Trust me, you want to buy the camera
Before we move on from hardware, I want to take a moment to discuss the new PlayStation Camera. It's an optional accessory—you have to shell out $60 for one since they don't come packed in with the console—but after bringing one home for testing I have a hard time recommending you purchase a PS4 without it.
The new camera functions much like a proto-Kinect: You can use it to participate in voice chat, log into your machine via face recognition, issue voice commands to the built-in microphone, or play motion-controlled games like Just Dance 2014 and the preinstalled Sony Playroom tech demo.
While the lexicon of voice commands the PS4 understands is relatively meager, I predict it will be patched pretty quickly to support a broader vocabulary and become competitive with the Xbox One's impressive voice control system. You can tell it to take a screenshot or launch a game, for example, but it can't recognize common commands like "Netflix" or "Power off."
Sharing is worth caring about
But that's not why you should invest in a PlayStation Camera. You need it to get the most out of the PS4's built-in sharing features, specifically streaming gameplay via Twitch and Ustream. While you can stream gameplay footage just fine sans camera, you'll be able to communicate with viewers only via voice chat or by clumsily typing out messages using the gamepad. Connecting a camera to your console allows you to inset a live feed of your play area into the stream, which lets you liven up your broadcast by bringing people over to play games together and talk to viewers about what's going on in the stream.
These are the things YouTube stars are made of.
You can start streaming at any time with a tap of the Share button, a physical manifestation of Sony's decision to embrace online communities and the burgeoning game-streaming culture. It's worth noting that you can't stream or capture screenshots/video of apps or the system interface. You can only share your experience playing games (not streaming media apps) but you can do so with unprecedented ease.
The Share button is configurable, but by default you can hit it at any time to bring up a menu for uploading screenshots or video clips to your social networks, as well as capturing them if the game allows. Developers can selectively disable capture functions.
You can capture a screenshot or continue capturing a video clip. The system is constantly recording video with a 15-minute buffer, so hitting the Share button lets you immediately edit/share a clip of your last 15 minutes of gameplay. Or you can start streaming your gameplay live on Twitch or uStream. For now you can grant the PS4 access to only your Twitter and Facebook accounts, though we'll hopefully see more services integrated soon. (I'm looking at you, YouTube.)
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