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close-up of ‘PS4’ engraving on PlayStation 4 Pro Photo by James Bareham/Polygon

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Why PlayStation 4 is a great first console

A buyer’s guide to the PlayStation 4 platform, to help you get up and running quickly and easily

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There has never been a better time to get into video games, and the PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro are great starting points. The hobby is cheaper, more ubiquitous, and more accessible than ever before.

Plus, we’re all stuck inside. Entertainment can be hard to come by, and games provide a welcome distraction from the world, as well as offering a way for friends and family members to play together, whether or not they’re quarantined in the same house.

Since so many folks are in the market for gaming consoles for the first time, we thought it would be a good opportunity to make a case for all of the current-generation consoles, explaining what makes each unique, and which may be the best fit for you and your family.

So let’s talk about the most popular traditional console of the current generation: the PlayStation 4. In this guide, we’ll explain what makes the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 4 Pro such strong picks, while breaking down what you may also want to get with it to have the best experience possible.

And this is going to be a fun one, because the PlayStation 4 is all about the games.

Should I buy a PS4?

The original PlayStation 4 and launched with more powerful hardware at a lower price than its competition in the Xbox One, and the platform has one other huge weapon that Microsoft has been struggling to compete against during this generation: exclusive games.

PS4 arguably has the best stable of exclusive games in the business, especially if you’re interested in the more grown-up, narrative-based titles that can be hard to find on Nintendo Switch. If you want to play the Uncharted series, The Last of Us, or the latest big-budget Spider-Man game, you’re going to need a PlayStation 4. Sony has always focused on games above all else, and it’s a strategy that works.

The PlayStation 4 Pro may not handle gaming in 4K resolutions quite as well as Microsoft’s equivalent high-end console, the Xbox One X, but PS4 family has been less expensive than the Xbox family for most of this generation, and the PlayStation 4 plays some of the best games in the industry — games that haven’t come to any other console, or to the PC in some cases. Although that might be changing with time.

If you’re not as worried about multimedia functions outside of the standard streaming options, and you just want a console with a huge variety of enjoyable, exclusive games, with plenty more on the way, the PlayStation 4 is an easy choice.

So what’s the difference between PS4 and PS4 Pro?

Both systems play the same games and use the same online services, but PlayStation 4 Pro can output games in 4K, run games at higher frame rates, and load games faster than the standard console.

If you have a 4K TV and want to show it off, or if you just want the best performance out of your games, it’s worth paying the extra money for the PS4 Pro, especially for games like Control that may not run smoothly on first-generation hardware.

A standard PlayStation 4 is good enough for most folks, especially if you’re new to games, but if you want to see your games looking their best, the PlayStation 4 Pro is worth the upgrade. Just be aware that, unlike the Xbox One X, the PlayStation 4 Pro can’t play 4K Blu-ray discs.

What cables and controllers do I need for PS4?

The system will come with everything you need to connect it, but if you need a longer HDMI cable, remember to buy online instead of at a retail store. Even discount retailers tend to mark up HDMI cables to a ridiculous degree, so buying online will save you a surprising amount of money.

Depending on whether you’re going to be playing multiplayer games, or even if you just want a backup ready in case one controller’s batteries run out during a heated session, you’ll also likely want at least a second controller, maybe even more if you’re going to be jumping into family-friendly games.

There are plenty of options for PlayStation 4 controllers, but your best bet is always going to be to stick with the standard wireless Sony controllers, which come in a variety of colors.

So what are the best PS4 games?

It really depends on what you’re looking for, but our list of Essential PlayStation 4 games is a great way to get started. From Horizon: Zero Dawn to Death Stranding, and everything in between, there are more than enough games for everyone, no matter what you’re into. And subscribing to at least one of the system’s online services will give you a good amount of bonus games to try while you’re developing your palate.

Do I need PlayStation Plus to play online?

Every console has its own subscription-based online service these days, and PlayStation is no different. You’ll need to subscribe to PlayStation Plus to play with friends online, and pricing goes down if you’re willing to pay for the service a year at a time. PlayStation Plus subscribers also get a few “free” games a month, which they can play as long as they continue to subscribe to PS Plus.

It’s a bummer that even video game consoles require their own subscription fees these days, and we’re getting to the point where some offer multiple ways to subscribe to different content offerings, but unfortunately it’s just the nature of the beast. If you’re buying a console to connect with other people and play games with them online, you need to subscribe to PlayStation Plus.

Do PS4 controllers need batteries?

Nope, Playstation 4 controllers are fully rechargeable, so as long as you have a micro-USB cable laying around, you’re good to go. Try to get your kids, and yourself, into the habit of plugging in the controller when you’re done to make sure it’s always ready to go.

How much space do PS4 games take up?

Modern games often take up huge amounts of storage space on your console’s hard drive, even if you buy them on a physical disc. The 500 GB or 1 TB of storage that comes with your PlayStation 4 console may not be enough, even at first, if you plan on trying more than a few games.

You have two options here, however. The easiest option is to simply add an external USB hard drive, and install games there. External hard drives, even those with massive amounts of storage, are surprisingly affordable these days, and you can use one with your PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro, connecting it with a simple USB cable. That’s the easiest way forward for most people and probably the best approach if you don’t want to spend a lot of time working on a solution.

Here’s a good external hard drive, if you’d like to keep things as simple as possible.

But what if I don’t want to worry about someone disconnecting an external hard drive?

Then you can upgrade the internal hard drive itself with a larger, laptop-sized hard drive, although doing so requires a few more steps, as well as opening up your system. Doing so won’t void your warranty, however, and Sony gives clear instructions for the upgrade on the system’s official page.

If you don’t mind the extra work, this approach is a little tidier, but again, it takes a little more time and know-how. If you’d like to give it a shot, you can pick up a compatible, inexpensive internal hard drive from the link below.

Should I get PlayStation VR?

Well, I have good news for you, friend: PlayStation 4 offers one of the best virtual reality experiences on the market with PlayStation VR, and bundles are relatively inexpensive (for VR, at least) and plentiful. It’s one of the most comfortable, fun-looking pieces of VR hardware currently available, with plenty of fun games to play.

If you want to get into VR (and I’m a big fan), this is a delightful way to start.

Is PS4 backwards compatible?

Unfortunately not. The PlayStation 4 can’t play games from older PlayStation consoles, so you won’t be able to buy and play older PlayStation 2 or PlayStation 3 games, the discs just won’t work in the system.

That doesn’t mean the system doesn’t play games from the previous generations of PlayStation consoles, however, you’ll just need PlayStation Now to do it.

What’s PlayStation Now?

Microsoft gets a lot of credit for Game Pass Ultimate, which turns the platform into a sort of gaming jukebox, delivering a large selection of downloadable games that you can play to your heart’s content as long as you have a subscription. So how does Sony fight back?

PlayStation Now is probably the most underrated weapon in Sony’s arsenal on the PlayStation platform. It allows subscribers to download or stream a large selection of games on their PlayStation 4 or even on their PC. And many of these are older games from previous consoles, giving you the ability to play some classic PlayStation games from previous consoles that you may have missed.

You can try a free, seven-day trial to check the service out, and a year-long subscription is only $59.99 — the same price as buying one big new game — making this a killer deal for someone who wants to play a lot of stuff to figure out what they like. It also works if you’re dealing with a family where everyone is into something different.

The idea of Netflix for video games is already here, and both the Xbox and PlayStation platforms offer some version of it, but Microsoft has been much better about spreading the message. But don’t be fooled: PlayStation Now is a great way to play a whole bunch of great games, especially if you don’t yet know what kind of games you like.

Do I need a PS4 headset?

Do you need one? No. Is it nice to have one, especially if you’re playing online? Absolutely. And it helps that Sony itself makes one of the best headsets for any console, and it even works well on your PC: the Sony PlayStation Gold Wireless Headset. They’re comfortable, they sound good, they’re not overly expensive, and the included wireless dongle can be plugged straight into your PC so you can use the wireless headphones and microphone there as well. It’s one of my favorite gaming peripherals on the market, full stop, especially at that price.

Shouldn’t I just wait for the PlayStation 5?

Maybe, but we don’t know exactly what it will cost, what the benefits will be, what games will launch with it to take advantage of the extra power and features, and it’s always possible the upcoming consoles will be delayed until 2021 due to Covid-19 complications.

So this may seem like a strange time to invest in a new platform, especially since it’s very likely prices could go down as we get closer to Christmas, so wait if you can tolerate all those unknowns, but at some point you have to jump in and live your life, and many people are starved for entertainment. The most practical solution isn’t always the best one.

Is the PS4 worth it?

The PlayStation 4 is a great system for people focused on games, and for those who may want to try VR right away (or at some time down the line). It’s a system that’s inexpensive, easy to use, and has arguably the most robust game library of any of the modern consoles. It’s hard to go wrong by starting with either PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 Pro as your first system.

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