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Picking apart the DualShock 4 and its relationship with the PlayStation 4 Eye

DualShock 4 front

Sony revealed a lot of details about its PlayStation 4 console last night, but the only physical evidence that the hardware even exists at this point was the new DualShock 4 controller. Lead system architect Mark Cerny ran through the features and capabilities of this revised take on the DualShock as he held it up for gathered attendees and livestreamers to peer at. He also offered a brief glimpse into the relationship that the new controller has with the PlayStation 4 console and as well as the PlayStation 4 Eye camera.

Let’s take a moment now to consider how the DualShock 4 fits into the PlayStation 4 ecosystem. It’s a multi-function peripheral that can basically be summed up as a SIXAXIS-plus, with an assortment of new bells and whistles that feed into various enhancements that the PS4 makes over its predecessor.

If It Ain’t Broke

Fundamentally, the DualShock 4 offers the same functionality that the DualShock 3 did. The form factor seems to have been tweaked somewhat, though it appears to be for the better, addressing complaints that have dogged the DualShock 3 for the length of its existence. The handgrips are longer on the DualShock 4, presumably to make it more comfortable to hang onto.There also appears to be some kind of textured backing to help players maintain their grip. More importantly, the L2/R2 triggers now curve outward rather than inward, giving your trigger fingers a sturdier surface to latch onto.

The twin analog thumbsticks are no longer perfectly rounded on top, with a shallow well for the tip of your thumb to grip onto. The four iconic Sony face buttons appear to be unchanged, as does the D-pad. Overall, the shape of the thing falls closer to that of an Xbox 360 controller, not the DualShock 3 of old. While this move is likely to cause some… unrest within the hardcore fan community, it’s also for the best. The DualShock 3 is a well-designed piece of tech, but not the most comfortable thing to hold onto. The DualShock 4 seems to marry the best of what Sony’s gamepads offer with some of the more sensible approaches to form factor that the Xbox 360 gamepad embraces. Much like what Nintendo did with its own FPS Pro Controller.

The internal makeup of the DualShock 4 is also mostly unchanged, beyond the new features that we’ll discuss below. The skeleton of the DualShock 3 remains, however, with a three-axis accelerometer and three-axis gyroscope bringing back the underutilized SIXAXIS functionality for the next generation. The controller will also still connect to your console via Bluetooth, just as it did on the PS3.

DualShock 4 top

New Bells, Whistles, And Touch Pads

The most glaringly obvious new feature on the DualShock 4 is a front-and-center touchpad that bears no small resemblance to the touchpad mounted on the rear of the PlayStation Vita. The press release confirms the surface to be a two-point capacitative touch pad with a built-in click mechanism. The one thing it’s not is a screen; you have touch inputs through the pad, but nothing is displayed on it. Based on the specs, it sounds like you’ve got what is functionally an Apple Magic Mouse built right into the controller.

The touch pad isn’t the only new piece of plastic taking up real estate on the controller. The Start and Select buttons that sat in the center of the DualShock 3 are no more, replaced by a Share button on the left and an Options button on the right. Options will be your gateway to the features that Start/Select once offered while Share ties into the PS4’s expanded focus on social interactions. It’s not entirely clear how the Share feature works, but it’s the function you’ll rely on when you want to create video clips and stream your play (based on examples offered up during the PlayStation Meeting).

One of the less obvious enhancements is the addition of a small mono speaker. What purpose it will serve remains to be seen, but the original Wii embraced a similar setup for Wii Remotes, with the handheld speaker used to add aural color to various games. More importantly, a built-in stereo jack allows for the use of a wired stereo headset, which was never an option on the DualShock 3.

Another welcome improvement: you can charge the controller even when your console is off. Nicely done, Sony.

PlayStation 4 Eye

Eye See You

There’s one more vital component to the new features puzzle that is big enough to warrant its own discussion. The top of the DualShock 4 features a light panel that is similar to the sphere that tops PlayStation Move controllers. There will be some minor gameplay advantages because of this. When multiple players are all connected to the same console, each controller will have its own color to identify it, plus developers will have a chance to make small changes as well. In the game Killzone: Shadow Fall that was demonstrated during the Sony event, when the character was injured int he game, the light panel changed form green to yellow to red to match the level of damage. That will be left to the developers though.  

More importantly though, this factors into the way the controller works in tandem with the new PlayStation 4 Eye, Sony’s Eye replacement. Remember that using a Move controller requires that you have a PS Eye plugged into your console. The situation is the same with the PS4 Eye, though the camera has undergone some significant upgrades.

The new PS4 Eye is closer in shape to Microsoft’s Kinect than it is to its predecessor, though it of course carries the unique visual stylings that clearly identify it as a Sony product. The upgraded Eye packs in dual HD cameras that capture 30 fps footage at a resolution of 1280×800, a huge leap past the previous model’s 640×480 single-lens ceiling. The enhanced lenses on the new Eye also offer a wider viewing angle and the unit packs in four microphones for voice commands. the dual cameras also allow the Eye to judge depth, a fundamental change.  Face tracking and triangulation will also be utilized. This will also help to improve any augmented reality games, like Wonderbook.

It’s hard to say what the applications for all of this are until we know more about Sony’s plans and how well the tech works. Look at the Kinect: theoretically, there’s a lot of potential for dramatically changing the way we interact with our games, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. Sony’s PlayStation 4 Eye promises to offer Kinect-like functionality with some added enhancements thanks to the hardware’s support for interactions specific to the Move and DualShock 4. Exactly how this all functions together is purely speculative until we see all of it in action, but the specs on paper are certainly promising.