PlayStation 3 was a huge hit back when it was released. It had huge improvements in the hardware and offered a much better performance than its predecessor. The graphics processing unit was the one that was admired by everyone because of its sheer capacity that it found use inside supercomputers. Instead of being a sole gaming device, PS3 was much like a central home multimedia center sitting in the living room, attached to a flat screen, connected to the home network and ready to stream from the home media server. We will be looking at PS4 from an audio/video perspective rather than looking at it as a gaming box.
PlayStation 4 is supposed to be an improvement over the predecessor, but many restrictions and lack of features in the firm makes it clear that the PS3 is a much better console.
PS4 has digital output optical audio jack and also the HDMI port which can be used to extract audio to your sound output device. There are several set ups possible with both the audio outputs. The digital output jack outputs an optical signal which can be connected to an audio receiver and the audio receiver will take care of converting digital signal to corresponding 5.1 or 7.1 channel analog output to speakers. On the other hand, you could do a similar setup with the HDMI cable, but you would require two HDMI cables since you also get video signal from the same jack. One HDMI cable goes from the PS4 to the home theatre audio receiver and another cable connects into the HDMI output from home theatre receiver and then goes into the HDMI input of your TV or a monitor.
If you are looking for a good speaker system for your PS4 or XBox One console, you should definitely look for Bose CineMate 15 speaker which happens to be reviewed previously on SoundReview as an easy to use speaker that accepts digital input signal through an optical Jack and produces very warm sound.
Another highly recommended, compact sound bar that comes with a built in sub woofer unlike the Bose CineMate 15; Q Acoustics Media 4 Sound Bar is specifically designed to occupy very minimum space under your display.
Technical details about the audio DSP
Ever since the dawn of modern desktop computers in early 2000, audio is handled by dedicated DSPs which have the capability to add filters and audio effects to the sound before it is output. It is only recently that audio DSPs have begun to be integrated with graphics processing units. The latest AMD TrueAudio is one such DSP unit that comes along with the AMD graphics processor and it happens to be inside the PS4. The audio unit can easily output up to 7.1 channels for surround sound along with the Dolby Digital bit stream.
AMD TrueAudio support comes out of the box but that is just on the hardware level. TrueAudio is particularly meant to be used in games and has no benefit for music and video content. TrueAudio allows game developers to programmatically add sound effects that are audible in certain parts of the game map. So far the magic of TrueAudio can only be experienced in the game called Thief. In other words, we can say that TrueAudio is basically an extension of the usual audio DSP unit.
PS4 audio problems, a big headache
There is a major problem haunting a lot of PS4 users that is related to the audio. If you happen to plug in the optical jack as well as the HDMI jack, PS4 will try to output audio through both the jacks resulting in echo like effect or lot of stuttering. This probably happens because of the audio multiplexer trying to sequentially output some part of the bit stream through digital jack and some part through the HDMI. Nevertheless, one easy fix is to remove the HDMI cable and re attach it. Users have complained that this solution works sometimes, but many times you just have to restart your PS4. There are even some complaints claiming that there is absolutely no audio when you try to plug into both, the digital optical jack and the HDMI jack.
If your setup consists of an AV receiver and suffering from a similar PS4 audio problem, then check out this post on the IGN website.
PS4 Audio Apps
When the PS4 was first released, the firmware did not support playing music off a USB flash drive, nor did it allow you to store any music on the hard drive. Quite ridiculous decision! After a lot of requests and demands from the users, the version 2.0 of PS4 has eventually added support for playing audio from USB drive, although you still cannot copy music to the hard drive.
The USB Music player app that comes with v2.0 firmware can now scan your USB drive for the music folder and play music stored in it. All you have to do is make a folder on the USB drive and name it as “music”. Then, copy all your music files which should be in mp3 format and then plug it in your PS4. Open the USB Music player and you should now see all the available music files. Go ahead and play!
Just like the Xbox One, which happens to have a dedicated music app called Xbox Music, PS4 has a ‘Music Unlimited App’ with 18 million + songs to stream. If you do not like that app, you would have to hop on to tv.pandora.com through the browser in order to stream music from there. It is unfortunate that there is no dedicated app for Pandora and Spotify.
All in all, PS4 multimedia features are incomplete and very minimal with respect to features. It feels like Sony was too hurried to release their new console and did not bother to add essential multimedia support (to which they admitted). PS4 adoption could rise greatly if Sony decides to add in all the features that made PS3 great because not everyone uses PlayStation just to Play.
In the next article we will review the audio functionalities and features of the PS4’s fierce competitor; Xbox One.