(Pocket-lint) - Although the PS4 Pro gets most of the attention these days, with its 4K visuals, the slimmer standard PlayStation 4 is a great starting point for anyone who wants to get into console gaming and doesn't have a large budget.
It is, by far, the most widely adopted format out there and is capable of playing thousands of games, many of which with high dynamic range (HDR) graphics.
But is it worth considering over its more capable sibling or even an Xbox One S? Years after its release we've been living with and using the PS4 week in, week out. Here's how it sits in the market, knowing the PS5 is likely to rear its head by the end of 2019...
- Measures: 288 x 265 x 38mm body (Pro is larger: 327 x 295 x 55mm)
- Blu-ray optical drive, 500GB or 1TB HDD (can be user upgraded)
- No optical audio output (unlike original PS4)
The original launch PlayStation 4 is hard to find these days, with what was the 'Slim' now seen as the standard model. Thus the shape and build of the current PS4 looks like the console has been on the Atkins diet for a while.
Although other consoles have benefitted from trimming down in the past, such as the PS3 and, big rival, the Xbox One S, the PS4 aesthetic makes it look cheap and more like a toy. The matte and mottled exterior looks more Primark than premium.
Still, it is a PS4 – the current iteration of the fastest-selling console of all time and something that continues to bring a smile onto millions of faces on a daily basis. As soon as you load your first game you realise that its superficial looks are irrelevant, and at least some of the super-slim design decisions make sense.
The physical power and eject buttons are easy to find and use – certainly easier than the weird touch-enabled strips on the original. And the glowing LED that indicates whether the console is switched on or in standby mode is small and located under the buttons. It won't bother your eyeline when sat under a TV.
The slim build also helps you hide the console away in an AV cabinet as it is dinky – smaller even than the Xbox One X.
There is one caveat: for some reason unbeknownst to us, the optical digital audio output that was present on the original PS4 has disappeared. That might not affect many, but is bad news for those who would rather feed sound directly into separate speakers or an older AV receiver that doesn't accept HDMI.
All other ports you'd require, including two USB 3.1 sockets, Ethernet, the aforementioned HDMI and an AUX hole for the PlayStation Camera (yes, some people still use that, honest), are present and correct.
High dynamic range (HDR) gaming
- HDR capable (if you have compatible 4K TV connected), only applicable for certain games
- Full HD 1080p maximum output resolution (Pro offers 4K 2160p maximum)
In terms of gaming – its primary function, but of course – the standard PS4 is superb. It's only bettered by the much more expensive PS4 Pro or Xbox One X.
All PlayStation 4 models now have high dynamic range (HDR) support for relevant games and media content. Yep, you don't have to have a PS4 Pro for that.
Of course HDR is only relevant for those with an HDR-enabled television and requires games to support the wider colour gamut and deeper contrast it affords. But when they do the impact is simply "wow". There are plenty of games these days that can benefit from the deeper blacks and higher white peaks of HDR. And there will be even more in the future. Most games released for PS4 going forward promise HDR graphics.
The user interface is constantly being improved over time, so is now vastly superior than the one launched many moons ago. Indeed, most times we fire up the PlayStation after a hiatus (usually owed to Nintendo Switch play), there's an update that's required to continue.
Patches over the years have added plenty of new features and, while it isn't quite as complex as the Xbox One dashboard, we find it is easier to navigate and get to the most important aspects – namely playing games.
- Bundled controller works with PS4 and PC
- Top-down light strip position helps know which player you are
For the more recent PS4 (and indeed the PS4 Pro) Sony redesigned its DualShock 4 controller. It has an added, player-facing LED light strip along the top of the controller's touch panel, which is different to the original version. This is so players can see it without having to flip the gamepad over, to see which colour they are during multiplayer games or the like.
The latest pad also adds the ability of communication through the USB port. This means you can use it with a PC, for example, without any complicated setup processes.
You can still use former DualShock 4 controllers too, so if you see any on eBay or are upgrading from an original PlayStation 4, you can use them as additional gamepads. And you might need to buy an extra after lots of play: we've somehow torn the coating of one analogue stick due to excess thumb action, which isn't an uncommon issue it seems.
No 4K UHD Blu-ray
- Optical Blu-ray drive, not UHD Blu-ray (no PS4 has such a drive)
- 500GB or 1TB hard drive options (can be user upgraded)
We've found that the latest PS4 is the least noisy PlayStation 4 we've encountered, at least when playing games off the hard drive.
There were times on hot days that our original PS4 sounded like an industrial leaf blower (probably down to the accumulation of dust in its vents over time), and even the PS4 Pro can groan under the heat, but we've had no such issues with the standard PS4. The disc drive makes a little noise when turning, but it's not much of an annoyance.
That's with both game discs and Blu-ray or DVD. It's a crying shame that Sony decided against upgrading the drive to one that can spin 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays in any of its consoles, which is something Microsoft includes with the Xbox One S and One X. But the PS4's HDMI port isn't 4K compatible anyway, so it's largely irrelevant in this case.
Although there's an argument that physical media is dying. Microsoft seems to be dabbling with this concept, having released the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition which, as the name suggests, has no optical drive whatsoever.
You can upgrade the PS4 hard drive, though, either through an external USB 3.0 HDD or internal one. The latter is actually quite easy thanks to a slide-out HDD caddy hidden under a flap near the rear. We swapped ours for a Samsung 2TB 2.5-inch drive and, as long as you have the right screwdriver to hand (a Philips #1), it's a doddle. It cost us an extra £80 for the drive, but that's well worth it.
All this chat and we've not even reached the pinnacle purpose of the PS4: the games.
There's heaps of third-party and indie support, too, so whether you like puzzlers, role-players, adventures, fighting or driving games, there's truly something for everyone.
There's little doubt that when viewed on its own terms, with little comparison to rivals or the PS4 Pro, the PlayStation 4 is an excellent games console.
It's not pretty but it is capable. And considering Sony currently reigns supreme as the king of consoles, it is a no-brainer for those who have looked longingly at the PlayStation games line-up and who couldn't afford to join in previously.
Yes, you do get 4K gaming with the PS4 Pro and/or Xbox One X if you want the extra fidelity, while the PS4's direct competitor, the Xbox One S, also comes with a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray deck which lacks here.
But for the price you can't go wrong with what is currently the most popular gaming platform on the planet. That said, with the PS5 rumoured to not be far around the corner, if you haven't bought into PlayStation yet then it might make sense to wait and go all-in instead.
Want that bit more power for extra graphical grunt? The PS4 Pro will be your best friend, especially if you have a massive 4K telly to boot for the extra fidelity available.