The PlayStation Camera is really surprising. While Microsoft justify the price of the Xbox One with their Kinect functionality, it almost feels as though Sony should be pushing this more and doing the same – if utilised well, this could become an almost essential piece of kit for your PlayStation set-up.
It’s a relatively small, black cuboid, with no big lights, logos or anything else on the front to distract you other than a tiny red LED so you know it’s recording. Despite such understated looks, the potential is huge. It plugs into the back of the PS4 via an auxiliary port, and there are two lenses on the front, for three dimensional spacial awareness, four microphones, for clear and multi-directional sound detection, and you’re even able to swivel the camera up and down 35 degrees with the side-mounted stand.
It’s good for sitting under your TV, and although I’m averse to having anything on top of my screen, you can buy a clip separately to mount it there.
In terms of the camera functionality itself, each lens has a resolution of 1280×800, with a focusing distance of 30cm and an impressively expansive 85 degree field of view – it really does a good job of capturing as much of the room as possible. It doesn’t offer the best quality image – there’s still some noticeable grain – but it’s a vast improvement over the previous PS Eye.
One of the greatest things that this new camera brings is a form of voice commands, although that’s not strictly true. You see, it’s not the camera that does that – it’s just using microphone – but rather the PS4, and you can even use the bundled in mono headset for these controls. It’s naturally much easier to shout in the general direction of the camera than into an earpiece, but it offers largely the same experience.
However, that experience is one which isn’t quite as fleshed out or as clever as it could be. There’s definitely a novelty in speaking to your console, which you’ll do by first saying “PlayStation” (or tapping L2 on the home screen) and then speaking one of the highlighted, on-screen commands, but you can’t use it exclusively to navigate the console. You won’t be able to turn it on from standby, as you can with the Xbox One, but switching between games becomes very easy when all you have to do is say “PlayStation: home screen, Resogun, start, OK” to go back to the home screen, choose the game, select to start it and then confirm that you want to close the current title you were playing.
And, for the most part, it picks up what you’re saying. On occasion I found myself having to repeat what I had said – in a less Scottish accent than I normally use – and you’ll often have to use the full phrase, such as “Enter Standby Mode” instead of just “standby”, but it does a good job of taking you to the right game depending on what you say. What is interesting is how it differentiates between demos and sequels with similar names. From testing with the LEGO Marvel Super Heroes demo and the full game, I found that it essentially goes straight to the last one you played, and that it had a hard time picking up the “demo” on the end.
It’s just a shame that beyond switching games (providing they’re on the hard drive and you don’t need to change discs), power settings and taking screenshots, the voice commands don’t do much else. There’s definitely potential for this down the line as it’s system-based rather than the processing taking place with the camera itself. Hopefully some applications will support it – I can already see the potential for Music Unlimited searching and internet browsing.
Along with those commands, you’ve got the actual camera features. The first one you’ll see is the face recognition, which allows any user to log into their account just by sitting in front of their screen. It’s quite useful if multiple players are in the room, as it detects it by recognising faces and then selecting who has a DualShock 4 controller. It’s almost instant too, after a quick set-up process where you move your head around, and should make the new signed-in multiplayer gaming a breeze.
The camera still isn’t quite as comprehensive as Kinect with its motion tracking and recognition, as the lightbar on the DualShock 4 is still used as a key waypoint for the console to track, but it’s definitely an evolution of what Sony had started with the last generation PS Eye and Move controller. It also opens the way for sharing features – which we’ll explore fully in its own article – allowing you to broadcast your face alongside the streaming footage of the game you’re playing.
At the moment, the main way to show off the camera is the built-in software known as The PlayRoom. This offers a few quirky AR based games, similar to EyePet, which brings the game into your living room through the camera and controller. Essentially, it picks up the light bar and projects a menu system out of it – the presentation is fantastic and quite futuristic – and then you’re able to select from three different modes with the use of the touch pad.
One fills your controller with AR bots, that you’re able to flick them out by swiping on the touch pad, or even dive inside your controller in a brilliant little easter egg. When freed, these little bots react to your movement, and can effectively see your face – you can kick them away or just give them a little tickle. It’s very much a step up in terms of motion tracking and depth awareness, and therefore a clear demonstration that the camera is picking up a lot more than just the light on the controller.
Other modes involve a robot named Asobi who flies around your room and reacts to you interacting with him or even hiding. There’s nothing to keep you entertained for long periods of time, but if you’ve got two controllers then the final mode might be something you want to try. Essentially, it’s a game of air hockey, projected from your controllers and, though this couldn’t be tested due to us lacking a second DualShock 4, it’s certainly a novel idea.
So, there’s the PlayStation Camera and all it can do. That might not be quite enough right now, but it’s a solid start for a piece of technology that will hopefully evolve alongside the PS4. Don’t expect it to ever match Kinect in terms of motion tracking, but it’s clearly building upon the Move-centric PlayStation Eye and taking the technologies one step further. It’s easy to see how one day you might be able to control your PS4 through voice alone. Let’s just hope developers, alongside Sony themselves, take advantage of everything that’s on offer here.