Sony PS4: Software and Interface
Sony PS4: SetupOne’s thing for sure, the PS4 is very easy to get up and running. Plug in the power cord, hook the HDMI into the TV and you are ready to go. The power supply is built-in, too, so there's a great deal less messing about trying to find somewhere to put the power bright -- an advantage over the Xbox One, which has an external brick.
Once you log in you will have to set up a Wi-Fi connection and install the system firmware 1.50 update. It takes around 15 minutes to install. Sony has already announced a 1.51 update to improve the stability of the software and make some UI tweaks and it’s likely that there will be more updates to come. Next you’ll need to set up the online features and that takes another 10 or so minutes so you will need to put aside 30 minutes before you can really explore.
If you are a PlayStation newbie, then you will need to set up a PSN (PlayStation Network) account. When setting up a profile you can choose to share your real name and Facebook profile in games or simply use your online ID and avatar. There’s also a strong privacy presence throughout the process where you can choose how much of your PSN activities to share like trophies or videos watched.
For PS3 and PS Vita PSN account holders with existing PSN logins it’s a far more straightforward process, and you can even carry over PlayStation Plus accounts when prompted. You can now add a pass code for another layer of security as well.
You can make the PS4 the primary console to store content that all users who use the console can access. Now you can login as either a registered PSN user or a guest. Up to four guests are supported on one console and they can all download games and apps. Once logged out, guest data is then removed from the system but the content remains on the hard drive.
Sony PS4: InterfaceIt’s fair to say that the XMB is not one of the PS3’s finer points and pales in comparison to the Xbox 360 dashboard. Sony has done away with the XMB interface and introduced the PlayStation Dynamic Menu. It’s cleaner, quicker and much easier to navigate around. Thankfully, game downloads and updates can now take place in the background.
There’s still the horizontal bars with the main one showcasing a socially integrated What’s New section, current and recently played games, web browser, TV, Video, PlayRoom, Live from PlayStation and a Library. Highlighting any of these sections and hitting down expands the detail on a game you are playing or a list of downloaded apps. Up top there’s the PlayStation Store, notifications, trophies (including PS3 trophies), messages, chat, settings, profile and power.
Sony has not fixed everything, though. It still has the same clunky web browser as the PS3 and it has still not addressed the problem of neatly organizing content with some form of Android or iOS-style folder system. Overall, we are pleased with the changes made so far, but this is an area the Xbox One trumps the PS4 -- Microsoft has clearly spent more time fine-tuning this aspect. Of course, hardcore gamers probably don't give two hoots about any of this, but given the amount of time you'll spend in these menus it's a small, but not totally irrelevant point.
PS4 launch appsSony has included 11 apps on the PlayStation store for the UK launch and they are all available to use without having to subscribe to PlayStation Plus. Along with the Music and Video Unlimited services, there’s IGN, BBC iPlayer, Vidzone, Amazon, LoveFilm, Netflix, BBC Sports, BBC News and Demand 5.
A quick download of BBC iPlayer, BBC Sports and Demand 5 apps shows everything is in working order. They all work in a very similar way to their PS3 app equivalents, but crucially load video content much quicker. User interfaces still look a little on the clunky side so there’s clearly still some work to be done to make it feel as slick as the Dynamic Menu.
Overall, it’s a reasonable bunch with some notable omissions like 4oD and Sky Go although that was not previously supported on the PS3. The biggest absentee is YouTube, an app the Xbox One is receiving at launch. It also means currently you can’t directly upload game footage to the video-sharing site, which is a blow given the emphasis on sharing game footage with the dedicated share button on the controller. Hopefully Sony will remedy this with further updates next year.
PS4: PlayStation NetworkThe PlayStation Store has been through numerous makeovers and it’s only in the last 12 to 18 months where it has truly felt like something as slick as Xbox Live. The UK version of PSN is now up and running and it doesn't stray too far from the US version. It’s much of the same on the PS3. There’s a side navigation bar and on the right a stream of games. The sidebar let’s you search through games, movies, TV shows and apps.
Of course, social integration is going to be a big part of Sony’s PS4 plans as it lets you link up Twitter and Facebook to feed into other features and the UI. Another new social feature is Party chat where you can talk to up to 8 people -- including people using a PS Vita -- to interact whether they are playing games or watching a movie. These are small but welcome improvements to the PSN experience.
All of which ignores the biggest development: the fact you will now require PlayStation Plus to access multiplayer gaming. You can pay £5.49 for a 1 month subscription, £11.99 for three months and £39.99 for 12 months.
Again, we are still waiting for the service to be updated in the UK to get a better idea on how well online gaming works in comparison to the PS3, where there is certainly room for improvement. We'll be updating this part of the review once we've had more time to give it a go.
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