Console: PlayStation 5 | Manufacturer: Sony | Initial Release: 12th November 2020
The PlayStation 5 has finally reached most of us after the second phase of its worldwide launch this week, and Sony's latest hardware delivers a real sense of commitment to console generations. The ultra-modern design is starkly different to the simple straight lines and sharp edges of the PS4 in a way that commands attention, and not only because of its not inconsiderable size. Given the right setting though, the PS5 brings more to a room than just another set-top box.
Available in two variants, the £449.99 disc-based and the £359.99 digital edition, there is some choice in how you prefer to consume games as well as how much you want to spend on the initial outlay. In either case and aside from the Blu-Ray drive, the underlying technology is identical as both versions play the same games at the same quality and resolution. For all the claimed specs though, such as 4K, 120 Hz, ray-tracing and even 8K at some point in the future, it is perhaps the DualSense controller that makes the biggest "next-gen" impression straight out of the box.
Far from the iterative update that Microsoft chose to give their Series X / S controller, the DualSense sees probably the biggest change for Sony's accessory across the history of PlayStation. Before doing anything else, I'd highly recommend that every new PS5 owner gives the delightful Astro's Playroom a look to get an idea of exactly what the new controller can do. As a near-perfect blend of advanced tech-demo and indulgent nostalgia trip, this free title from Team ASOBI at Sony Japan Studio will introduce you to the DualSense's uncanny recreation of material feel through its waveform haptic feedback, and the incredible adaptive triggers which manage to give a believable sensation of bow tension, geared mechanisms and crushing metal cans.
It is perhaps the DualSense controller that makes the biggest "next-gen" impression straight out of the box
Admittedly, conveying the texture of rough concrete may not feature that highly when implementing a photo mode, and it will remain to be seen how much the new capabilities can be used to the benefit of virtual photography but, at worst, you will be more involved as a player and potentially more connected to the game you are photographing. So let's look more at how the PS5 will help your future capture art.
As you would probably expect, the successful SHARE button from PS4 makes a return in the form of the newly branded Create button. Similarly placed next to the touchpad but now slightly raised, the Create button is an ergonomic improvement on it's virtually flush predecessor, but it is a little less ground breaking than the rest of the DualSense and perhaps something of a missed opportunity in that regard, or at least one that isn't yet fully realised. The available create and share options do offer definite improvements over those on PS4 though, just in a more subtle fashion.
First of all then, we have the behaviour of the button itself. A single press brings up the new Create menu, pressing and holding captures a screenshot and a double press saves a 15 s - 60 min video clip of recent gameplay. Button mapping options found in the main Capture and Broadcast settings, but oddly not in the quick settings on the Create menu itself, allow for this to be changed so that screen captures are taken more conveniently with a single press, and for the recent recording clip function to be replaced with a PS4-style start / stop for manual recording with a double press.
The Create menu appears as a dark overlay across the bottom of the screen that is reminiscent of Sony's smartphone camera interface and is mostly a GUI version of these button shortcuts, giving you consistent access to each no matter which mode you choose. The UI also includes file format options, settings for whether mic audio is included in recordings, and quick links to start a broadcast via Twitch or YouTube. It may not be transformative, but the Create menu is ready to cater for the various basic needs of creators, whether it be capturing stills, recording video clips or streaming live gameplay.
For now at least, I would recommend disabling HDR captures and using the PNG file format...
Once created, there are a multitude of ways to view new content, with both the Control Centre cards and the Create menu throwing up routes to the most recent capture along with the chance to share it directly to a PlayStation party or linked social media account. Perhaps the most familiar route though, will be via the Media Gallery app found on the main home screen. Also accessible from a recent capture, or even via console storage settings, the gallery presents images and videos stored locally and on any attached USB device in a clean grid with sorting options, multi-select, and separate tabs for game albums, the newly assignable favourites and trophy-related media.
Notice by the way, that the optional trophy screenshots now include an overlay banner with the trophy details on it, as well as a short gameplay clip of the moment. Cool for immortalising moments of triumph, but now there is all the more pressure to nail the perfect time to unlock that next platinum.
Something else that is completely new is a selection of minor image editing features. Found in the Media Gallery or any recent capture, the fairly basic but nonetheless useful tools include crop, rotate and simple text overlays. There is no post-processing in terms of brightness, contrast or colour adjustment, and the crop is strangely split into three separate steps all using the LS rather than making better use of the controller's other buttons, but this could easily be the basis for a more advanced feature set later down the line.
Add to this an updated version of PS4's surprisingly capable SHAREfactory, now called Share Factory Studio, that is aimed primarily at video content but also includes its own photo editor, and PS5 is shaping up to be well equipped to help players create and share content without needing any other devices.
Of course, many people absolutely will want to make use of other, more capable devices and the PlayStation 5 takes a more traditional approach when it comes to exporting captured content. Unlike Xbox Series X / S which will sync shots automatically to Xbox Live or manually to OneDrive, the PS5 has no cloud storage options for captures and relies on copying them to a USB device. This can be done via either the standard USB or USB-C ports and while not automated, the transfer process is quick and painless.
At this point it is worth paying attention to the file format options I briefly mentioned earlier. Video clips may be saved in the html5-optimised WebM or more typical MP4 formats with a maximum resolution now boosted to 3840 x 2160 for full 4K recordings. Similarly, still images are captured in 4K resolution and can be saved as either a compressed JPG or an un-compressed, albeit significantly larger PNG. In addition, it is also now possible to preserve HDR information with a simple toggle switch that will switch the file format to "Auto" and maintain the 10-bit colour depth in images viewed in the Media Gallery.
encouraging to see progress towards the preservation of HDR...
In the current system software, these HDR captures can actually only be viewed on the console and cannot be previewed in their non-HDR state. Exporting an HDR-inclusive capture will, as the settings screen mentions, result in the loss of this additional information, generating only a compressed JPG file with no separate HDR-compatible file to view on other devices. For now at least, I would recommend disabling HDR captures and using the PNG file format to ensure that exported images are lossless and saved in the highest available quality. It is encouraging to see progress towards the preservation of HDR and, as it becomes more widely supported, I would hope to see improvements made to the PS5's exporting options.
an exquisite example of detailed design...
Sony had a solid base on which to build in the PS4's sharing options and have made a few key improvements while stopping well short of anything particularly ground-breaking with the PS5 when it comes to content creation. With a level of expectation attached to the rebrand and promise of a later reveal, the Create menu was perhaps teased to contain more new features than it currently does, but a sense of familiarity and just enough upgrades will mean that the new system fits straight into an existing virtual photography workflow and even adds the odd new route to producing content.
The hardware is an exquisite example of detailed design and generational leaps but it goes without saying that the games will ultimately dictate the type of content and inspiration. I can't wait to see whether developers find clever ways to make the trail blazing controller features useful during photo mode, but the PS5 is already well placed to help continue the relentless growth of virtual photography and capture art into another generation.