Consoles are getting more and more complex. There was a time when we expected our favourite system to play games and little else – but now we demand video streaming, direct communication with our friends, network-wide achievements, and more. Sony’s current flagship console, the PlayStation 3, wasn’t designed with such functionality in mind, and it has suffered as a result. Patches take an age to download and install, firmware updates are the ultimate first-world problem, and the entire user experience feels cobbled together. But while we’ve put a brave face on those issues for the past six years, the PlayStation 4 looks set to rectify them all – and it’s one of the primary reasons that you should be excited for the next generation machine.
There’s a philosophy that suggests that Sony should not be commended for fixing issues that shouldn’t have existed in the first-place, and it’s true to a degree – but both the PS3 and Xbox 360 were constructed in a different era, at a time when the importance of Netflix and full digital downloads were just a twinkle in each platform holder’s eye. Microsoft, to its credit, had much more forethought than Sony, augmenting its system with a smarter online infrastructure that made the turning of the tide a little easier to navigate. But now we’re back on firm ground, and the PS4 looks more than equipped to cope with the wealth of tasks tossed at it.
While last month’s PlayStation Meeting offered plenty of compelling information about Sony’s next generation system – we’re still squinting over that Killzone: Shadow Fall reveal – the biggest take away as far as we’re concerned was the promise of more traditional values like ‘plug and play’. It’s true that the impending platform will be more complex than its predecessor ever was, boasting a wealth of social connectivity functionality and plenty more besides. But, bizarrely, it will also be much more intuitive than its current generation counterpart – and that's the true value of the imminent hardware transition.
Consoles have always thrived on their ability to simply work, and the PS4 understands that. You’ll be able to suspend your game at any point and pick up directly where you left off at a later date. To think that it’s taken until 2013 to make this simple feature a core function of a platform’s underpinning is staggering, but it’s refreshing to find it finally on the agenda. Life does not simply stop for a Hideo Kojima cut-scene, but now it doesn’t matter. Similarly, the system will automatically update overnight, putting an end to firmware update concerns.
But those are just the small improvements. The platform will also allow you to play digital games as they are downloading, transforming lengthy delays into almost immediate access. While you’ll still have to wait for the main files to be pushed onto your machine, the time it takes to pull down 100MB or so is vastly different to a couple of GB. And if the promise of Gaikai is fully realised, you won’t even have to wait to try a game – it’ll be available immediately, at the push of a button.
It’s no surprise that these features were glossed over during Sony’s press conference – they hardly carry the same gravitas as system-wide broadcasting and high-performance RAM. But it’s the removal of barriers, the return to basic usability, that’s got us most excited about the PS4. And while we’ll haplessly plod along with our PS3 until Holiday 2013, the promise of the future is making dealing with the current generation console’s laundry list of problems increasingly hard to swallow.
Are you excited about the PS4’s improved usability? Do you think that ‘plug and play’ is a value that consoles should still adhere to? Let us know in the comments section below.