Tomorrow, 28 October, Sony is to release the largest firmware update for the PS4 since it launched the console a year ago and introduce a feature long promised.
When originally announced in February 2013, the PS4's highlighted feature line-up included Share Play, a collaborative mode that allowed two PS4 owners to share their gaming experience over the internet, even relinquishing control over a game to a remote friend. However, it didn't make it in time for the launch. Indeed, we're a year into the new-generation of gaming and we've still not seen it.
Share Play might have taken a while to implement, but firmware 2.0 finally adds that feature to the mix and a whole lot more.
We were invited to Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's London office to see the new function in action and experience some of the other headline features of the new firmware update. So here's why we think Share Play will be so important to the games industry and, more importantly, gamers going forward.
What is Share Play?
Share Play is a new feature that allows an owner of a PS4 to share a game over the internet with a friend without that friend needing to own the game. The two players can even play the same game as if they were in the room together, but using streamed video instead.
The mode works much like PlayStation Now or OnLive, but uses the host PlayStation 4 as the server, rather than super servers at a remote location.
A new option appears when the Share button is pressed on the host's controller which will start a Share Play session. The game currently being played is therefore accessible by an invited guest without that guest needing to own a copy as well. They will get 720p video with a lower frame rate than the host's playback but there will be very little lag and latency is low enough for both players to play the game in real time.
For example, Pocket-lint played a game of FIFA 15 running across two PlayStation 4s over the internet (albeit in the same room for the purposes of the demo). The game was installed on one, but the other didn't have the game on the menu or in the drive. The Share button was pressed on the host controller and once a second screen was navigated, an invite to join a game popped up on the TV attached to the other PS4.
We accepted and suddenly we could see the menu system of FIFA 15 and had as much control as if we were using a second controller connected to the same PS4. The game started and we were able to play it in real time, against the host, and while the graphical output was not as crisp or smooth as the main machine, it was more than playable and still looked good.
Admittedly, most games these days have multiplayer functionality themselves, but they all require each player to own a copy of the game. With Share Play we played a match against each other with only one person owning it - the host.
Can Share Play do anything else?
As well as have two players competing against each other (or playing co-op on games that have players share the same screen), Share Play can be used to help each other get through a game as control can be relinquished to a friend.
For example, if you have trouble getting through a certain level, you can hand control over to your guest who might be better at that section. They could play that part and hand control back to you.
In addition, a Share Screen mode enables a friend to watch you play through parts of a game without having to live stream it over Twitch or another online video service. They don't have to take control in that case.
Are there limits?
Share Play is limited to 60 minute sessions at a time, but there is no limit to how often you can share the same game. You can therefore play FIFA 15 with a friend for a hour, disconnect, reconnect and carry on for a further 60 minutes.
The feature is also limited to hosts that have current PlayStation Plus memberships. A guest does not need PS Plus to watch or take control of a game, but to play against each other, both players will need a PS Plus subscription.
And while it doesn't require superfast broadband, we suspect that a decent connection will be necessary to avoid the adaptive bitrate from being too, ahem, adaptive.
Does it work with every game?
All developers and publishers are obliged to offer the service unless there are specific reasons why it shouldn't. For example, a game might have a video or section that contain massive spoilers. Or it might need a special accessory to work that the guest wouldn't own. In which case the publisher can put a request to Sony to not allow that specific part available to Share Play.
Will Share Play harm game sales?
One question that arose during our demonstration of Share Play is whether it would poorly affect game sales if only one person has to own each game for two to play it successfully. However, while good and an exceptional bonus for PS4 gamers, the mode does not give the guest the same graphical or audio experience as if the owned the game themself. Nor do they receive any Trophies or achievements - they go straight onto the host's account.
Instead, Share Play will actively encourage guests to buy the game as well, with links to the PlayStation Store appearing on their homescreens.
What other features are coming with firmware 2.0?
You will finally be able to upload videos to YouTube as well as Facebook. It works in exactly the same way, with editing and the same input boxes on offer - although you'll be able to add tags for the YouTube posting too.
As promised for a while, you will be able to change the colours and themes of your PS4. They will be curated and there will be three or four custom themes on offer at launch and several colour schemes. Publishers will also add new themes to buy from the PS Store over time.
You can't make your own at this time.
USB music player
Gamers have asked for this feature for a while, which is possible on the PlayStation 3 already. You will be able to play music from a USB stick or external hard drive that can be played as an audio bed underneath gameplay.
Control over the tracks will be available in a mini-player which appears after pressing the PS Button in games.
Live from PlayStation
The Live from PlayStation has been given an aesthetic overhaul, with a new user interface. New options include the ability to follow broadcasters on Twitch or other streaming services, even having a small picture-in-picture of their feed when you are browsing through the section.
The main UI
The homescreen of the PS4 will be limited to 15 apps or games across the central bar. The rest will be housed in the Library, which will also look different and offer improvements. You will be able to view apps and games by type.
A stack of new voice commands will be available, with Polish and Russian languages added. You can also call up a contextualised voice command list by saying "PlayStation. All commands."
Pocket-lint was told that there were tonnes of other improvements and features in firmware 2.0, including the ability to pause downloads if you want to play a game, but the ones above were the headline set and therefore those we saw in action.
Of course, with every firmware update for any device, there will always be features that didn't make the cut, no matter how often requested. In this case, DLNA streaming, Twitter integration and folders for games and apps were three we would most have liked to have seen, but they will no doubt be at the forefront of Sony's mind for future releases.