Having spent the last year using the PlayStation 4 at trade shows and press events, we've got a fairly good idea of how games look and play on the parallelogram-shaped game box. The questions that remain largely revolve around living with the device: can it quickly switch between apps and games? how stable is online play? is voice chat clear? That kinda thing.
We can't answer every query just yet, but we did spend the morning at Sony's NYC review event getting a better idea of the intricacies of the PlayStation 4. Below we've shared our favorite highlights, from party chat on a system level across all apps, to the "Play as a guest" feature -- head below and dive in with us.
Party Chat is actually party chat
Unlike the PlayStation 3's paltry group chat offering, the PlayStation 4's party chat is true to its name: eight person chat rooms that stay connected regardless of what each of those eight party members is doing on their own PS4. That means groups can jump from game to game seamlessly, keeping friends together in the process. You can even incorporate Vita buddies into the mix and vice-versa.
What's more, that eight person limitation is only a constraint of individual chat lobbies. Should you have enough friends online (with a 2,000 person list, you probably will), multiple lobbies are an option. This could lead to some delightfully nefarious scenarios, like one player in two lobbies on competing teams acting as a double agent, though we imagine the multiple lobby function to mostly apply to social butterflies.
Broadcasting gameplay has an adorable PlayStation-themed standby screen
No doubt one of PlayStation 4's most touted features is its live game broadcast functionality, pushing live gameplay directly to streaming services like Ustream and Twitch.tv. In a demo we saw of the service this morning, setting up streaming is a snap: choose which service you'd like to stream to, whether you want to incorporate your own audio input via mic, and whether to allow comments.
If, while live broadcasting, you choose to take a break, why not simply alert viewers and put them in standby mode? A click of the PlayStation button brings you back to the PS4's dashboard, which cuts the broadcast stream and puts up a blue PlayStation standby screen to viewers with a dancing set of triangle/X/O/square buttons. Yes, that last part is as delightful as it sounds. Consider it the "Indian Head Test Pattern" from RCA of the modern era. Oh, and an "on air" indicator in the dashboard lets you know that broadcasting is still live should you forget.
The PS Home button can be double-tapped to quickly return to the last app in use
You're playing Killzone: Shadow Fall when, suddenly, a boss devastates you and you're clueless as to how to proceed. You've got no time to suffer fools, so you jump into the PS4 internet browser and look up a solution to the problem. Rather than push the PS Home button once more to return to the dashboard and once again jump into Killzone, you can simply double-tap the PS Home button to quickly jump between the two active applications. Of course, that's just one application -- the PS Home button double-tap allows you to quickly switch between any two active apps. Pretty neat, and certainly convenient!
"Play as a guest" allows you to sign in and access PSN content anywhere, but keeps your info safe
Similarly to the Xbox One's Gamertags, PlayStation 4's PSN ID allows you to log in to any PS4 console and access all your content from that box via "Play as a guest" mode. It's not quite as fully featured as XB1's system (which attaches even your system preferences to the Gamertag), but it does have one unique feature that Microsoft's console does not: the PS4 you're using as a guest scrapes all your personal content from the guest box on logout. That means everything from your credit card info to even your PSN ID gets permanently removed in one fell swoop.
Should you have two PlayStation 4 consoles in your house, you can have both signed in under a single PSN ID at once -- anything beyond that and your access is cut on the box using your guest account.
Trophies from PlayStation 3 and Vita show up alongside PS4; PS4 adds "rarity" metric
With next-generation game consoles comes next-generation meta rewards for playing games, apparently. The PlayStation 4's Trophy system is getting a bit of an overhaul on the new PlayStation, with both viewing Vita and PlayStation 3 Trophies available and a new rarity meter indicating how many people worldwide have unlocked individual accomplishments. One more opportunity to tell your buddy Travis how much better you are than him at video games.
The PlayStation Store is actually organized
A single left rail allows players to easily select between major categories on the PS4 Store's game section: featured titles (read: big games), indies, free to play, and even PS3 to PS4. That last category is specifically intended to facilitate the deal that Sony's offering on gamers transitioning this holiday's big games from last generation to the next for $10 apiece. We didn't see the whole store in action, but what was there was vastly improved in terms of navigation.
You can power USB devices while the console is off
Yes! Yes, really! As part of the PlayStation 4's standby mode, you can enable the console to charge USB devices even while it's (technically) turned off. No more keeping the console on to charge controllers! Or to charge anything else, for that matter! It's a minor detail, but boy is it an important one.