Sony PS4

Sony PS4

VERDICT

An excellent console with a great catalogue of AAA games, the slimmer, smaller PS4 is better in almost every way compared to the original, barring one notable exception.

PROS:

  • Great games
  • Good value
  • Improved power efficiency
  • PS Plus still a great deal
  • DualShock 4 better than ever

CONS:

  • Optical audio removed
  • No 4K Blu-ray player

Time flies when you’re having fun. Can you believe that we first saw the PS4 around four years ago? Having sold over 40 million PS4 units, Sony is looking to refresh its generation-leading console line-up with a pair of all new PlayStation models in time for the holidays.

While the PlayStation 4 Pro (formerly known as the PlayStation Neo) is due out in November and has been grabbing the headlines with its 4K capabilities, it’s the revised slimline PS4 2016 edition that hits shelves first. The “PS4 Slim”, as it’s become known, goes on sale on September 16, priced at £259 / $299 / AU$599.99 for the 500GB model.

The PS4 Slim enters the fray as Sony’s budget PlayStation offering, but that doesn’t mean it’s scrimping on its specs. In all key areas it matches the original PlayStation 4 console, and at many points outperforms it too.

It’s also a far smaller console, shrinking the machine down by almost a third in volume, knocking 16% off the original’s weight and offering notable improvements in both power draw and noise output.

The best PS4 games are among the finest available on any platform at the moment, with showstoppers like Uncharted 4 and Bloodborne the envy of PC and Xbox One gamers alike. They’ll all be compatible with the new PS4 Slim, as will every game going forward – Sony made it explicitly clear that every game for the PS4 Pro will work here, too.

On top of the games themselves, the PS Plus network offering is as good a deal as it’s ever been, allowing you to partake in competitive or cooperative online multiplayer play and offering up a selection of three free games on a monthly basis too.

In terms of competition, the PS4 Slim really only has two rivals – the existing PS4 and the Xbox One S. Nintendo can’t really compete with its Wii U (though it’ll be interesting to see what the so-called Nintendo NX brings to the table).

And it’s against the Xbox One S where the PS4 Slim has its toughest fight. Only a tad more expensive, the Xbox One S looks great, has a fine selection of its own games, and comes packing a killer 4K Blu-ray player built in, making it a far more rounded media player than the PS4 Slim. For the time being, the Xbox One S has the edge with HDR color support too, though a firmware update will bring this to all PS4s shortly, levelling the playing field.

But what’s on show here is still very, very cool. Should you buy the PS4 Slim? Read on to find out.

Design

It may be hard to remember now, seeing how much joy gamers have gotten out of the original PS4, but its off-kilter shape was met with some raised eyebrows when it was first revealed three and a half years ago.

2016’s slim PS4 more-or-less retains the core visual identity of the first PlayStation 4, but shrinks everything down into a more dinky parallelogram package, with newly-rounded edges.

Whereas the original PlayStation 4 measured 27.5 x 30 x 5.3 cm, the PS4 Slim is just 26.5 x 26.5 x 3.8 cm. That’s roughly a third smaller than what the original measured up as, and its weight is comparably lighter, too.

PS4 Slim

Whereas the first PS4 had a finish that mixed shiny plastics with matte ones, the PS4 Slim goes with a simple matte black finish all over. It also drops the top-mounted colored light bar indicator – showing sleep, wake and off statuses – in favor of small illuminated dots over the power button. These are more difficult to see, so be careful to check them carefully before unplugging the console from the wall, or risk corrupting your data.

The disk drive slot remains front-facing, sitting above small, physical power and eject buttons. More recent revisions of the PS4 also featured physical buttons on the console, but it’ll be a marked difference for gamers used to the launch edition PS4, which favored touch-sensitive controls instead.

Two USB ports sit on the front of the console, as was the same on earlier PS4 models. But they’re now spaced much further apart, making them slightly easier to plug into, and possibly making space for the PS VR headset’s processing unit.

PS4 Slim Front

Though a 1TB model is on the way, the PS4 Slim launches with a 500GB hard drive. That’s pretty small considering all games require a mandatory install, some tens of gigabytes in size. But move around the back of the 2016 PS4 Slim and you’ll find a dedicated panel for opening up the console, allowing a user to manually install a larger hard drive in a much more convenient way than the original PS4 did.

Also on the back you’ll find the power plug socket (no need for an external power brick here), a HDMI port, the PlayStation Camera’s expansion port (set to get more use once the PS VR virtual reality headset launches) and an Ethernet network jack socket.

The only casualty of the slimmed-down design is the Optical Out port on the rear. While HDMI will suit the needs of many gamers when it comes to carrying audio signals, the Optical Out port will be missed by those hooking up older home cinema receivers, or souped-up gaming headsets.

PS4 Slim Rear

The slim PS4 has lots of nice design touches dotted around its chassis though. The iconic Square, Triangle, Circle and Cross symbols of the PlayStation brand are stamped into the side of the console (with the Circle acting as a fixture for those wishing to stand the console upright with a base accessory). And those same symbols are found stuck to the bottom of the new PS4, acting as feet to raise the machine off a surface for improved airflow.

All in, it’s a well considered design the complements the existing range, markedly justifying its “Slim” street name.

Setup

Setting up the slim PlayStation 4 is very easy, especially if you’re upgrading from the original PS4, or even a PS3 since you can use the same cables, removing the need to stretch behind your TV.

Simply plug in the included HDMI and power cables and connect to the internet to download the console’s various patches and updates.

Alternatively, you are able to skip Wi-Fi 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.

Media

Since the very first PlayStation, Sony’s home consoles have led the charge when it comes to media playback support. The PS One made for a great CD player, the PS2 was many gamers’ first DVD player, and the PS3 their first Blu-ray deck and USB playback device.

The PS4, while not introducing a new format of its own, picked up the baton passed by the PS3, offering wide-ranging streaming service support, Blu-ray and DVD playback, USB media functionality and even banging out the tunes with its own Spotify player.

What the PS4 Slim doesn’t do, however, is offer an answer to the Xbox One S’s 4K Blu-ray player. It instead sticks with the original PS4’s standard full HD Blu-ray player. It’s still a strong deck, but anyone looking to show off their 4K TVs with the new PS4 will be disappointed. It’s a feature that’s set to be notably absent from the PS4 Pro, too.

  • Need a player for your physical media? Check out our guide to the best 4K Blu-ray players.

You could argue that, with 4K TVs a relative luxury for gamers at the moment, it’s not a desperately needed feature, especially if it keeps the overall cost down. But it will age the console, preventing it from being fully future-proofed. What’s perhaps more annoying is the complete removal of the optical out audio socket, which could cause headaches for those with older AV equipment.

However, one upgrade that is coming to the entire range of PS4s along with the PS4 Slim is HDR support. It adds greater detail to light sources in an image, and is considered the next big thing in TV tech. The roll out is still in the pipeline, so we’ve not been able to test it yet. But rest assured that the PS4 Slim will support high dynamic range shortly.

All other streaming services and apps featured on the PS4 return for the PS4 Slim. They include (but are not limited to) Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, as well as BBC iPlayer and TV from Sky in the UK, and HBO Go and Hulu in the US. Sony’s own movie rental platform is available too if you’re looking for the latest Hollywood releases. YouTube is available, as is Twitch game streaming, and a Spotify Connect-enabled version of the popular music streaming service, letting you control tunes on your telly from the comfort of your smartphone.

The 2016 PS4 Slim edition debuts alongside a brand new DualShock 4 pad – though you’d be excused for failing to spot the difference.

In the hand, it’s practically identical to its predecessor, which was easily the best pad Sony had ever made, and up there with the best of all time.

DualShock 4

Though its analogue sticks succumb to wear and tear a little too easily, the DualShock 4 is wonderfully ergonomic, with a responsive D-Pad and comfortable triggers and face buttons. A criminally-underused touchpad sits in the middle of the pad (which also houses barely-used motion control capabilities), while a light bar sits on the rear, indicating player status and soon to be used as a tracking aid for PS VR.

It’s this lightbar that marks one of the notable changes to the new controller. There’s now a slight translucent strip in the touchpad, letting you see the color your controller is set to. It’s a small convenience, saving you from twisting the pad upwards to see which player color you are set as.

A more significant addition, especially for pro gamers, is the option to switch between the controller’s Bluetooth connection and a wired USB data connection with the PS4. Previously, the USB connection would only supply charge, leaning on the Bluetooth connectivity regardless of whether it was plugged in or not.

This won’t mean much to many players, but Bluetooth introduces an infinitesimal degree of lag to your controls. For a pro gamer, that can be the difference between a win (and a pot of e-Sports prize money) or a loss. So they’ll no doubt be very pleased.

The feature should also make a welcome addition for PC gamers who want to use the DualShock 4 who will no longer need to buy a Bluetooth dongle to do so.

With a whole host of streaming services built in, as well as online play and a digital download store, the 2016 PS4 Slim is very reliant on its network connection. So thankfully, it’s getting a fresh lick of paint for the new model, too.

The new PS4 Slim introduces a 5GHz IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac connection to the console, alongside ol’ faithful, the trusty Ethernet jack. Current PS4s only feature 2.4GHz bands. While Ethernet is still your best bet for a consistently stable connection, the 5GHz band is less likely to suffer from interference from the menagerie of products hogging the 2.4GHz space. In effect, you’re less likely to suffer lag and drop out as a result.

The 5GHz connection should improve the quality of the PS4’s Remote Play function. With a PS Vita handheld, a PC, Mac or compatible Sony Xperia mobile device, you can beam games from your PS4 to a second device, freeing up the TV set.

Though we’ve had no problems with Remote Play over the 2.4GHz connection of our original launch PS4, the PS4 Slim has so far offered up stable connectivity when using the second screen function. It must be noted however that 5GHz connections can struggle beaming through thick masonry, so line of sight with the console is still recommended when using Remote Play.

PlayStation Store

The PlayStation Store has been around since the PS3, and naturally remains your source of downloadable games on the slim PS4.

The ability to pre-load games makes a return so you aren’t left waiting for downloads to complete on launch day, and you can also start playing a game before the download has fully completed by instructing your console to prioritise certain parts of the game.

With games now happily filling up 50GB Blu-ray discs, this ability is pretty essential if you want to not have to leave your games downloading overnight.

You can also use the PlayStation app on iOS or Android to remotely purchase games and set them to download when you’re away from your console, or you can always avoid the download process entirely by making use of Sony’s ever-expandingPlayStation Now service.

Sharing gameplay images and videos

It should come as no surprise when I say that online gaming video is big, and Sony has embraced this in a big way with the ability to share videos of gameplay baked right into the console.

Simply press the ‘Share’ button on the DualShock 4 and you’re console will immediately save up to the last fifteen minutes of gameplay. You are then free to save this to a USB stick, or you can share it to YouTube, Facebook, or even Sony’s own PSN.

Alternatively you can hold the same button to share a screenshot.

Livestreaming is also supported on the console, if you want to allow others to watch you as you play on Twitch. The process is remarkably easy to set up, but make sure you have a fast enough internet connection to upload video in real-time.

PlayStation Plus

PlayStation Plus

When the PS4 launched, Sony took the decision to make its users pay for online multiplayer.

The practice had previously been exclusive to Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold service, while Sony kept its Plus service for optional extras.

If you’ve already purchased a PS Plus subscription for another Sony device it will automatically carry over to the new console, and will bring with it discounts on PSN, a monthly selection of free games, and occasional early access to DLC.

Cloud saves are a great inclusion for when you need to switch between consoles for any reason, and automatic downloading and installation of game updates is also helpful.

Sony’s PlayStation Plus is a great service for anyone who owns a PS4, and brings so many more benefits than just online play.

Share Play

Share Play

Share Play is an interesting feature that allows you to have friends remotely control your PS4 gameplay, even if they don’t own the game in question. This works as a cooperative tool, or a competitive one, depending on how you want to use it.

This functionality is accessed through the same ‘Share’ button mentioned above, at which point you can choose to send out a share play invitation from the menu that pops up.

Unfortunately both players will need to be PlayStation Plus subscribers for the functionality to work, and each session can only last a maximum of an hour. It’s also limited to 720p resolution rather than the PS4’s maximum 1080p.

Unlike the PS4 Pro or Xbox One S, the new 2016 PS4 Slim is at its best a resolutely 1080p gaming machine. It can’t compare to the 4K-capable Microsoft rival or its forthcoming premium Sony sibling in this respect. But it’s a match for existing PlayStation 4 consoles – and in some respects out performs them too.

Performance increases lay primarily with power draw and energy efficiency, which Sony claims reduces power consumption by 28% compared to earlier models.

Though unable to test the precise power draw, even to the naked eye (or ear, at least) the improvement is palpable. Fan noise is a great indicator of how much power a gadget is using as, generally, they’ll speed up and get louder as a component draws more power and begins to heat up. Compared to a well-used launch edition of the PS4, the PS4 Slim fan noise was noticeably quieter when in use, which would suggest Sony’s claims are true.

What doesn’t seem to have been made any quieter however is the disc drive itself, which spins up very noisily when a either game is installing, or a Blu-ray or DVD is playing. You might have to crank your speakers up a bit to drown that out.

PS4 Slim

In pretty much every other performance aspect however, the PS4 and PS4 Slim consoles are identical. There’s no perceptible difference in loading times or frame rates for games, which have so far ran all-but identically across all tests. There may be a slight improvement in UI responsiveness, but that could equally be down to our reviewer’s older console having been jammed full of games and years of use whereas the newer machine was relatively box fresh.

Sessions with a wide range of games, from indies like Rogue Legacy to colorful platformer LEGO Jurassic World to the chilling first-person frights of Alien Isolation all saw the slim PS4 hitting the same frame rates you would expect from a standard PS4. In other words, it’s a top-notch gaming machine, running most games at a tight 1080p/30ps, and many at 1080p/60fps. Though it’s not quite a fair comparison given the myriad build options, in PC gaming terms, the PS4 Slim would sit towards the middle of the market in terms of performance. But in reality, it’s really like comparing apples and oranges.

  • Check out our guide to the best PS4 games available right now.

While the PS4 Slim stands tall against its predecessor then, it doesn’t compare as favorably against the Xbox One S, which offers upgraded 4K upscaling alongside its likewise slimmer proportions. However, a firmware update will bring a degree of parity to all PS4 models, including the slim, when HDR visuals hit the console. We’ll let you know how they look in 1080p once the feature rolls out.

The PS4 is a great console, and the PS4 Slim does nothing to dampen that enthusiasm. Where it takes away an optical port, it gives back with improved power efficiency, networking capabilities and a sleek new form factor.

Launching at a relatively affordable price, and now boasting a superb catalogue of games, it’s easy to recommend, even if its Xbox One S rival boasts flashier specs equally worthy of your attention.

We liked

No one likes to waste power and deal with insane energy bills, so it’s reassuring to see Sony dialling back the PS4’s power consumption. Though the original PS4’s looks have become comfortingly familiar, the new smaller, more reserved design will make it an easier fit for many AV set-ups.

Networking improvements make the PS4 Slim a more stable online gaming machine, and the new DualShock 4 even gives a nod to pro-gaming e-sports players. It’s also easier than ever to install a new hard drive (though a 1TB drive really should come as standard now).

PS4 Slim harddrive

We disliked

When sat next to the Xbox One S, which isn’t massively more expensive than the 2016 PlayStation Slim, it’s hard not to feel a little jealous of Microsoft’s machine’s 4K Blu-ray player. It’s a luxury, for sure, but it’s a future proofed one that may mean the PS4 Slim is relegated before its time.

Likewise, the audio optical out connection’s removal is annoying. Though it was probably only used by a small percentage of PS4 gamers with the original console, those that rely on it in order to get the best sound from their dedicated AV speaker systems will now have a tough choice to make – upgrade to a PS4 Slim, meaning the additional cost of upgrading their audio receivers too, or sit tight with the existing PS4? It’s a choice they shouldn’t have to make.

Final Verdict

If you’ve been patiently waiting for the right time to grab a PS4 console, the hour has come. Affordable, newly-shrunken and with a stonking back catalogue of excellent games, the PS4 Slim is a great entry point into Sony’s current gaming world.

However, after a slow start, Microsoft has come out swinging, with the Xbox One (especially with the Xbox One S console revision) a mighty gaming machine in its own right, worthy of your attention. It’s a decision that may not even be made for you – with both consoles so closely matched (4K Blu-ray players notwithstanding), it may well come down to which machine has already embraced most of your friends for online play sessions.

Go down the PS4 route, and you’ve another question to ask – should you hold fire and wait for the pricier, but more powerful, PS4 Pro? It’ll come at a premium, but has support for 4K resolutions – the next graphical frontier in gaming.

Should you side with the PS4, and pick up a PS4 Slim, you can’t really go wrong though. It may only hold the title for a few brief weeks, but right now the PS4 Slim is the best PlayStation ever.

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