A closer look at the US PlayStation 4 launch: Sony’s biggest failures

We still have to wait until the end of the month before the PlayStation 4 is unleashed in the UK, but Sony’s console was out at the end of last week in the US. And the PS4 has generally been well received over there by both gamers and the press, plus the cheaper price tag and (more or less) more powerful hardware has certainly given it a boost in terms of positive public mindshare.

Like any video game console launch, though, things haven’t gone completely smoothly, with features that are missing, not to mention the fact that the library of PS4 games is lacking. Despite the critical praise for the PS4, it was not able to escape these US launch hiccups, most of which will also apply to the UK come launch day (29 November). We’re going to list them all in this article, starting with…

Media support

The two biggest disappointments regarding the PS4 concern its step back as a media hub. When Sony introduced the PS3 seven years ago, the company touted its ability to play both native and external image, video, and audio files. Simply plug in a USB stick with a few video files or a photo album, and you could watch them on your PS3. If transferring files from your computer to a USB stick was too much of a hassle, the PS3 could be set up as a media server so you could load files from your computer.

Sony has backtracked on that, and the PS4 will neither allow external storage devices, nor play external media. Sure, this is likely to curb piracy – you can no longer download a TV episode from your torrent community of choice and toss it on your PS4 for later – but it’s more likely a play to move us all to the streaming media services (such as Netflix) that are available on the PS4.

However, if you’re used to procuring episodes of your favourite shows via nefarious methods and getting them onto your TV via the PS3’s hassle-free USB stick method, the PS4 isn’t going to help.

Along with dropping support for external media, the PS4 also removes MP3 and DLNA support too; you’ll need to use another device to play your CDs. However, Sony has stated that it was shocked to see the public outcry for MP3 and DLNA support, and those features might make their way onto the PS4 in a future update.

Controllers

The DualShock 4 is a well-designed controller. Fans of the DualShock design will likely find this controller to be Sony’s best yet, as it fits perfectly in the hand, the touchpad and the PS Move functionality are responsive, and the DualShock 3’s much-maligned triggers are now comfortable.

However, the light bar on the back of the controller is a huge sticking point – you can easily see it reflected in the TV when playing a game. If you angle the light away from the TV, you’re usually holding it toward your face, and it gives off enough light to obnoxiously glare in your eyes. At the moment, gamers can’t turn the light bar off themselves, but developers can do so. That isn’t much help to gamers who find the reflective light annoying, though.

It’s also worth noting that the PS3’s Blu-ray remote does not work with the PS4, nor does the console have IR support for universal remotes. This is a small issue, but it will certainly irritate gamers who own the remotes in question.

Wireless

The console does not support 802.11ac Wi-Fi, nor does it use the 5GHz band. While neither of those features matter (much) right now in 2013, the argument is that they could – and likely will – matter years down the line when the PS4 is in full swing. At that point, though, we’ll probably be discussing the PlayStation 5.

Also, the PS4 doesn’t support Bluetooth audio at launch – which means your Bluetooth headset won’t work. Fortunately, Sony has said it will patch this ability into the console sometime in the near future. Until then, the console comes with a little wired headset, and the DualShock 4 has a standard 3.5mm jack for your headset of choice.

Launch titles

Even though we all know that weaker launch games are standard practice by now for the launch of a console, that doesn’t make the PS4’s rather lacklustre initial line-up any more fun (see: Why are most of the PlayStation 4’s launch games boring?). Furthermore, mostly due to the diminishing returns of graphical power – coupled with developers not yet used to the hardware – most launch title graphics don’t look like a new era of games. Arguably, the only one that does is NBA 2K14 – a game with a very specific audience that won’t appeal to gamers who aren’t into professional basketball.

The launch window games are much more promising, though, and the PS4 looks like it’ll get more compelling games sooner than the PS3 actually did, so that’s a relief.

Broken consoles

Any hardware launch is destined for some broken units, and if reports are to be believed, the PS4 has not escaped that fate in the States. Reports vary wildly; out of the million or so units sold in the US launch, Sony is reporting a 0.4 per cent failure rate. Amazon user reviews would suggest a higher rate, but only about half of them are verified purchases.

It’s also worth noting that if the reports seem too widespread, this is essentially the first next-gen console launch in the era of social media. When the PS3 first launched, YouTube was only a year old and Twitter just launched months before the PS3. These days, social media is in full swing, and news gets a lot more coverage than it ever did, making that news seem perhaps bigger than it is.

Reports of Sony replacing American consumers’ broken units also vary. Some reports suggest they won’t get replaced until next year. Other reports suggest Sony will be replacing dodgy PS4 units before Christmas, which is just one month away. Whatever the case may be, 0.4 per cent out of over a million units sold is a respectable number – assuming this is indeed the correct figure.

Assessment of the US launch

Overall, the PS4’s launch has been a massive success Stateside. The units sold out in a day, the DualShock 4 is getting a ton of praise (despite the light bar issue we mentioned here), and the launch titles are at least no worse than those of its competitor.

There are certainly disappointments surrounding the console’s American launch, but they’re minor ones in the scheme of the PS4’s lifecycle. The biggest disappointment (aside from those 4,000 or so broken consoles) is without a doubt the PS4’s refusal to be a media hub. However, if Sony does add DLNA support back into the console (along with MP3 support), that won’t be much of an issue in the long run.

For more on the PS4, check out our article on 6 of the best overlooked features of Sony's PlayStation 4, and our look at the Xbox One versus PlayStation 4 in terms of their final hardware specs.

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