The Sony PlayStation 4 (Est. $400) is built with the high-end gamer in mind. The hardware lineup includes an eight-core CPU, AMD Radeon graphics, 8 GB of RAM, a Blu-ray optical drive and a 500 GB hard drive. Of this hardware lineup, CNET says "The fine print may not impress the layperson, but suffice it to say, the PS4's innards are in line with a mid- to high-end gaming PC." PCMag.com says that while graphics performance is better than what you would see on a PS3, it's more incremental than mind-blowing -- for now; however Will Greenwald adds that you should expect to see "significantly more impressive games in the future, as developers learn how to fully take advantage of the hardware."
In the meantime, reviewers say to rejoice in the not-so-small details, such as a tremendously improved controller. "The DualShock 4 resolves just about every common criticism of the DualShock 3," says Scott Lowe at IGN.com. "It's bigger, more ergonomic, and at long last, has concave thumbsticks and triggers." There's also a wireless audio jack built in; plug your earphones into the controller for ear-splitting audio that won't wake someone in the next room, let alone your neighbors in the next apartment or the next block. There's also a built-in track pad that comes into play in certain games.
The user interface (UI) has also been spiffed up. Gone is the XrossMediaBar (XMB), replaced by a UI similar to that in Sony's current TVs. Editors at Polygon.com note that "It retains its predecessor's speed, while adding a flexibility that the rigid XMB hierarchy never allowed."
For online play, one noticeable difference from the Sony PlayStation 3 (Est. $200 and up) stands out: There's now a pay wall for online gaming. You'll need to purchase a PlayStation Plus subscription (Est. $50 per year) to access online multiplayer games; unlike the Xbox One, however, there's still access to entertainment- and content-streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus without a paid membership. You can also now save up to 2,000 friends to your online presence, though experts note there's no intuitive way to organize them on the interface.
Surprisingly, and disappointingly, the PS4 loses some of the features that made the PS3 such a beloved media player. Perhaps the biggest bummer for some is that there's no longer any DLNA compatibility -- that is, you can't stream content wirelessly from your PC directly to the video game console. Experts and owners alike lament this oversight by Sony. Other exclusions are stranger; for one, the PS4 can neither play an audio CD nor an MP3 file. It also can't recognize files from a USB stick, unlike the PS3, and as of now there's no longer support for 3D media. Hearing the outcry, Sony is said to be working on firmware updates to address some of these issues; however, there's no information on when or if these updates will be released.
The biggest hesitation reviewers have toward recommending the PS4 is that its game library is woefully thin. Most say this is only a short-term issue, as more and better games are expected over time. The PS4 is not backward-compatible, so you can't play your old PS3 games on it. However, Sony has announced a cloud-based streaming service, PlayStation Now, which will let you stream PS3 games to your PS4. It's expected to launch in the summer of 2014. If you don't want to wait for PlayStation Now or for the PS4's game library to expand, the Sony PlayStation 3 (Est. $200 and up) is still a solid value, with lots of quality titles and better multimedia features.