated graphics were and somewhere between PS3 and PS4 performance wise. Running an old favourite like Burnout Paradise is now identical to the PS3 version and probably better but not so much so because I think it’s DX9. Running the DX11 benchmarks show the potential of vastly improved graphical quality with similar performance over DX9 which bodes well for Elite and other newer games. I bought the EA Humble Bundle so I shall try out Dead Space 3 and Battlefield 3 tonight to get a better idea of what it is truly capable of but I think Elite will look great on it based on all the space scenes in the Futuremark Benchmarks.

My initial impression is that for £90 if you have an integrated graphics PC this is definitely recommended as a budget buy. It is currently topping the price/performance lists at Passmark and rightly so. I still prefer the simplicity of the console experience and I am still getting a PS4 but this will be good for games like Elite that might not make it to that platform.

Update (21/8/13)

So I spent a second night playing around with various benchmarks and Steam games, Google Earth and the WesterosCraft server and came to the conclusion that I am very happy with this card for what I paid for it. I will play some stuff on it, it’s an excellent general upgrade and the kids will have great fun with it. The biggest thrill I got from it was the realisation that the leap from PS3 to PS4 will not be so much about resolution or frames/second but the vast difference in image quality between the DX9 hardware and DX11. I was not expecting that so given roughly 10 times more performance over the RSX chip I think I am going to be spending most of my gaming time on the PS4. It’ll be interesting to see how much the PS4 outperforms the 7790 without the overhead of Windows.

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My thoughts on Next Gen consoles.

So the Next Generation of consoles is almost here and everyone is wondering what they will cost, how they will sell and who will sell the most.

My PS3 has been the best console I have ever had and also the cheapest. Almost 25 years ago as a starving student I had a Mega Drive with only 3 games because, at £40 a time, that was all I could afford. This last year I have had about 40 games from Sony for the princely sum of £30 for PS+ plus discounts on many others. Given what we’ve been hearing about the XboxOne and second-hand games if Sony can continue PS+ onto the PS4 then my next console is a no brainer. The bigger problem for them is that there is currently no compelling reason for me or many others to upgrade immediately. I have around 150 games for the PS3 many of them 1080p and none of them will work on the PS4. Gran Turismo 6 looks amazing and is PS3 only. I also already have You Tube and Netflix and the ability to play DVDs, Blurays and all my streamed media on it in 1080p so what would compel me to buy one?

Every previous Playstation has upped the graphical stakes a lot. PS1 was lo-res. PS2 was hi-res. PS3 was HD and the PS4 will be…. HD too. This is a problem. Millions and Millions of people have been playing HD games on PS3s and 360s for nearly 8 years so now they have to be convinced that Next Gen HD will be superior. Undoubtably it will but not so noticeably to the average gamer. Hopefully all games on PS4 will be 1080p @ 60fps rather than just a few on the PS3 and that would make a big difference to me but would it matter to most? I don’t hear a lot of people howling about 30fps on most current gen games. Codemasters seem to sell plenty of F1 games despite the horrible 30fps refresh. The graphics on Need For Speed Unleashed 2 actually made me physically ill. One of my favourite games of the last year was Sonic Racing Transformed despite a less than smooth experience with s frame rate that seemed to drop into single figures at times. The most annoying thing about the current generation of consoles has been the difficulty of optimising for two radically different architectures so that the only games that really excel graphically are the ones which are exclusive to one console. (Uncharted 3, Forza 4, GT5 & 6 even Wipeout Fury.) Hopefully with similar architectures the Next Gen games will be, on the whole, better optimised although if the PS4 really is 50% more powerful that has to be a concern for Microsoft if they don’t want to be sidelined from AAA titles like Nintendo. I am going to watch with interest and probably won’t buy one till late 2014.

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