The PlayStation 4 – Part 1 – Hardware and UI

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With our pre-orders placed back in July and after months of commentating and speculating on our podcast, finally the 29th of November arrived. A date we have hotly anticipated as the moment we got our grubby little mits on Sony’s fourth iteration of their PlayStation console. Having lived with it for a week now I thought it would be fitting to get some words down about the console in general and the gaming experiences I’ve had so far. This first part focuses on the console itself, my first impressions on the games available at launch will be coming next week.

Aesthetics.

As one would expect, the media has spent a good deal of time comparing the PS4 to the XBox One on every level, its outward appearance being no exception. PS4 consoleVisually it seems to combine a retro feel with a contemporary slant quite literally. The surfaces are sleek and clean, for a while at least, the reflective quarter seems to boggle physics by drawing every particle of dust in your living room toward it like a black hole, if you are a clean freak be prepared to run a rag over it regularly. The LED strip that indicates the console’s on status (or if you are really unlucky its error status) makes it all a little sci-fi, this and other little details I really approve of as it really highlights the thought a due care that has gone into every bit of this console and it’s controller.

The DualShock 4.

If you have listened to our podcast you may be aware my initial encounter with the DS4 was a little underwhelming, as was my time with the Xbox One controller. Looking back at Eurogamer I think my experience with it was marred somewhat by the games I played on it. Now that I have a DS4 of my own I can safely say it is a worthy peer to the 360 controller, the ergonomics of the controller’s provide a surprisingly comfortable grip (something Sony in my opinion has never been good with). The thumbstick orientation is great too, no more unnaturalPS4 DualShock 4 Controller stretching or finger bumping, keeping on the thumbsticks the resistance they provide is quite something making movements more accurate than anything to come before. The triggers too have had some major thought put in, they offer more travel and feel more analogue than digital, if this is the case it could be interesting to see how future games may implement them, for example in a shooter using them to fire semi auto with a half press rather than changing firing modes on the D-Pad.

For me the face buttons offer a similar experience to that of it predecessor, which is no bad thing and the D-Pad actually edges that of the DS3, something I didn’t think was possible. My one gripe would be the options and share buttons are a bit of a reach and certainly I haven’t managed to hit them without looking at the pad, I guess practice will overcome that but with a controller like this that makes everything else feel so natural and well placed this is a niggle keeping it from a perfect score.

The touchpad I have used relatively little so can’t comment on, other than to say that it feels sparsely implemented so far and as it stands may turn out to be more of a gimmick than essential feature. However I could be proven wrong here as I was by the controller in general which stands side by side with my beloved 360 as a tour de force in pad design.

The User Interface

A ghost of the PS3 XMB is still evident in the new UI which, unlike the XMB, is a mostly utilitarian affair. Still flowing sideways the dash is split into two primary rows, PS4 UIthe upper is where all the functional stuff is like your notifications, settings, party, friends and PS store reside. The row below is where the fun happens, all your games are tiled out in horizontally and admittedly this could get a little messy as your library expands but your 5 most recent are place right up front which, unless you are a gaming butterfly, should minimise that ‘Sony scroll’ as much as possible.

Navigation is much breezier than the PS3, eternal lists are far less evident (bar the aforementioned gaming bar and the settings menu which is a touch long-winded)  where you mostly just select, click and in you go. The whole thing is, as you might expect given the beefy internals, extremely snappy and pretty satisfying to move through, offering little to no wait time loading up menus. Design wise, Sony have chosen the very trendy super flat tile look so common in the tech world today, you just have to look at their competitors Microsoft’s console and indeed any mobile OS nowadays to see this aesthetic dominate. I have to say I like it as it gives the dash a crisp appearance.

With social media now infiltrating every part of our modern lives Sony has dished up a more integrated experience in the PS4, right from the outset you can choose to connect with social behemoth Facebook and, if you choose to do so, will pull your profile pic from the site to replace your PSN avatar. The integration runs deeper than that too as the share button (more on this later) will post gameplay videos and images directly to Facebook and indeed Twitter meaning you friends/followers get to share in/be annoyed by your finest gaming moments.

Even the What’s New section mimics Facebook by taking the familiar look of the Timeline and filling it with what you and your friends have been up to on their Whats New ScreenPlayStations, its great for seeing what people have been playing and checking your friends recent trophies or being satisfied when it posts your Resogun high-score. For a Social Media lover such as myself this is possibly one of my favourite features. I will mention it is not all rosy, some features you may have grown accustomed to on your PS3 are distinctly absent. The ability to play MP3’s, set up media servers or watch 3D blu-rays are all lacking from the PS4 at launch. Sony says they are coming down the pipe which if you are an optimist could be viewed as Sony wanting to get the newer features right, or if you are a cynic a ploy to push their Music and Video Unlimited services. Whichever side you take, if you are one of the few who actually gets the media server to work reliably then it looks like the PS3 will have to remain plugged in for now.

Speaking of the proprietary “Unlimited” media subscriptions the PS4 comes with 30 day trials of each, for kicks I thought I would try to see whether it was actually unlimited. Both myself and my girlfriend tested the Music App by searching some really obscure artists we thought it couldn’t possibly have, to our surprise it found us some music by each artist. However we did hit a limit in a sense, in one instance it find an artist but not the particular song we were looking for. We will take that as a partial win, though I think it proves we are more mainstream than we thought.

One honourable mention and my favourite function on the PS4 is the share button, this feature is what boosts this machine from a just console with upgraded horsepower to something truly next-gen. Provided you have set up your twitchPS4 Share Button previously then streaming gameplay takes literally 30 seconds to initiate, it can be done on a whim and takes literally no effort. Experiencing a particularly lovely vista in-game? a couple of taps and you have shared the view with your Twitter followers. Just mowed down a ton of enemies or performed a counter-stab in Battlefield 4? Hit the share button and have that moment immortalized and posted to Facebook. Simple. Brilliant.

So far I have been very impressed by the PS4 and can’t wait to see what else Sony has up it’s sleeve, once I can view 3D Blu-ray then myself (and the 23 other people who adopted 3D and use it) will be very happy.

Have you recently picked up a PS4 or next-gen console?  Think I have missed something? Share your thoughts in the comments.Thanks.

To read Part of our PS4 Review on free games Click Here