Sony's PlayStation 4 is released on 29 November in the UK starting at £349.

Like the Xbox One, the PS4 is a box full of potential: there are great things to come, but right now this next-gen console is an expensive power trip that hasn't quite delivered on its promise to... wait. No.

Let's start again.

You've heard all that before. You know that the PS4, like all consoles, will mature over time, get better games and gradually take over the world.

Want you want to know - what you should be asking ahead of the machine's launch on Friday - is whether it's worth buying now.

This is our answer.

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  • A controller for the new PlayStation 4 is on display at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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  • US-E3-SONY-PLAYSTATION-PRESS CONFERENCE

    Sony CEO Andrew House unveils the new PlayStation 4 at the Sony E3 2013 press conference in Los Angeles, California June 10, 2013. House said that the new PlayStation 4 will cost USD $399 and it will be available in time for the 2013 holiday season. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Leading Video Game Companies Hold News Conferences To Open E3

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 10: Andrew House, President and Group CEO Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., holds up a Playstation 4 at the Sony Playstation E3 2013 press conference June 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Thousands are expected to attend the annual three-day convention to see the latest games and announcements from the gaming industry.(Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

  • Andrew House

    Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO Andrew House introduces the new PlayStation 4 at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Andrew House

    Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO Andrew House introduces the new PlayStation 4 at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Andrew House

    Sony Computer Entertainment president and CEO Andrew House introduces the new PlayStation 4 at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A gamer holds a controller for the new PlayStation 4 is on display at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A gamer plays a video game on the PlayStation 4 at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Attendees watch gamers play video games on the PlayStation 4 at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • A gamer plays a video game at the Sony PlayStation E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, Monday, June 10, 2013. Sony is giving gamers their first look at the PlayStation 4 and it's a rectangular black box, just like all the previous PlayStations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

  • Andrew House

    IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SCEA - Adam Boyes, Vice President of Developer and Publisher Relations of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said a stellar lineup of games from independent developers and key publishing partners will launch on PlayStation 4 at the PlayStation E3 Press Conference on Monday June 10, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for SCEA/AP Images)

  • Michael Lynton

    IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR SCEA - Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Entertainment and CEO and Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, announced that Sony Pictures will deliver new original programming and unique access to entertainment content on PlayStation 4 at the PlayStation E3 Press Conference on Monday June 10, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision for SCEA/AP Images)

Design

Where the Xbox is a functional, literal box, the PS4 is a stunner. Yes, it's just as dark and gloomy as Microsoft's box. And like Disaster Area's spaceship, it's almost impossible to see until you turn it on and let the blue pulse of LED lighting in the centre slowly (hopefully) transition to functional white.

But considered alone as an object of design, the PS4 is a far more beautiful object than its rival. It's thin, light and pointed like a broken shard of black glass, with varying areas of shining and textured plastic. It looks like an evolved PS3 slim, not a big, hulking Next-Gen reset, and you'll want to keep it in sight (whereas the Xbox is designed to be hidden in a media centre). There's also no power brick, it's easy to set up and (apparently) even beautiful inside. This is a console designed with the principles - if a different outward aesthetic - of Jony Ive at its heart.

In practical terms the front left features the slot-loading Blu-Ray drive and the eject button (which is not obvious, oddly). There are two powered USB 3.0 slots on the gith and the normal ports on the back. You can also use it standing upright, again unlike the Xbox One.

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Specs

For most users, the exact specs of a console are immaterial. This early in a generation, the only limits are the time, money and care which developers can use to develop truly next-gen games for the system.

That said, it is worth noting that the PS4 is built to last - and really is a more powerful beast than the PS3. It has a single-chip x86-64 AMD CPU, a 1.84-teraflop GPU, 8GB of GDDR5 RAM and a 500GB hard drive - which given some games clock in at 40GB-plus already is the only downside.

Sony says that the hardware represents a 10x jump over the PS3 - though again you'll have to take their word for it at this point, as it doesn't immediately translate into games with 10 times better graphics.

It's also worth noting that you can replace the hard drive yourself with a larger one, or an SSD - and all without voiding the warranty.

Controller & Camera

The new Dualshock 4 controller is expensive, at £50 each in addition to the one in the box, but that's pretty much the only downside. In every key respect - from build quality to new features - the new controller is a big upgrade from that which accompanied the PS3.

Which is not to say it's all that different. There's no dramatic reinvention of the games controller here. It's basically the same - with all the buttons placed in roughly the same locations. But there are subtle changes which tighten things up considerably. The triggers are placed closer to the shoulder buttons, and feel tighter and more responsive. The dual sticks are a bit less wobbly, too.

Then there are the new additions. The touchpad which is placed in the top centre of the Dualshock 4 hasn't been used for too many games yet, but in the main current example (Killzone Shadow Fall) it's a reliable and fairly useful way to switch between drone weapons, and we expect more implementations will come soon. The new 'Share' button lets you capture screenshots and videos on the fly, while the 'Options' button is essentially a 'Pause' button.

There's also an integrated speaker, which is quite handy, while battery life caps out at about seven hours - not brilliant, but workable, and it charges via micro-USB. The controller also has a light on the front which integrates with the Playstation 4 Camera, if you decide to buy one, just like a PS Move.

Speaking of the Camera, this £45 analogue to the Xbox One's Kinect is not included in the main console bundle, and as such is integrated less closely into the PS4 operating system and most of its games. It's also not quite as advanced as the Kinect's new hardware. But rest assured, it does have some good uses. Voice control across the OS is pretty tight and reliable, as is facial recognition login, and the included 'Playroom' demo software pack is fun (though very limited). By not including the Camera in the box Sony has sacrificed features for price - and we'll have to see if the peripheral has a long-term future. But if you buy one on impulse, you'll get something out of it.

Software and Features

Where the Xbox One's OS is built to be integrated into all of your media centres, with TV pass-through, Skype and voice control built into the machine's DNA, the PS4's software is a much more focused - though similarly unfinished - proposition.

When you boot the PS4 you'll get sent straight to the login screen, and asked to sign in with your PSN credentials (PSN is the online network on which Sony's gaming and shopping services are built). Once done you're presented with a blue screen and a list (initially not a long list) of apps in a horizontal line across the screen. You can scroll across these to select them, or press up to get to a sub-menu which has hard-coded links to the PSN store, your profile and friends list, settings and other features. Likewise if you scroll down from the home menu, you can more details about the app or game you selected. At any time in one of these apps you press the PS button to return to the home menu.

The overall feel is of something which is very straightforward and clear, but also a little frustrating and half-built.

There's lots to love - while games install automatically, there's usually little delay between putting in a disc for the first time and the game loading. Jumping into and out of apps is fast and stable. Background system updates are intuitive, and PSN is well-integrated without forcing advertising on you at every turn. The Playstation App for iOS and Android lets you manage your account, buy games and use as a 'second screen' input has a lot of potential. Blu-Ray playback is solid, as you'd expect. And Remote Play - by which you can connect a PS Vita handheld via WiFi and use to play PS4 games around the house - is really great. We experienced a bit of lag, from time-to-time, but it was largely a solid and fun way to play while someone else watched TV. Neat.

On the other hand, there's room to improve too. Basic and seemingly obvious features like reorganising your apps list so your favourite games appear first, changing your background or organising your social feeds are missing. And then there's the impossible wish list - backwards compatibility, the Xbox One's HDMI-in function and more apps - which for the first two are impossible dreams already.


Games

And so we come to the rub: the games. Because if it isn't clear by now, then listen up - the Playstation 4 is pretty much all about games. Yes, it has apps like iPlayer and Netflix either here or on the way. And yes, it still plays Blu-Ray discs. But while the Xbox One is pitched as a machine for all of your life, the PS4 is the machine for the bits where you want to kill things with guns.

And no, the games aren't as good as they could be. With a couple of key games slipping from their launch day release schedules - Watch Dogs is cross-platform, but seen as a PS4-first game, while Drive Club is a missing exclusive - the line-up is thin. And all of the good third-party games are available on the Xbox One. One really decent PS Plus exclusive aside, there isn't a huge amount here that you can't get elsewhere.

That's one perspective - and probably that of a hardcore gamer who already has some of these third-party games on another console.

But if you're a new or lapsed gamer, you might see things differently. Because like the Xbox, the line-up of games available at launch might not be spectacularly new or surprising - but it is very, very solid, hits all of the key genres and does so with a style and graphical panache that frequently tops even the Xbox One.

Here's a quick run-through of our favourites from the launch list:

Killzone Shadow Fall

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Sony's PS4-exclusive sci-fi shooter is an extremely beautiful and solid FPS game which doesn't cover a huge amount of new territory in the genre, but provides a very enjoyable and bombastic romp through a large, convincing world, and a couple of really amazing set pieces. The new 'OWL' drones which accompany you into battle and are controlled by the PS4 controller's touch panel are intuitive and add new strategic elements. The multiplayer is very tight and fun, too.

Knack

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This family-focused platform brawler is a pretty straightforward game which doesn't bring too many ideas to the table for established gamers. But it's a visually impressive and occasionally imaginative game, the outward elements of which may prove appealing to kids and those who remember when launch games didn't all involve guns, or cars, or in the case of the following game, both.

Battlefield 4

BF4 is the same game as we reviewed on PS3 and Xbox 360 earlier this year - namely a watertight, expansive but curiously cautious tactical shooter. But we have to emphasise how good it looks on the PS4 - this is a seriously beautiful game, with lighting, modelling and environmental effects which are strides ahead of its current-gen console counterpart. Visually it's the most impressive PS4 game we played. If you like similar games and don't have BF4 on PS3, it's a no-brainer.

Resogun

Free with PS Plus, Resogun is a riotous, retro 2D shooter which plays out on a rotating cylinder of guns, flying enemies, particle effects and power-ups. It's easily the best-reviewed PS4 exclusive so far, and while it's not to everyone's taste (it's repetitive, difficult and not particularly charming) we can see why. If you're a PS Plus member, it's worth a shot.

Call of Duty: Ghosts
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As with BF4, CoD: Ghosts is the same game as the one we previously reviewed, with better graphics and lighting. It's not as impressive a refresh as BF4, though, and the stupid story is if anything more egregious in 1080P.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

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Likewise, AC4 is the same as the game we've already reviewed. Meaning it's totally brilliant. On PS4 the sea effects are so beautiful, it's worth playing the game again just to watch the whales pop out and wave hello.

Lego Super Heroes

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Lego games are increasingly becoming an endurance-themed test into whether you enjoy pun-based humour and simple platform-brawling game mechanics. But Lego Super Heroes adds some new elements to the mix, from its vast range of Marvel characters to play with to its open-world landscapes, big boss battles and new puzzle mechanics. Great fun for kids, but if you've played another Lego game so far this year you might need a breather.

Need For Speed Rivals

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NSF Rivals is another open-world racing-battler, but this time the focus is shifted from the city streets to the hills, valleys, deserts and ice peaks of EA's new curiously condensed world of Redview County. Here gangs of cops and robbers, sorry, racers, battle in endless, dramatic vehicular combat in a way that only makes sense if the whole thing is a Starlight Express-style game of 'cars' being played by an imaginative child when his parents aren't looking. We found it a bit repetitive and lacking in variety. Others have praised its rock-solid mechanics and sense of pure adrenaline. Either way, it's visually stunning on PS4, and the integrated multiplayer is great fun.


Verdict

Is the PS4, at this early stage, a better value proposition than the PS3? Possibly not, if you just want to play a few games and watch a Blu-Ray this Christmas and don't care about the long term. And is it a no-brainer buy compared to the Xbox One? Also no - particularly not if you're attracted by the wider media features and vision Microsoft has delivered so far and has in mind for the future.

And the thing to remember is that buying a PS4 is still an investment - if not in outright financial terms, at least in buying into the long term future of a machine and a service. The upside is that the console has a rich and rewarding life on the cutting-edge of games. The downside is that, well, it might not - there is risk here: the games might not come, at least not for a while, the network and future features like the Gaikai streaming games services are unproven, and the prev-gen competition is still really decent.

But at £349, is a PS4 worth the money today?

Yes. It is. The hardware is beautiful and powerful. The controller is brilliant. The games aren't overwhelmingly amazing, and are mostly very familiar - and it's not backwards-compatible. But the games it does have are all much more impressive visually than their current-gen rivals, offer a wide range of familiar and extremely tight genre experiences, and hint at a potentially dazzling future. It's not that expensive to buy, and you'll have loads of fun with just a couple of the above titles. Out of the box, today, the PS4 is a super-fast, top-of-the-line, focused gaming machine. Buying one is still a gamble - but it's as sure a bet as has ever been offered by a new video games console at launch.

Convinced? Good - here's our buyer's guide:

  • PS4 Bundle
    To start with, you'll need a PS4. It costs £349 for the basic bundle, for which you get the machine, all the cables and a controller, plus a simple headset for voice chat.
  • PS Plus
    A year-long membership to PS Plus costs just £36.99, and nets you an instant collection of games on both PS Vita and the PS4 (including the stand-out launch game Resogun) which you can keep and play until you're membership runs out. It also lets you play online and get discounts on other games on the PSN store. It's a bargain.
  • Assasin's Creed IV: Black Flag
    Everything we said in our review stands - this is a five-star action adventure game set on the high seas. But on the PS4 the added graphical polish really brings the experience up to another level. The ocean, in particular, is stunning. We know, it sounds weird. But you have to see it to believe it, because technology.
  • Need For Speed: Rivals
    EA's new Need For Speed game is just brilliant. Play as either cops or racers in an open-world designed explicitly for idiots to race each other with no consequences. It's like a game of toy cars set in a just-barely believable American vista, and it's ridiculously fun (and good looking, too).
  • PlayStation Camera
    It's not as technically advanced as Microsoft's new Kinect, and it's not technically required for any of the PS4's games. But adding voice and motion control to your console is handy, games that use the new features are starting to emerge, and the included 'Playroom' software is a really neat little AR toy that kids will love. You can wait on this, but at £45 it's not a huge extra expense.
  • PS Vita
    Sony's handheld gaming device has some awesome games on its own account, including WipeOut 2048 and Little Big Planet 2. But its best feature has only come about thanks to the PS4: Remote Play. With Remote Play you can to play your main console's games on the small screen, as long as you're connected to the same WiFi network. That's full, gorgeous versions of PS4-quality FIFA and Killzone, on a small screen. The handheld costs about £160.
  • Killzone: Shadowfall
    The new 'Killzone' isn't a dramatic reinvention of the genre, and it probably won't win over new fans who've played old versions and not enjoyed them. But it has among the best graphics on the PS4, uses the new controller's touchpad to neat effect, opens up the palette of the Killzone universe to include green landscapes and blue cities, as well as the traditional brown murk, and is a really fun way to blast through an alien civilisation... at least until Destiny comes out in 2014.
  • FIFA 14
    It's been a long time since FIFA was seriously challenged at the top of the football video game Premier League, and its first evolution on the next-gen consoles is another step forward. The graphics are deliciously enhanced, and there's a sense that players have real weight and purpose. It's not a huge revolution - that will likely come in 2014 with the first ground-up next-gen version. But it's an essential buy if you're a sports fan.
  • Extra Dualshock 4 Controller
    If you're going to play multiplayer games - particularly FIFA at launch - it's a good idea to bite the bullet and get an extra controller now, rather than agonise over when to buy it later. It's £49, which is pricey, but games are still more fun when the other player is next to you on the couch.
  • Samsung F8000 46-Inch TV
    This is the best telly we've ever tested in person, with amazing picture quality and genuinely useful Smart TV features. It's an excellent screen on which to play the PS4, and its range of included catch-up apps is a great addition to those included in the console at launch. The only problem? The price - which is about £1,450 for the 46-inch model.