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Testing the PS4 in the wild: a promising start for the PSN and the new console

The PS4 is out. Phil Owen has dug deep into its systems to see how it performs now all of North America is using it at the same time.

The launch of the PlayStation 4 in North America was off to a rocky start early Friday morning as East Coast purchasers set up their consoles only to be greeted by some legitimate network issues that hampered their ability to download firmware update 1.50. Those problems mostly abated quickly, however, and by 1 a.m. PST (we're in Los Angeles) a friend and I faced no obstacles in setting up a unit aside from struggling to figure out how to turn it on. The rate at which it downloaded patch 1.50 was not ideal, but of course we were still able to play Killzone: Shadow Fall while it came down.

Getting online, and the PlayStation Store
At 10 a.m. Friday morning, I set up a second console on a faster connection (50 mbps), and everything went swimmingly. I had the firmware updated within ten minutes, and began downloading Assassin’s Creed IV, Contrast, Resogun and Warframe. All of them were install about an hour later. At one point, the Warframe download was stopped by a server timeout, but I told the system to retry and it continued the download from where it left off and had no further difficulties.

In the 24+ hours since then, the PlayStation Network has not been perfectly stable. From time to time network features in the PS4’s interface were briefly knocked offline -- in the PlayStation Store in particular -- with a notice that read “The Sony Entertainment Network is undergoing maintenance.” Other times I would get that message in place of info about the games on my system as I scrolled through the UI, but that didn’t impede their use at all.

Aside from being kicked out of the Store a couple times, I did have complications when redeeming codes for things a couple times. Three PSN money cards went in without a hitch, but I was knocked out of the Store when attempting to download Killzone pre-order bonus content after entering that code. When redeeming a PlayStation Plus subscription code, the UI’s loading bars popped up and never stopped. I left it going like that for about ten minutes before rebooting the PS4, and I found when I logged in that I had been credited with the Plus time. During the infinite loading bars, the PS4 was still doing things in the background, as I continued to receive notifications about downloads being completed and games being installed.

Playing and watching
Playing games online hasn’t been the most wonderful experience thus far. On Friday night -- very late, and not in prime time -- playing Resogun in co-op was a bit, eh, twitchy. My friend described it as “laggy”; on my end I would just experience periodic hangs, or pauses, in the action. It would go a few minutes without them, and then several would occur in relatively quick succession, about every five or six seconds. A similar effect happened less often in Killzone. In short, there are some network stability issues, but in my experience connecting has not in itself been a problem.

Entertainment apps that I’ve used have been flawless over the PlayStation Network. I streamed Iron Man 3 in HDX 3D, which is a pretty demanding thing as that feeds separate 1080pvideos as well as 7.1 audio. It took under two seconds from the time I selected the “watch” button to achieve maximum quality, which is faster than the PS3 Vudu app and about on part with what I get when using the service on PC. Netflix on the other hand seemed exactly as stable as its PS3 version, but the PS4 app does not include 1080p or 3D streaming as it does on PS3.

From Sony’s own Videos Unlimited I was able to stream the standard definition copy of 2012 I own on that service (it came with my PSP years ago!) without a hitch, but I could not find a way to download it to my hard drive as I have done on PS3.

The sharing features on PS4 have been fully functional for me and a friend. However, the feeds don’t come out in the quality I would like even , and it does noticeably drop frames and hiccup a bit. With everyone probably all doing this at once, though, it’s hard to complain about how well it works this weekend. By that I mean Sony and Twitch seem to be holding it together admirably.

Screenshots are saved at game output resolution, but you share, say, a Killzone shot on Twitter they come out at 1024x576 for some reason. They are 1080p on Facebook. Saved videos also output in HD, and there are no settings that allow you to change the quality of either saved videos or screenshots, but you can choose the quality of the broadcast feed.

Remote Play
Now, the big one: remote play. In my apartment with both my PS Vita and PS4 sharing the same wifi connection, remote play was free of any lag. When I took the Vita into the hallway (my apartment is very small) it began to hiccup when I was about 40 or so feet from the router. Later, I took the Vita out of my building entirely, and I was unable to connect the Vita to the PS4 either for remote play or second screen functions (like text entry) on either Time Warner hotspots (which have strong enough connections that I can stream live ESPN feeds and movies from them) or other home networks. Again, it’s not that it’s laggy; it simply could not connect to the the PS4 over the internet.

Here’s my 36-hour experience with the PS4 now that everything is live and everybody is messing with it summed up: It also mostly works, most of the time, which honestly is far better than I had expected. Conventional wisdom with online-oriented launches like this is that it should start out bad and slowly improve, and so if the problems I’ve encountered are the baseline then PS4 seems like it is in good shape, at least until Christmas morning. The big point will be getting the thing to connect with a Vita over the internet, unless my inability to do so is not the norm (let us know kind of luck you’re having with that if you try it).

Personally, I won’t be using Vita remote play much in any scenario because I live alone, and using the rear touchpad for buttons isn’t a thing I’m going to want to do for fun. So aside from slightly rocky online experience the biggest deficiency in the PS4 experience is the inability to download Vita games from the store and transfer them to it via the USB cable. Currently, the store contains only PS4 games and there’s nowhere you can go to buy PSOne/PSP/Vita, nor can you access your full PSN download history from the console. Given that Killzone and Knack together take up about 85gb of space on my PS4’s 500gb hard drive even though I have disc copies, maybe it’s OK if my Vita games sit on my PS3 super slim’s 250gb one for a while. But downloads are much quicker on PS4 than PS3 or Vita, and there are many folks who traded a PS3 for money to put into a PS4.

In all, though, I’m happy with how the PS4’s launch has gone thus far. Moving forward I have no doubt there will be bigger issues, but it appears that Sony limiting the initial launch to North America was wise, and it should help head off worse problems popping up with the influx of new users in two weeks.

Should help.

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