Now one year old, the PlayStation 4 is already well on its way to becoming one of the most successful games consoles of all time.
After selling an incredible one million units in just its first 24 hours on sale in the US, the PS4 has now been snapped up by 13 million gamers worldwide.
That's a huge number which is even more impressive when you consider it's around double the number of Xbox One consoles that have sold in the same time period. The sales gap is growing every day, too.
Things certainly don't look like turning round for the PS4. With more graphical power than the Xbox One, 32 times more system memory than the PS3 and a firm focus on pure gaming experiences rather than media might, the PS4 has established itself as the next-gen console to beat in this generation.
It's a games console built by gamers for gamers and won the hearts and minds of many from the word go, with lots of prospective next-genners left feeling alienated by some of Microsoft's bizarre policies and choices for the Xbox One – many of which were reversed as a result of a backlash.
What's more, the PS4 is now available online for £325, less if you shop around a bit, which is about the same price as Microsoft's Xbox One bundle without Kinect. It doesn't come with the PlayStation Camera but this can be bought separately for £39 if you really want one. We don't think it's necessary, but we'll get to that.
- What should we expect from the PlayStation 5?
The differences between the PS4 and Xbox One are actually evident before you even switch them on.
Despite the two consoles both sporting similar half-matte half-gloss finishes and containing very similar internal components, they really couldn't be more different.
For a start, the PS4's parallelogram form is small and sleek in comparison to the enormous VCR-like cuboid of the Xbox One. And this means that the PS4's box is half the size and weight. The Sony console can be extracted from its packaging and plugged in and booted up in a couple of minutes.
Xbox One on the other hand comes in a huge, hulking box. It's fiddly to open and unpack, and it's full of little compartments, with loads of carboard and plastic bits to get in your way.
This is the kind of streamlining that typifies the PlayStation experience with PS4. It's a console designed for gamers to play games and in this respect it could be described as more of spiritual successor to the PlayStation 2 – still the best selling games console the observable universe has ever known.
One look at the PS4 and you know you're looking at Sony hardware. It's slim, sleek, available in jet black and shiny white, and amazingly it's roughly the size of a second generation PS3 Slim.
The full measurements are 275 x 53 x 305 mm so it's a lot more compact than an Xbox One, which is longer, taller and squarer.
In a feat of engineering worth tipping your hat to, and in spite of the PlayStation 4's slim stature, Sony has tucked the power supply inside the system, leaving no external power brick to trip over.
The Xbox One on the other hand retains the external power brick of the Xbox 360, leaving you with more mess behind your TV.
It's meant to lay flat on its belly but, if your media center can only accommodate a vertical machine, Sony has a plastic stand it sells separately for £16.99 that helps the system stand up straight.
On the front-facing side you'll find a slot-loading Blu-ray disc drive and to its right two powered USB 3.0 ports, which can charge your DualShock 4 controllers even when the system is turned off and are used to sync controllers when taking gamepads from one place to another.
Spin the system around and you'll be met with an HDMI, Ethernet and a digital optical audio out port, as well as a proprietary auxiliary connection for the PlayStation Camera.
Along the top, or the side if you've opted for the stand, is a light, which glows blue when you boot it up. It breathes some life into the otherwise cold industrial design of the system. Turn it on and it blinks a yawning hello.
Inside, the PS4 is all business. It has a custom single-chip processor that combines an eight core x86-64 AMD "Jaguar" CPU with a 1.84 teraflop GPU based on AMD's Radeon graphics technology. That's backed by 8GB of mega-fast GDDR5 RAM, and a 500GB mechanical hard drive.
You can also remove that 500GB drive and replace it with a larger drive, or an SSD for better performance. Sony says these do it yourself upgrades will not void the system's warranty which is fabulous.
Overall, Sony claims that the PS4's overall performance is ten times that of the PS3.
For wireless connections, the PS4 uses 802.11 b/g/n for WiFi and Bluetooth 2.1 for its wireless DualShock 4 controllers.
What's in the box?
You're bringing home more than a just a stylish, black or white parallelogram. In addition to the actual system you get a power cord (not a big power brick), an HDMI cable, an earbud microphone combo, one DualShock 4 controller and its charging cable (we charged our DualShock 4 pad using the Xbox One and the world did not end).
Extra controllers don't come with another charging cable, so don't lose that one. Also, note that we said earbud singular, not earbuds, as in just for one ear. It's cheap but serviceable, but you can actually plug any headphones you already own into the controller's headphone jack, so it's not much of an issue.
New features in 2014
If there's a team that works harder than Sony's internal development team, we'd like to meet them. As it is, they roll out monthly (sometimes bi-monthly) updates that drastically change the interface and feature set of the system.
The biggest changes of the past year? The Sony-exclusive rental streaming service called PlayStation Now - currently only available in the US, Remote Play, Sharefactory and Share Play, which debuted in system firmware 2.0.
Of course there have been myriad minor changes like the ability to turn off HDCP, play games while they're downloading, upload clips to YouTube and set themes and background images for the home screen in that time as well.
All of these features can be found sporadically throughout the new PlayStation Dynamic Menu, the primary GUI of the PS4. It's capable of delivering games, movies and TV shows into your home at lightning speeds as well as connecting you to your friends and other online gamers through the PlayStation Network.
Remember to use the ability to post to Twitter and Facebook to share your best brag-worthy gaming moments and, if you're feeling outgoing, you can stream to Twitch here too.
Setting up the PlayStation 4 is very easy, especially if you have a PS3. You can actually use the same cables from Sony's last system, making for a very easy swap.
As mentioned above, the PS4 is super easy to extract from its box and set up, leaving minimal mess and very little environment-killing packaging.
Once it's all plugged in and booted up, your new PS4 will ask to connect to the internet. It wants to download the latest patches which could take a while depending on your connection, but it doesn't need them for offline play.
You are able to skip WiFi or ethernet altogether and just pop in a game. Unlike the Xbox One, you can get to the homescreen without initially connecting to the web and patching.
Once you do connect to the internet, you'll need to let the PS4 update before you can make purchases from the store or play online.
The PlayStation Store is your portal to every shred of content Sony has available on its system. You'll use it to shop for the latest games, movies and featured content that the Big Blue thinks you ought to know about.
Of course featured games have come and gone over the course of the past year, but one new feature that's stuck around is the ability to buy a digital copy of a game and have it install days before its retail launch.
You won't be able to start it until the midnight of its launch-day, but just having a game the second the clock strikes 12 is convenient.
If you're not buying a game the minute it comes out, you can even start playing part of the game before the download completes.
When purchasing a game like Killzone: Shadow Fall, you'll be asked which portion of the game should be prioritized, single player or multiplayer, essentially letting you choose which part of the game you want to hop into first.
In a little less than an hour, you'll be able to start playing a title. It may seem like something only the truly impatient would enjoy, but when you consider that many releases weigh in excess of 35GB, it's real luxury feature, and another impressive bit of engineering.
Then there's the PlayStation app for iOS and Android. With just the stroke of a touchscreen, you can remotely purchase games and get the download going on your PS4 so it's ready and waiting when you get home (the console will turn on, download and switch off on its own).
PS Vita and Xperia Remote Play
When Remote Play for the PS Vita and Xperia smartphones was announced, everyone chirped that the PS4 would be the best thing ever to happen to Sony's struggling handheld.
In short, a WiFi connected PS4 can stream gameplay to a Vita or recent Xperia handset, much like a gaming PC streaming Borderlands 2 to the Nvidia Shield, or the Windows to Linux streaming of Valve's Steam Box.
We used the PS4 and Vita over our home WiFi and the connection to the PS4 was lag free so you can actually use it as an additional control pad, as well as a second screen. It's a great way to avoid using the on screen keyboard, if nothing else.
Sharing gameplay and videos
When Sony pulled the PS4 out of the shadows and started rattling off features, it mentioned one truly original and intriguing feature: saving and sharing gameplay videos with the press of the Share button on the DualShock 4.
At all times when playing a game, your last fifteen minutes of action is being recorded. This can be disabled, if you find it creepy or want to save on hard drive space, but it's switched on by default. There are also places where recording or screen grabs are locked out by developers. It's usually during cinematics or in certain menus.
Right on the console you can manipulate the video to a limited degree, more like trimming than true editing, and then share it to Facebook or on the PSN. You can also take a screenshot by holding the Share button, and then attach it to a PSN message, Facebook or tweet it.
Sharing videos and screens is limited to social networks and the PSN. There's no way to get them to YouTube or Flickr, or create a private link to the video. That's a real disappointment, especially since the Xbox One offers you a lot more freedom with your clips, like uploading them YouTube. In a perfect world we'd be able to plug in a thumb drive and grab the raw video, but that's not allowed.
However, you can stream live gameplay for others to watch over Twitch and Ustream, something PC gamers have enjoyed for a while now. It's quite painless to set up, especially compared to the third-party mechanics needed to employ this on a last-gen system.
Share Play allows players to let friends take control of the game they're playing, watch their in-game progress, and even lets them invite friends to play with them co-operatively or competitively (depending on the game). The most interesting aspect about this is that both players don't need to own the game in order to have a shared session. It's pretty simple to use; simply hit the Share button on the control pad and a menu pops up in which players can select the Share Play feature. Then it's all a matter of sending out an invitation to a player in their friend list. You can read more about Share Play on the Network page of this review.