Sony may have undercut Microsoft by £80 in the current generation of game consoles with its £350 PlayStation 4 squaring off against the £430 Xbox One, but in large part, this is thanks to Sony's decision not to include a camera accessory with the system itself.
If you want facial recognition, voice commands, and a face camera for your PlayStation 4, you'll need to pay another £55 for the PlayStation Camera – Sony's answer to Microsoft's Kinect, which is included with the Xbox One. The PlayStation Camera isn't nearly as useful or powerful as the Kinect, though, and doesn't offer enough functionality or supporting software to make it much more than a novelty.
The PlayStation Camera is a small 180mm stick with an inch-thick square cross-section. The right side of the camera and part of the back corner serves as the base, letting the lens mechanism pivot upwards if you need to adjust it. It comes with a hard rubber stand that attaches securely to the camera. The stand has a lip on the bottom so you can hang it from the top edge of your HDTV, and it's split into several hinged sections that can be bent into different positions, so you can place it like a desktop webcam. The Camera employs a proprietary connection that looks like a larger-than-usual USB port, which suggests that Sony may have originally planned to include the camera with the PlayStation 4.
The front panel contains two camera sensors; the second one is for its 3D-tracking capabilities. However, each camera's maximum resolution is only 1,280 x 800, which is disappointing compared to the 1080p resolution of the Kinect. It has a four-channel microphone array, similar to the Kinect's, and this is capable of picking up voices from different directions.
The PlayStation Camera adds some useful features to the PlayStation 4 experience. It can capture an image of your face and log you in automatically with facial recognition, and it can pick up your voice commands without the wired headset. These are much more limited features than the Xbox One equivalents, though; the facial recognition login requires you to hold up the DualShock 4 gamepad so the camera can see the colour of the lightbar, and the voice commands used to navigate the PlayStation 4 interface are both much more finicky and much less robust than Kinect’s voice commands.
You can also use the PlayStation Camera as a facecam when capturing and streaming gameplay footage. However, when streaming video the facecam mode severely crops the picture and doesn't track the player, so you need to keep your head in just the right position to stay in the frame. It's extremely frustrating, especially when compared to the impressive digital pan and zoom the Kinect uses with Skype.
Speaking of Skype, you can't use it on the PlayStation 4. In fact, it doesn't have any video chat features. This is a pretty huge oversight that Sony will hopefully fix in some form, perhaps with Google Hangouts support or at least PlayStation Network video chat support in the future. But don't expect Skype on the PlayStation 4 any time soon; Microsoft owns Skype, after all, and Skype being available on every Xbox One out of the box is a coup for Sony's arch-rival.
You can use the PlayStation Camera to play augmented reality games, such as the Playroom software that's included with the PlayStation 4. The Playroom is a fun diversion that lets you play with virtual robots, but right now it's the only title that does much with the PlayStation Camera, and even as such, it's little more than an advanced tech demo.
The PlayStation Camera adds some handy features to the PlayStation 4, but not enough to justify the extra £55. It isn't nearly as ambitious as the Xbox One and Kinect, and as an optional accessory it doesn't make much of a case for itself.
Facial recognition is convenient, and the facecam is handy when streaming games (though still awkward), but these are all things that barely rise above novelty status. And without a killer game that uses the PlayStation Camera – or at least a widely used video chat app – there's little reason to get it right now.