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With so much coverage and promotional attention on PlayStation 4's lineup of Day One games, we've been anxiously awaiting any tasty morsel of information about PS4's user interface and operating system. From Remote Play to broadcasting live gameplay, from friend activity feeds to multitasking, promises about what the system can do are in abundance.
With only three days left until launch, we've gone hands-on with PS4 at a review event in New York City. After an extended live demonstration of PS4's various applications, I left the room with pages of notes, many questions answered, and more than a few still burning. Regardless, I've got buckets of information to share about the PS4 experience, from speed to stability and everything in between.
This article will be a living document: as I learn more about PS4 in the coming days and go hands-on with my personal console, I'll continue to update the list below with things I discover. You can help! Drop any question about the PS4 operating system and user interface in the comments section below, and I'll answer from my personal experience or endeavor to figure it out.
PS4 USER INTERFACE, OPERATING SYSTEM, AND FEATURES
Signing in via face recognition took about six seconds on the demonstrator's first attempt. As my face and the demonstrator's looked somewhat similar, the camera's "box" focus lingered on me for a beat before detecting the light bar of the DualShock 4 controller beneath the correct user's face. The camera uses both indicators to find the user, but logging in via PlayStation Camera is totally optional.
The What's New tab displays recent activity of all varieties from your PSN friends. From purchases to Trophies, video clips to current broadcasts, it's all there. There was noticeable lag while scrolling down the What's New feed, likely due to the large number of thumbnails and video clips loading simultaneously. I say this because...
...PS4 is lightning fast in just about everything it does. From jumping between apps with a double press of the PS button to moving through tabs and accessing menus, everything about the PlayStation 4 Dynamic Menu operates almost instantaneously.
Double-tapping the PS button will move back-and-forth between your two most recently used apps instantly. Killzone, Netflix. Killzone, Netflix. <--- My Friday night.
The PlayStation Store is also much faster, now a native feature of the OS instead of a separate application, as on PS3. Moving between items on the PS Store was remarkably smooth with almost no input lag. Any framerate drops or delays were effectively imperceptible, with the stability of your internet connection likely making the biggest difference in loading PS Store assets.
Every game and most applications have a "Content Info Area" that, similar to the What's New feed, displays context-appropriate options and recent activity of your PSN friends. For example, the first option in Killzone: Shadow Fall's "Content Info Area" was to auto-join a Warzone multiplayer match. If you're currently in single-player gameplay, the game will warn you before you make the jump to multiplayer--probably, the usual "OK to lose recent progress?" message.
Speaking of Killzone, jumping from the menu to Killzone's campaign, which was running in the background, was instantaneous. The blue screen of the menu vanished as the game video filled the screen. Fractions of a second to jump to between the Dynamic Menu and whatever you're playing. That's it.
Visually, the PlayStation Store is identical to the PS3 storefront. As mentioned above, it's remarkably faster, to the point where it feels like simply navigating a menu vs. loading lists. It's a world of difference.
PlayAsYouDownload, the feature that lets you download only a small part of game data before jumping in, is a requirement for game content above a certain size threshold. Some games, like Call of Duty: Ghosts, will give you the option to specifically play either single-player or multiplayer while the other portion downloads in the background. This is totally determined by the individual developer/publisher.
If you're a PlayStation Plus subscriber, the system will check any game played in the last three months for patch data. Any available patches will be downloaded and installed in the background while you go about your business.
All videos purchased or rented through the PlayStation Store, as well as all video clips recorded from gameplay, are stored on the Sony cloud. There is no local storage for any of this media content.
It is not a requirement that every PS4 game be available both digitally and at retail; at least, not for third-party publishers. However, every launch game is available digitally and Sony expects that publishers will only opt not to provide a digital version in very rare circumstances, if ever.
A Library tab on the home menu lists all games and applications installed on the system. The main row of tabs, starting with What's New on the far left, houses the most recently used applications and games in order of use.
The PS4's angular design was intended to make the power button easier to push while simultaneously hiding the ports at the console's rear.
Booting up PS4 occurs with three colors of light on the strip between the matte and reflective surfaces. Orange means standby mode. Pulsing blue indicates the system is booting up. White means the system is ready and you can sign-in.
By my count, it takes about 15 seconds to reach the PS4's Welcome (sign-in) screen from a zero-power state.
You can play as a Guest on PS4. At the Welcome login screen, you can indicate that you're a Guest. As a Guest, you can still sign-in to PSN with your own account and access all of your cloud data--saves, movies, games, the works. When you earn Trophies, they sync. When you progress in your games, the save file syncs. Then, when you hit the road, your login credentials are deleted from the system--but all of your stuff is on the cloud, ready to be used wherever the winds of fate take you.
Your PSN profile picture can be pulled from Facebook or taken with the PS Camera. You can manually enter details like real name instead of linking with Facebook.
Voice commands with PS Camera are activated by saying "PlayStation," which opens a small window at the bottom of the screen with suggestions. As you jump between apps and menus, the available commands change. For example, you can say, "PlayStation, Killzone." to move over to the Killzone: Shadow Fall tab, then "Start" to begin playing.
You can press L2 instead of saying "PlayStation" to activate voice shortcuts.
Some of the many options among system settings include viewing Notifications, Invitations, Downloads, Uploads, and Friend Requests.
You can attach screenshots to messages.
You can take screenshots with a voice command or the Share button.
If you're using Music Unlimited while playing a game, video recording or broadcasting will mute that audio.
The Share button is totally disabled while watching videos.
Trophy Rarity is a new thing that tracks how many PS4 owners with a certain game have earned a given Trophy in that game. Much like popular Trophy profile sites, this gives each Trophy a classification--Common, Uncommon, Rare, Very Rare, Ultra Rare--along with a percentage to show exactly how many people have earned a given Trophy.
There is a ton of settings for privacy and feature customization. You can enable or disable audio capture through the PS Camera during broadcasting. There are typical options for parental controls and network settings.
There's an option to "Add Devices" in the PS4's settings. It's definitely used for tablets and smartphones (second-screen features), and maybe for paired PS Vitas, as well?
You can choose to enable or disable the video feed from the PS Camera. You can make the same choice for microphone audio. It seems that regular microphones, wired through the DualShock 4 controller or the PS4's optical port, can add audio to streams as an alternative to the PS Camera.
While streaming to Twitch, the comments on your console and on Twitch.tv are the same feed. That means you have to have a Twitch account to comment, and perhaps watch, other gamers' Twitch streams if you're watching from your console.
The delay between actual gameplay and Twitch streaming is anywhere from 5 to 20 seconds, according to Senior UX Producer Shunsuke Kunieda.
The Live from PlayStation app is your gateway to all live gameplay. A menu along the left edge of the screen sorts broadcasts into console, interactive, Twitch, and Ustream categories. Within each, all activity across PlayStation Network can be found, though there are sorting options. You can also search for a particular user.
You can manually control music volume in-game by hitting the PS button to bring up the new PS menu.
Developers have the ability to disable custom music playback. Sony expects this in cases where a developer wants to immerse you in a particular experience, or when music is very important to gameplay (a la Just Dance 2014).
This app uses an "adaptive bit rate service" called DASH to dynamically change stream quality based on connection speed and help ensure as few pauses as possible.
PS4 video content is streaming only. There is no local storage of movies and TV shows, even though you can currently do this on PS3.
A Speed Test feature will gauge your connection and make an HD or SD purchase recommendation based on the results.
Initial start-up time for videos, with license check included, is about 7 to 10 seconds. According to Sony, this is "industry leading."
The Options button on the DualShock 4 brings up subtitle options, closed captioning, and other such things during video playback.