Although handheld controllers for gaming systems are still all the rage, we are now living at a time when we can shout commands or flail our limbs about to control our entertainment systems. The tech isn't even all that new, but it is getting better and better.
Sony has been in the video capture and motion control business since the release of its EyeToy USB Camera in 2003 for the PlayStation 2 (PS2) game console. It continued the tradition with the even better PlayStation Eye for PlayStation 3 (PS3) in 2007, and the Move controllers in 2010, which worked in conjunction with the Eye for even more accuracy.
Now Sony's latest video-capturing peripheral device, the PlayStation Camera, is in the wild, released along with the new PlayStation 4 (PS4) game console. As of early 2014, the Camera does not come bundled with the system, but is an optional device that can be purchased separately for $59.99.
The name Camera doesn't tell the whole story, since it not only allows for video capture and motion control on the PlayStation 4, but also voice control and facial recognition, as well. Read on to find out what this little, but not insignificant, device can do.
PlayStation Camera Specifications
The PlayStation Camera is a rectangular black device that plugs into the back of the PS4. It's tiny, measuring approximately 7.32 inches (186 millimeters) in width, 1.06 inches (27 millimeters) in height and 1.06 inches (27 millimeters) in depth, and weighing around 5.93 ounces (183 grams).
The Camera actually houses two high-definition stereoscopic wide-angle cameras. Each has a maximum resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels (approximately 720p, although with a slightly different aspect ratio), which they can achieve at 60 frames per second (fps). They are also capable of 640 by 400 resolution at 120 fps and 320 by 192 resolution at 240 fps. The lenses are fixed focus, meaning you cannot adjust the focus manually.
The Camera's lens aperture is f/2.0, its capture range (or focusing distance) is 11.81 inches (around 30 centimeters) and its diagonal field of view is 85 degrees. It captures RAW and YUV uncompressed video.
It also has an array of four microphones that span the device (two on either side of each camera lens) for quality sound capture and voice control of the PS4.
The device has an attached cord of approximately 6.56 feet (2 meters) in length, which ends in a proprietary connector that can be inserted into the auxiliary (AUX) port on the back of the PS4.
The angle of the Camera can be adjusted up or down 35 degrees in either direction by holding the fixed right side of the camera and twisting the body. It also comes with a conveniently foldable stand that can be attached to the Camera and adjusted in a variety of ways. It can stand up like a little raised platform, bend to support the device on top of a television or lay straight to enable you to place the Camera on a flat surface, making it easy to put it where you like, provided it's facing the right direction.
Voice Capabilities of the PlayStation Camera
The Camera's four-microphone array allows the system to capture and record high quality sound and to accurately detect where voices are originating in the room. It also lets you chat without a headset. But there's another even more impressive use.
With the Camera, you can control the PlayStation 4 using voice commands. You can also do this with the mono headset that comes standard with the PS4, but then it's harder to pretend you're the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise barking orders at a computer.
At launch, the PS4 supports six languages for voice control:
- English (both U.S. and U.K.)
- European French
- European Spanish
To enable this functionality, you have to check "Operate PS4 with Voice" in the PS4's system settings. There are currently a few simple voice commands built into the system. Saying "PlayStation" will ready your game system to receive a vocal command, and a list of possible choices will show up next to a blue-lit microphone icon. The choice of commands will differ depending upon where you are when you invoke voice recognition (for instance, from the home screen versus a running game).
Possible commands include:
- The name of a game or app (to select it)
- "Log In"
- "Home Screen"
- "Back to game"
- "Yes" and "No"
- "Take Screenshot"
"Take screenshot" within a game does exactly what that phrase implies, although game developers can make some areas of games off limits to screenshots if they wish. PS4 allows you to send screenshots to other PS4, PS Vita and PlayStation App users, and you can use the Camera or headset to record voice messages to go along with them. "Back to game" will also take you back to the last opened app if you were previously running something other than a game.
You can disable or enable voice recognition with the controller's L2 button, or you can opt to use the controller instead at any time. Voice recognition also disables itself after 10 seconds if the user doesn't utter any commands.
And voice isn't the only novel way the PlayStation Camera lets you control your system. Read on to find out about the console's handy video features.
Video Features of the PlayStation Camera
The PlayStation Camera provides facial recognition, motion control and video capture capabilities to the PS4.
With the Camera, PS4 can scan your face and log you into your user profile, once you set it up to do so. When you enable facial recognition in settings, the Camera will find and highlight your face on the screen and the console will take you through a few steps to record your face data. For optimal recording, you're advised to sit around 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from the Camera, to make sure there is ample light in the room (but no strong light behind you), that your hair doesn't touch your eyebrows, and that the lenses of the camera are clean and free of the protective film that ships affixed to them. It will then go through a calibration process that asks you to tilt, turn and nod your head in various directions. You can even go back later and add additional face data to your user profile under different conditions to increase accuracy, and the system allows face data for multiple user profiles. The information is housed on your PS4 and according to Sony it will not be shared.
But facial recognition isn't the only nifty feature. The device is able to use its dual cameras to perceive depth in the 3-D environment of your room and to capture 3-D images. Additionally, the DualShock 4 light bar lights up as a distinct color for each user based on the order the controller is connected. Player one is blue, two is red, three is green and four is pink. The PS Camera has the ability to recognize the color on the controller to help it pinpoint the position of each player in the room, taking the place of one of the functions of the previous Move motion controller, for still more accurate motion and location sensing.
PlayStation Camera also allows you to display your image on screen during game play and live-streaming, a feature you can find out more about in the next section.
Gaming with the PlayStation Camera
As of January 2014, there aren't yet many games for the PS4 that utilize the Camera for gameplay, although hopefully more are in the works.
"Just Dance 2014," a four-player party dancing game, is the first one that will fully support the new Camera as a standalone input device. You can also use the older Move controllers with the game in conjunction with the Camera for more accurate motion capture. Other upcoming PS4 titles that will purportedly support the Move are "Octodad: Dadliest Catch" and "Sportsfriends." The Camera can also be used to capture your image during profile setup in the racing game "Driveclub."
If you don't have any games that utilize the PlayStation Camera yet, there's always "The Playroom," which comes pre-installed on the PS4. It provides interactive demonstrations of what you can do with the DualShock 4 Controller and the Camera. However, if you don't have the PlayStation Camera, all you can do in "The Playroom" is watch a demonstration of the controller and Camera features.
The less exciting choices in the Playroom include "Camera Setup," which is -- surprise! -- the initial camera setup for using Playroom, and "Controller Check," which demonstrates the features of the DualShock 4 controller, including the light bar, touchpad, motion, rumble and speaker features.
"The Playroom" also includes three entertaining game and game-like activities:
- "AR Hockey" is a two-player game that resembles "Pong." You move the paddle up and down with the touch pad to hit or block the ball, and you continuously change the dimensions of the play area by moving your controller in various directions.
- "Play with Asobi" allows you to interact with a single flying (and occasionally retributive fire-throwing) pet robot called Asobi.
- "AR Bots" lets you play with a bunch of cute, identical augmented reality (AR) robots that apparently live in your controller. You can see them inside the DualShock 4 (on screen), reacting to your controller motions. You can throw them out of the controller and into your living room one-by-one with a swipe of the touchpad. They will interact with you (via your gestures), each other and their surrounding environment. You can even draw simple objects on a PlayStation Vita or with the PlayStation App on a mobile device, throw them onto the screen and watch the little bots play with them.
The Camera will also let you include a close-cropped picture-in-picture video of yourself, along with voice narration, while you live-stream your gameplay via Twitch or Ustream. However, at least as of early 2014, you can't narrate recorded footage after the fact.
There is a "share" button on the DualShock 4 controller that allows you to choose to broadcast your gameplay, and you press it, you can choose what service to use and whether you want to include your personal audio and video. The audio will be captured by the Camera unless you also have a headset connected, in which case the audio will default to the headset microphone. You can stream your gameplay without the Camera, just without video of yourself. And as mentioned earlier, you can take screenshots of your gameplay via voice command, as well.
The Twitch live-streaming service has banned "The Playroom" from streaming, at least temporarily, due to a lot of non-game related, and sometimes disturbing, footage that was streamed shortly after the launch of PS4 [sources: McCormick, Slashgear].
How Camera Differs from Its Predecessors: The EyeToy and the Eye Camera
PlayStation's motion sensing camera has gone through three iterations, each with its own name and form factor.
The Playstation 2 EyeToy USB Camera was released in 2003, well before the Xbox Kinect, which came out in 2010. EyeToy uses a single camera along with special motion tracking software to place an image of your body in a game environment. It tracks your movements in 2-D, meaning where your hands and other parts are located on the flat plane of the screen, allowing you to manipulate objects in a game to score points.
In fact, all of the camera iterations use sophisticated algorithms to display your image on the screen and let you manipulate a virtual game environment in various ways. The environment just got a lot less two dimensional than where it started with EyeToy.
Sony released the PlayStation Eye Camera in 2007 for its PlayStation 3 console. It was a similar, single camera motion sensing unit, but more bubbly in shape. In 2010, the company released PlayStation Move controllers that worked in conjunction with Eye to greatly augment its capabilities. The Eye could sense 3-D motion by detecting the position and relative size of a glowing ball at the end of the Move controller. The ball also glowed in various colors so that the Eye could differentiate between players.
In early press releases from Sony, the latest generation camera was referred to as the PlayStation 4 Eye, but the name was changed to PlayStation Camera before it launched in late 2013. And it underwent some major changes from the two previous versions.
The shape changed entirely; it became much smaller and it incorporated the second camera, giving it the ability to sense depth on its own without something like the Move. But it can also sense the DualShock 4 controller's light bar, or even the old Move controller, for added accuracy and user differentiation.
The EyeToy only incorporated a single microphone for recording basic voice messages to go along with video, but the PlayStation Eye and the new PlayStation Camera both have four-microphone arrays for sophisticated voice capture and player detection.
The camera specs have predictably changed over the years, too. The EyeToy has 640 by 480 pixel resolution, and rather than fixed focus, its focus can be adjusted manually. The Eye captures 640 by 480 pixels at 60 fps or 320 by 240 pixels at 120 fps, and its field of view is either 56 degrees (normal) or 75 degrees (wide-angle), depending on whether it is zoomed in or out. Both modes are fixed-focus (not adjustable). PlayStation Camera stepped beyond these and into high-def with its max of 1280 by 800 pixels.
EyeToy came bundled with 12 games; many more came out for it and also for the Eye. PlayStation Eye could also be used with a well-received and free photo and video editing program called "EyeCreate" that allowed color-filtered, time lapse and stop-motion video capture. Time will tell if similarly useful programs will be released for the new PlayStation Camera.
How it Differs from Xbox One Kinect
The device that draws the most direct comparison to the PlayStation Camera is rival Microsoft's Xbox One Kinect, Xbox One's motion and voice control peripheral device (referred to by some as Kinect 2.0, since it is the next-generation version of the Xbox 360 Kinect).
The two most obvious differences are that the new Kinect comes standard with the Xbox One, whereas the PlayStation Camera is an optional accessory, and that the new Kinect is much larger and cannot be placed on top of your television. But there are some notable, less visible technical differences, too.
Both devices incorporate high definition cameras, but Xbox One Kinect has a single ultra-wide-angle 1080p resolution video camera, higher than the 1280 by 800 (roughly 720p) of the PlayStation Camera's dual cameras.
Xbox One Kinect does have another camera, hidden behind the faceplate of the device, but it is actually an active infrared (IR) camera. Among other things, it gives the Xbox One better vision in the dark and allows it to cancel out ambient light that could otherwise interfere. PlayStation Camera will be more finicky than Kinect about environmental lighting levels as a result. The new Kinect also includes an IR Blaster that throws out IR rays, allowing it to do things like control your TV or cable box. PS4 and its Camera do not include IR capabilities at all, so they can't be controlled by a universal remote, and certainly can't control your other entertainment devices, although there is talk of a BlueTooth remote for PS4 in the future.
Features of the new Kinect are currently more integrated into the Xbox One system than is the case with the PS Camera and the PS4. There are more possible voice commands for Xbox One than for PlayStation 4 as of early 2014, and you can make them without any menus on-screen. You can even turn your Xbox on and off with a voice command. It sits in wait for the "Xbox on" command when it is off.
Xbox One Kinect will pan and zoom to follow you while you are voice chatting on Skype, whereas PlayStation Camera requires that you stay in one spot to keep your face on screen during game live-streaming.
Both the PS Camera and the new Kinect allow for automatic login via facial recognition. You apparently have to confirm with the controller on PlayStation 4, though. Both also include multi-microphone arrays for accurate voice recognition.
If you already own one of these next-generation gaming consoles and want voice and motion control, you'll end up using the one that works with whichever of the two systems you have. But it's worth looking into all the differences if you're still shopping around for a new game system.
Critical Response to the Device
Although there are very few games that can utilize the features of the PlayStation Camera as of January 2014, people seem to be impressed by the functionality demonstrated by the apps in "The Playroom." The AR interactivity both with the controller and with user gestures gets praise. Who wouldn't like to bat around cute little virtual robots in their own living room?
There is, however, a worry that because the PlayStation Camera does not come standard with the PlayStation 4, there is little incentive for game companies to spend time integrating special features for the accessory; there's no telling if people who would buy their games have the device. The general consensus seems to be that the Camera is fun and responsive, but that it isn't absolutely necessary.
There are a few potential problems, as well. By some accounts, low light situations decrease the ability of the device to recognize faces. Also, the facial recognition will sometimes log someone in who isn't the actual user, perhaps due to similar features. Facial recognition is not considered a security feature on the device at this point, so to truly secure your account, you need to set a passcode. Facial recognition can also apparently be thrown off if the user does something like put on a hat. But it does seem to work under other wardrobe change conditions, even removal of facial hair.
Although voice recognition reportedly works most of the time, commands sometimes have to be repeated, and ambient noise can cause interference. Still, some reports say that PlayStation Camera's voice control, with its simpler set of commands, works a little more consistently than Xbox One Kinect's.
So far, not many games utilize the Camera's capabilities, and its motion and voice sensing features aren't as integrated into PS4 as Kinect's are into Xbox One. But it does have some nice capabilities that might make it worthwhile, especially if you are into live streaming of games and would prefer not to use a headphone for voice.
And although initially the PS4 was not backward compatible with any games for previous PlayStation consoles, Sony has announced that it will be unveiling a service around summer 2014 that lets PS4 users stream older PlayStation games. Perhaps some of the EyeToy and Eye games will be updated to be Camera compatible.
In any case, as the PlayStation 4 is on the market longer, more games are bound to be released that utilize the cool features of the new PlayStation Camera. Until then, you can always have fun with live-streaming and robot swatting.
Author's Note: How the PlayStation Camera Works
All the cool new gaming features and accessories coming out lately make me think, "Welcome to the world of tomorrow!" With the PlayStation Camera and the rival Xbox One Kinect, our gaming systems can recognize our faces and our voices and respond accordingly. The latter can apparently even read your pulse. We only need program it to say, "Hello, Dave," when we walk into the room to increase the creep factor.
But I prefer to think about the more "Star Trek" like implications. Aside from the fact that I'd love to ditch the DDR dance pad and play a realistic martial arts game that actually taught me proper moves, maybe one day we'll be able to walk in and start asking our game consoles questions. "PlayStation, how many ounces are in a quart," or, "Xbox, find a recipe that uses endive and anchovies. I have extra." We're not quite there yet, but maybe one day. Until then, I'll just save up for a new system and ponder whether AR robots dream.
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