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10 things that you should know about Sony’s PlayStation 4

The PS4 is now out in the States, and will launch in the UK a week on Friday. With its cheaper £349 price point (compared to the Xbox One’s £429 price tag) and stronger emphasis on gaming, the PlayStation 4 looks to undo the shortcomings of the PS3 while aiming to undercut Microsoft’s rival console.

The PS4 launch line-up covers everything from light-hearted platformers like the cartoonish Knack, to gritty first-person shooters such as the cold war influenced Killzone: Shadow Fall. Beyond that, other hot upcoming exclusive titles include the open world, super-powered action game Infamous: Second Son, which is due next February, and the alternate Victorian era supernatural shooter The Order: 1886, coming sometime later in 2014.

Many multiplatform games, like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4, also receive slight performance boosts on the system thanks to its hardware being more powerful than Microsoft's console.

Players can even upgrade certain last-gen PS3 games like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition into PS4 versions for a tenner. Meanwhile, owners of the downloadable PS3 games Flower, Flow, Escape Plan, or Sound Shapes will be able to nab their upgrades free of charge.

Sony has been riding a wave of goodwill ever since it unveiled the PS4 earlier this year. While Microsoft floundered with poor messaging concerning the Xbox One's stance on used games and being always-online, Sony played the good guy, swooping in with a console that stood up for gamers' rights. However, with the next console war almost upon us, Microsoft isn't going down without a fight and Sony had better be ready to really compete.

At any rate, here are ten points that you should definitely know about Sony’s new console when it comes to making your buying decision between the PS4 and Xbox One…

No backwards compatibility

Maintaining support for PS1 and PS2 games is partially what drove up the cost of the PS3, so the functionality was ultimately removed. So it makes sense that the PS4 is launching without support for PS3 games. Eventually, PS4 players will be able to access certain PS3 games through online streaming, but if you're still getting through GTA V or The Last of Us, you may want to hang onto that PS3 for a little longer.

New and easier processing architecture

The PS3's cell processor claimed to offer unbelievable power, but in reality its confusing and complicated multi-core structure made it a nightmare for developers. The PS4, on the other hand, packs an AMD x86 chip and Radeon graphics making it more like a PC. A more accessible and easy to work with chip means that developers should have no problems making quality content for the machine.

It needs an extra stand to sit vertically

The PS4 sports a stylish trapezoidal design, and that contrasts with most consoles that are just black boxes. Laying it flat is no problem, but if you want to display it vertically you'll need to buy a special stand that goes on sale in December.

The controller feels great

Any issues players may have had with the DualShock 3 are completely remedied by the new DualShock 4. Along with new features like the touchpad and tracking light, the updated controller feels great in the hands and even works with select PS3 games via Bluetooth. The buttons are responsive, the analogue sticks are just the right distance apart, and the triggers are a joy to pull.

The Share button

Along with its more powerful hardware, the PS4 sets itself apart from past consoles with its robust online connectivity features. By simply pressing the share button on the DualShock 4, players can upload videos of their gameplay for the Internet to gawk at. With the PS4, Sony plans to stay at the forefront of the huge, emerging world of online video streaming.

The Camera comes separately

While the Xbox One Kinect camera (arguably) justifies the extra £80 in price, the PS4 camera (£55) must be bought separately. It's not needed for all games, but some efforts, such as the PlayRoom augmented reality app, do require it. It also provides system level features like the ability to shut down the console via voice commands.

Second-screen play

PlayStation Vita owners can stream most PS4 games to the handheld device for easy off-TV play. Using this set up, Sony is approximating the two-screen model of the Wii U. While the Vita lacks the extra triggers of the DualShock 4, players can use its back touch panel to replicate that functionality.

Reduced media functions

With its support for MP3s and DLNA, the PS3 made a great media server. Unfortunately, the PS4 has stripped out most of those features. Following an outcry from fans, Sony has said that most of this functionality will return soon, but to some it's disappointing that it won’t be around at launch.

The indie push

While Xbox Live Arcade brought many smaller developers to the 360 last generation, Sony is heavily courting the indie scene this time around. Promising independent games like Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Ray's the Dead, and Transistor are all making their console debuts on the PS4. Fans of Jonathan Blow's time-bending platformer Braid will also find Blow's next intriguing puzzle game, The Witness, on the PS4.

Online multiplayer isn't free

Microsoft started the trend of charging for subscriber-only online multiplayer with Xbox Live Gold, and now Sony is getting on board too. Unlike the PS3, PS4 players will have to pay for a PlayStation Plus subscription to access online multiplayer for their games. Now Nintendo is the only major console maker left without a similar paid service. Note that with the PS4, you will still be able to access media services such as Netflix without a paid subscription (which isn’t the case for many such services with Microsoft’s console).

For more on Sony's console, see our closer look at the US PlayStation 4 launch which documents Sony's biggest failures. You might also want to read our article which compares the final hardware tech specs of the PS4 and Xbox One.