The PS4's unique shape is for aesthetics and functionality, as we were told yesterday during Sony's launch event for their long-awaited new home console. The PlayStation 4's slanted design makes it easier for users to hit its power button and to slightly cover the wires on the rear of the unit. The power bar is inside the console so there's no brick on the power cable. Along the top and face of the console there's a semi-transparent line down the front which lights up to indicate the status of the device. Blue is powering on while orange represents standby mode.
The latter is important to the new ways players can operate the console, while actually not using the console. While in standby, the PS4 can turn on by itself and download games purchased on a PS Vita or a mobile device via the PlayStation app, no matter where you are when making the purchase. At night, during the hours of 2-4am, the console will also exit standby to download updates automatically. PlayStation Plus subscribers (a paid subscription is now required to play games online) get the added bonus of having the system keep up to date with any game they've played in the prior three months.
When turning the system on, users select a profile to sign-in with just as they do on the PS3, but there's now an option to sign in as a guest. Choosing guest lets other players with PlayStation accounts sign into someone else's PS4 with their account without having to worry about needing to deleting the profile later. Once they're done, the profile is signed out and removed with no remnants left on that other console. For users who buy and attach the PlayStation 4 Eye peripheral, they can setup the console to sign in via facial recognition as well.
Users do not however, need the Eye camera to take advantage of voice controls. The mic/headset that comes with new purchases of PlayStation 4 (or any third-party headset that works with the system) can be used for voice controls to navigate the interface or perform certain functions as well.
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The PS4 aims to push social media and it begins with the new landing page, dubbed the What's New screen. It's a wall of social updates (pictured just above) that's catered to a user based on their interests. Killzone: Shadow Fall fans for example, will see more friend accomplishments or postings about that title. These can be sorted and any post can be selected for more information. Developers have the ability to post news, highlight events and promote DLC, etc. on their respective game pages.
PS4 profiles can be linked to Twitter and Facebook and on Day One, these are the only accounts where users can share screenshots. For video sharing, only Facebook will work at launch. The third sharing function is live broadcasting and here players can stream out to their Twitch or Ustream account, and include a link to the broadcast to their Facebook or Twitter pages.
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While streaming, players can use the Eye peripheral should they want to broadcast an image of themselves while playing and they can turn on the mic to allow for live commentary during play. In our demo, we broadcasted ourselves and then watched it live via the Twitch.tv website on a tablet. Streamers can opt in to have viewer comments display on the screen as they play as well if they're feeling interactive.
The resolution seemed blurry but it's our understanding that it supports 720p video. We also watched via the console another playing playing Knack and we could could leave comments as he played. Some games we were told, will even allow for interaction elements although no examples were provided. There's an 'Interact' button on the screen while we were streaming the other player's footage.
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The PlayStation 4 always records the most recent 15 minutes of gameplay footage and at anytime, users can hit the share button and share a clip from that footage by uploading the entire 15 minutes (that's the max) or trimming down a short interval of it using the simple editor.
Users can pick and choose what activities they see on their What's New screen and what information they want to show up in their own activity feeds. For Facebook postings of videos or screenshots, players can select what group(s) of Facebook friends the messages will show up for - by custom group, by players who have the same game, etc. When browsing recordings or screenshots, users can sort by game or by most recent.
PS4 player profiles pull real-name info and photos from their Facebook profiles but users can control what information they want to share. Other players won't be able to see your personal info without first sending a request. Facebook is the only method of the PS4 grabbing real-world photos even if you have the PS4 Eye camera, so for users without Facebook, there's a predefined gallery of avatar images to choose from.
The PlayStation 4 lets users form parties of up to 8 players, cross-platform with voice support between PS4 and Vita users, no matter what application or game they are in. Another interesting change is in trophies - there's now a percentage rarity level associated with every trophy that's constantly changing based on how many players around the world who have said game, have acquired the trophy.
In terms of online connectivity, the browser on the PS4 seemed faster than the PS3's but still oddly slow for what internet users expect from using a browser on PC/Mac or any other device. Setting up remote play on the PS Vita also requires a bit of a wait but once it's on, the gameplay is nearly seamless. Streaming gameplay video to Twitch or Ustream however, does of course come with a few seconds lag just as it does on PC.
As for the core interface design, the layout of features and easier accessibility of basic functions, social feeds, apps, store and sharing making the PS4 a much more user-friendly device than its predecessor. Buttons or tiles as they appear on screen are bigger, easier to read and quick to respond and the hardware gives users even more ways to interact with it all, and to interact with other players while doing so.
For more, read our preview of the PlayStation 4 Eye and The PlayRoom. Stay tuned for our PS4 reviews beginning Friday.
PlayStation 4 releases November 15, 2013.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @rob_keyes.