It wasn't many years ago that doing much of anything besides playing a video game on a video game console was the norm. It wasn't even many more years ago that playing a game on anything but a cartridge was the norm. Ah, the good old days, when "gaming" was "gaming," when the sound of plastic cartridges slamming into a console was just as much music to the ears as were the low-tech 8-bit sound effects. It was a time when powering on the console immediately produced a system and studio logo followed by a minimum-options menu, not an update demand for a patch many, many times the size of an original Nintendo or Sega game. Times have most certainly changed. Now, power on a console and, if that update request isn't there, users are greeted by a variety of options, including music playback, web surfing, and any number of applications. Gone are those collectible cartridges, replaced with optical discs (which are themselves headed out the door, it would seem, considering the major digital push from platform holders and game makers alike) that hold significantly more data than those old clunky cartridges, particularly if they're on Blu-ray.
Huge amounts of game data is certainly the major advantage to a system powered by a Blu-ray drive, but another is the ability to play Blu-ray movie content, so long as system manufacturers enable the feature. Sony's PlayStation 3 console, long the mass-market flagship for Blu-ray playback, brought high definition movie watching into millions of homes, with many of those homes utilizing the system as the primary Blu-ray playback unit. It provided a fast, capable system that was both easy to use and relatively affordable (especially when prices dropped from the exorbitant cost at console launch) for the multi-use individual or family, and particularly now considering the added value of the game system and its numerous applications, from Netflix to MLB.TV. The PlayStation's proliferation also no doubt helped to secure Blu-ray's victory over rival format HD-DVD, that delivery medium touted by console rival Microsoft but only supported on that company's Xbox 360 game console by a bulky external attachment.
Almost seven years later to the day of the PS3's release, and now well into the maturity of the Blu-ray format, Sony has released its PlayStation 4 console, again with a built-in Blu-ray playback device as part of the $399 kit, a significant drop in launch day price from the PS3's $499 base model/$599 expanded hard drive launch models. The PlayStation 4 offers a significant increase in game performance and retains the 1080p Blu-ray playback capability of its predecessor (note that PS4 Blu-ray playback requires the 1.50 system firmware update, which can be downloaded from the Internet to the console or acquired via disc directly from Sony by calling 1-800-345-7669). It's a capable Blu-ray playback machine at its core, as was (and is) the PS3, though as with the review of any single piece of equipment, it's important to remember that it's simply a piece of a greater entertainment puzzle, in this case the delivery device that's just as dependent on the video and audio capabilities and settings of the connected monitor and audio gear, not to mention cursory but no less important factors such as viewing and listening environmental conditions.
Under the "Settings" icon across the top of the PS4's main dashboard, users may access two relevant categories for tweaking picture and sound, found under the "Video Playback Settings" and "Sound and Screen" options. The former provides options only to set video output at 1080p/24Hz at "Automatic" or "Off" and Closed Captions options. The latter, "Sound and Screen," provides options for the following through branched subheadings:
Output Resolution: 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p, along with an "Automatic" option.
RGB Range: "Limited," "Full," and "Automatic."
Y Pb/Cb Pr/Cr Range : "Limited," "Full," and "Automatic."
As with the PlayStation 3, the PS4 system may be aligned in the media rack vertically or horizontally for playback. Video can only be sent through the HDMI output port, but audio may be delivered through either the HDMI output port or the digital optical output port. Currently, the PlayStation 4 only plays 2D Blu-ray discs. 3D content is inaccessible at this time, and 3D discs read only a static incompatibility message, which varies by disc. The PS4 does support Blu-ray profiles 1.1 (Bonus View) and 2.0 (BD-Live).
Upon 2D disc insertion, the attractive user interface simply displays a generic disc icon with a "Start" option. Strangely, neither the name of the disc nor the movie icon, with which PS3 users will be familiar when they appear on that system's XMB upon applicable disc insertion, appear. Don't worry; they'll show up elsewhere during playback (more on that below). It's smooth, but not necessarily faster, sailing from there to the disc's main menu or first skippable series of advertisements, trailers, and studio logos. On the PlayStation 3, Glory (Mastered in 4K) required 41 seconds from pressing "start" to reaching the first moment a control could be utilized, in this case the appearance of a "resume playback" option screen. Two extra seconds were required on the PS4. Turbo required 55 seconds to reach the "resume playback" screen on the PS3 while it needed only 48 seconds on the PS4 to reach the same "resume playback" screen. Wing Commander, a film that only plays back video content with no menu on the way to film start, required 43 seconds from "enter" to the Fox logo on the PS3 and only 34 seconds on the PS4. It would appear that load times vary by disc but, ultimately, are neither significantly faster nor noticeably slower on the PS4 compared to the PS3.
Playback noise is, generally, nonexistent beyond a very faint hum, loud enough only to be noticeable with the sound muted and no influencing ambient effects, such as a ceiling fan, to mask it. Oddly, the Wing Commander disc produced a distinct and constant light "clicking" sound during Blu-ray playback. This phenomenon appears specific to that disc and appears to be an outlier and, likely, the fault of the disc, not the PS4 system. Otherwise, the machine runs virtually silent, save for initial disc drive spin-up and access upon disc launch. Stopping playback requires a press of the center "PS" button on the DualShock 4 controller and selecting "yes" to return to the PS4 UI.
In-movie User Controls and Interface
Speaking of the new and improved DualShock 4, it's required to navigate a Blu-ray disc. Regrettably, the PlayStation 3's bluetooth remote control does not work with the PlayStation 4, and Sony has not yet released a new remote control for its next-generation console. That leaves open two possibilities: voice commands and the controller. As for the former, forget it. The PlayStation 4, unlike the Xbox one, does not ship with its camera peripheral in the box. And that might be a good thing, at least for the time being. That lowers the price of the console starter bundle, and the PlayStation 4 Camera is extremely limited in functionality at release, anyway. While it can sign in users based on facial recognition, and while users can control basic console functions in the UI, there is currently no support for Blu-ray movie playback voice commands (how great would it be to yell out "PlayStation, pause!" to go wash off that buttery residue left on the fingers after a bag of popcorn rather than smearing it all over the remote?). The same absence of functionality holds true for the included mono headset with microphone.
That leaves the DualShock 4 controller. It's certainly not as natural an interface as a separate remote control, but using it is easy enough, and it works well. The "X" button serves as the basic "enter/select" button and is used to select menu options, which may be chosen by the directional pad or the left analog stick. Upon playback, the controller provides support for play and pause (the "circle" button; note that, unlike the PS3, the PS4 does not retain the "pause" icon on the screen for the duration of the pause), pop-up menu access (the "square" button), chapter skip (the R1 button skips ahead, the L1 button back), and fast forward and rewind at intervals of 1.5x, 10x, 30x, and 120x (the R2 button skips ahead and the L2 button skips backwards with each speed selectable based on the number of pushes; resuming playback requires a press of the "circle" button). Chapter skips and stopping playback to return to the dashboard are noticeably slower on the PS4 than they are on the PS3.
The "triangle" button brings up an overlying information bar that displays the movie title and icon (inserted here rather than on the desktop, though seeing them in both places would seem the ideal); "title" and "chapter" information; a time elapsed bar and total runtime; and basic playback information that includes video and sound encode information (AVC, DTS, etc), the audio channels in use (2.0, 7.1, etc.), and the audio sampling rate (48KHz, etc.). Unfortunately, it's a step backwards from the PlayStation 3's playback information display, which additionally provides video and audio bitrates. Neither system displays the bit depth (24-bit, etc.).
Pressing the "options" button on the controller (where one might expect to find the "Start" button on other controllers) reveals a pop-up guide that allows for the changing of subtitles and audio tracks on the fly. It's also where the "control panel" may be selected (the "options" button on the PS3 Blu-ray remote) that brings up a number of basic playback options that are, mostly, redundant and mapped elsewhere. There's also a handy controller usage diagram and a limited settings menu ("display mode," "dynamic range control," "audio format," and "settings," the latter of which exits out of the movie and back into the UI, forcing disc reset but not forcing the user to re-select the movie from the main PS4 dashboard screen).
Beauty and the Beast: Third Time's the Charm and a Star Trek: Into Darkness Audio Glitch
While there were no major glitches to report when sampling the other discs listed above, Beauty and the Beast and Star Trek: Into Darkness did bring about some unexpected headaches. Initial disc playback for Beauty seemed smooth enough, but after the Disney logo appeared on the screen, the PS4 suddenly popped an error message and was forced back to the main PS4 screen. A second attempt at playback proved disastrous. The screen remained black for minutes on end. A press and hold of the PS button on the DualShock 4 prompted the option to quit playback. When that option was selected, the system reverted to a black screen displaying only a spinning circle. After more than an hour of waiting, the system appeared virtually inoperable. The PS button no longer functioned and a hard reset (holding down the console's power button) was only successful after a dozen or so attempts. After re-checking Glory to ensure the BD drive still worked, Beauty and the Beast was re-inserted and, after a long slog skipping through previews, finally reached the main menu. Playback proved successful. It's worth noting that the system was background downloading a large update file for NBA 2K14 at the time of the error messages; it's unclear if the two were related or if the movie playback errors were merely a matter of coincidence.
Star Trek: Into Darkness revealed a significant lip sync problem when the system is set to output audio on the Bitstream setting. Changing to Linear PCM resolved the issue. However, after several removals and reinserts of the disc, the Beauty and the Beast playback malfunction again appeared. The movie would not begin playback, instead sitting on a black screen. Attempting to quit playback via the PS button resulted in the black screen and endlessly spinning circle. Pressing the PS button again allowed for the option to close the application, which resulted in an endless circle on the blue "closing application" screen. Another hour wait, another hard reset to remedy the problem. The system was not downloading anything in the background at the time of this glitch.
Currently, movies cannot be streamed to the PlayStation Vita portable console, though the system does support the streaming of games. The newly released PlayStation iOS and Android app cannot control the system during Blu-ray movie playback. The PlayStation 4, like the PS3, fails to identify a number of subtitle options, listing them as "other" rather than identifying the language of origin. There are no distracting lights on the front of the console during playback, and there is no external display screen as is usually the norm for standalone players. Lastly, the PlayStation 4 is the first device to support DTS' new DTS-HD Master Audio|7.1 decoder (click here to learn more).
The PlayStation 4 console may represent a leap forward in gaming technology, but it's merely a basic Blu-ray playback device, and one that lacks several now-common features at that. At launch, at least, the player feels severely limited considering the lack of 3D disc playback; the absence of a true remote control; and a fairly limited user interface, settings cluster, and display information bar. The console does output picture and sound that's a match for the PlayStation 3, which is certainly critical in its success as a playback device. Still, it's just not ready for primetime as a primary Blu-ray playback unit, particularly considering its slow chapter skip performance and numerous playback and unexpected quit glitches. Frankly, using the PS4 as a Blu-ray playback device has proven to be an exercise in frustration given three system freezes and the audio glitch necessitating another round of disc sampling to ensure it was an isolated incident. Fortunately none of the other discs seemed prone, and the freezes also seemed random. The PlayStation 4 is certainly a worthwhile investment for the avid gamer, but for those either hoping for improved and expanded Blu-ray playback capabilities, it's currently not worth the upgrade. In fact, it's smart to stay rather far away for the time being. Considering the price, expanded features, greater stability, and comparable, if not equal, playback quality, the PlayStation 3 remains the superior gaming/Blu-ray playback hybrid machine. Here's hoping Microsoft's next-gen machine, which has been marketed as more of a "media hub" and less a pure gaming device, fares better out-of-the-box as a Blu-ray player. Watch for a review in the coming days.
Thanks for your thorough review, Martin. We Blu-ray.com readers are fortunate to have someone like you delivering the info we're looking for. You helped me decide whether to buy another PS3 (I got the infamous "YLOD" error) or to upgrade to a PS4.
For me, it's an easy call to stick with PS3 -- I'll be able to play my old PS3 games and get the same Blu-ray experience until a year or so passes; I can get the PS4 when the bugs are worked out.
The PS3 was one of the best Blu-ray players released over the years. How in the world did they drop the ball with the PS4's BD playback? I'm sure in the end everything will be fixed via updates, but something like this should have never happened.
Sticking with the PS3 like most of you said. I have too many games (physical and downloaded) that I won't even be able to play on the PS4. I am looking to buy a new Blu-ray player, and I had thought of the PS4, but I guess I will just save a little extra and go for an OPPO instead; might as well. Either that or buy a back up PS3 for my games and as a second BD player for the house; though the OPPO being all regions does make it a good choice.
Interesting. I know space is limited for some, however, I never thought about using a PS3/PS4/XBoxOne as a full time BR player. I use mine as a BR Player only to see if a disc will work if my player gives me an issue. Just seems really expensive 400-500$ for a console.
glad i stuck with the PS3...plus why can the PS4 play PS3 games...???? how have they STILL not come up with the technology to do that, WTF. The only reason im holding on to my PS3 and NOT getting the PS4 is cus the PS4 cant play my fav games......bad marketing if you ask me.. a console that cant play any of the games you own.
I'm gonna agree with alot of you. We're gonna stick with our PS3 for a while for our 3D's and games. At least till the 4 presents itself as a better comparison for costs and issues. I wasn't too fond of the immediate update you talked about that is required for the 4 to support blu-ray playback. Also, it is not 3D capable.. I'll definetly pass. We have a huge 3D library and really enjoy it at home.
I wasn't expecting such a bad review of the PS4's Blu-ray capabilities. I love my PS3, so I'll stick with it. I don't game at all, but it's easily the best Blu-ray player on the market in my eyes, and I've tried several different units.
Thank you for the in-depth review. I'm already waiting for the bugs and kinks to be ironed out, but I didn't expect so many of them at launch. Hopefully future updates bode well for making this one of the top tier devices for Blu-ray playback.
unsure how you release a next gen system and have less than old gen standards? i have not doubt 3D will be add in and other enhancements....perhaps the rush to get it in before xbone. however hardly something expected for a next gen console to be less than last gen standards. even the update to unlock the standard bluray player hardly makes sense. i still have one but clearly I'll have to keep my ps3 side by side with my ps4...which is kind of a fail.
um, I think the first few sentences have confused what 'the norm' means. The things listed were NOT the norm.
Only using video game systems for video games was the norm. Only using cartridge-based games was the norm. Those sentences imply the opposite.
"It wasn't many years ago that doing much of anything besides playing a video game on a video game console was the norm. It wasn't even many more years ago that playing a game on anything but a cartridge was the norm."
Thanks for the review. I initially wanted one right away just because of all the buzz, but the wanting it now is tapering off for me. I'll probably end up waiting a year until Kingdom Hearts 3 comes out because that's my favorite game and only reason I will need to upgrade to the new system.
What I can't find is if the PS4 bitstreams HD audio or if it is only PCM. I know the later versions of the PS3 bistreamed HD audio but I can't find how to do this on the PS4. Does anyone know if it is possible or how?
For the sake of perspective, Sony does not view the PS4 as the PS3's replacement, but rather a suppliment. Therefore, making it a better media hub than the PS3 isn't really their goal. I would expect Blu-ray and streaming improvements to be a slow progression. The PS3 is still one of the best Blu-ray players out there. Stick to it if you're looking for a media hub. If you're looking for a better gaming machine, the PS4 will get there as more games become available.
The PS4 is certainly a replacement. They call the PS4 a supplement because they aren't dropping support for the PS3 yet. They'll keep it going as long as having it in production is profitable. They just stopped making PS2s earlier this year. Even though game developer support has been non-existent for YEARS (ignoring the annual sport game roster update releases).
I'm grateful for the write-up. As I have no interest in online or multiplayer games, certain issues are not a big deal for me. I cannot stand 3D, and will never buy into it, so 3D support is not a biggie either. I just want it to play my films and games with stability and precision. Maybe in a year PS4 will have everything for everyone.
What an absurd waste of money. Sony and microsoft making people shell out hundreds more toplay what amounts to the same thing we play on the 360 and the ps3. New gaming graphics engine? No? Whats the point? Theres nothing next gen on either console they should have developed longer but greed will do that.
Wing Commander is not a "film". We need that clarified first. Was there nothing even a little more dignified to test your system out? I'd be more likely to admit using questionable porn for testing out a blu ray player than declaring to the world that I voluntarily have that film readily at my fingertips for instant depression.
This is a good review of the PS4 Blu-ray play back limitations. When I got my launch PS3, there were bugs with that as well. All the bugs were fixed via firmware updates. The PS4 is no different. While a lot of posters in this section use their PS3's as a BD player. I have a stand alone Oppo that plays BD's better than my PS3/PS4 ever will. I will continue to use my PS4 as a Game Console & play my BD's on the Best Player on the Market!
I want a gaming console to play games, I use my blu-ray player to watch my blus. If my player broke I would use my console for playback but not any other time. It might be an irrational thought on my part but why risk wear and tear or soiling of the optics with everyday blu- ray watching when I already have a blu -ray player at my disposal?
I wanted to get one on launch but decided to wait until there is some kind of Metal Gear bundle next year. Seems likely. Hopefully many more patches and updates will be made available by then. I have no interest in the Xbox One save more a few of their exclusive games. But there's always the possibility about those going to the PS4. I intend to keep my current PS3 for many years to come.