Sony PlayStation 4: More Impressions and Screenshots

Sony PlayStation 4: More Impressions and Screenshots

On day 3, finally, it all starts to work

48 hours after Sony's PlayStation 4 launched in the United States, the console is finally up and running properly: The PlayStation Network now works, you can install and sign into entertainment apps, and you can subscribe to PlayStation Plus to play multiplayer games. So it was a rough start, obviously. But looking past the launch hiccups, I give the PS4 a second chance to make a first impression.

But, boy, what a weekend. As I described in Sony PlayStation 4: First Impressions and Photos, nothing went right for Sony in day one of the PS4's life, and those problems continued throughout day two as well. I was away for most of Saturday, but my son attempted to download entertainment apps like Netflix and sign up for the free month of PlayStation Plus all day, failing continuously. By the time I went to bed on Saturday night, it was still completely broken.

And then today happened. Waking before the rest of the family, I turned on the PS4, not expecting much, and was surprised to discover that everything, finally, was working.

So here we are. 48 hours late.

Anyway, I won't let launch time jitters stand in the way of a fair evaluation. And while my review of this console is still quite some time away, I figured it might be worth a further discussion of this interesting device. So let's just pretend the last 48 hours didn't happen.

Note: I wasn't able to get my HDMI-based capture device connected properly with the PS4 for some reason, so I don't have the library of screenshots I was hoping to get. I'll work on this, but I was able to use the built-in Share functionality to laborious save a few shots to Facebook and then retrieve them.

OK, here are some quick "first" impressions...

Packaging. Nothing special here, and Sony's one-time humongous documentation packet has been replaced by the more common pamphlet-type documentation that accompanies most other consumer electronics products these days. I take no issue with that, and will point out that Sony actually includes an HDMI cable in the box—most unusual—and even a strange single earpiece headphone with microphone you can use with the controller. Nice.

Hardware design. The PS4 is an elegant black slab that is smaller than expected and smaller than the Xbox 360. Stylistically, it reminds me of Darth Vader, with angular edges and no obvious buttons. Most of the machine is finished in a matte surface, which is smart, but about a third of the top and front are a glossy finish that attract fingerprints. The machine runs very warm—almost hot—but is pretty quiet, with just a low fan noise. It's quieter than the Xbox 360.

Controller. The new Dual Shock controller is a big step up from previous PS controllers and now offers a trackpad, new Share and Options buttons, and truly usable triggers. It's still weirdly different from the Xbox controllers I prefer, and while I won't ding the PS4 for that—Sony fans are obviously used to this layout and size/shape—I find the different locations of the left sticks and d-pads to make switching between the consoles difficult.

Initial setup. As is so common these days with connected devices, you'll need to do a lot of configuration to get this thing up and running. There's a day one software update to install, you need to sign in to the PlayStation Network and PlayStation Plus (and/or subscribe to that service, if you wish to play multiplayer games). Games can be downloaded from the PlayStation Store online, which can be slow for newer titles, like Call of Duty: Ghosts, though I really appreciate that it asked whether I wanted to play single player or multiplayer first, and then downloaded as appropriate.

Hi-res textures in Call of Duty: Ghosts

User interface. Sony has evolved the terrible XrossMediaBar UI from previous PlayStation devices into the PlayStation Dynamic Menu, and while I assume the "dynamic" in that name means I can customize it more, I haven't figured that out. So far, the UI works much like that of its predecessor, offering both horizontal and vertical navigation between on-screen elements. It's simple enough, but I don't like how downloaded apps (Amazon Instant Video and Netflix) still sit in a grid next to apps I will never download (Redbox Instant). Again, I'll figure it out, but it's a bit odd.

Multitasking. Like the Xbox One, PS4 can do a few different things at once, and not just one thing. So you can play a game, tap the PlayStation button on the controller, and then appear instantly at the home UI and perform other actions. Want to jump right back into the game? Just tap the game tile and you're instantaneously back. There are some limits to this multitasking feature, however, and it's not like a Windows PC: You will occasionally be told that entering a new experience requires the console to completely shut down something else that's happening the background. But that's fine, and the ability to move in and out of apps, basically, as you do with other devices, is as obvious as it is freeing.

Apps. PS4 launches with a variety of entertainment app shortcuts—Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and 8 others—but none are installed by default. The Netflix interface is stunning, and is apparently shipping soon elsewhere, which is great as it's a huge and impressive change over previous Netflix user interfaces. I'm a bit surprised how different things like video playback controls and even the onscreen keyboard is between these apps, however. Some standardization would be preferable.

PlayStation Store. The PlayStation Store has just several new (and "full") games available so far, which makes sense since the console just launched, but the ability to get them (semi) immediately over the air is pretty neat. There are also smaller, cheaper and less involved "PSN" games, digital-only exclusives, and other games that will keep players busy. And of course Sony offers its own TV show and movie store, with purchases and rentals, and access to more entertainment apps. I'm a bit more curious about this stuff than the games, so I'll be investigating here further.

Live from PlayStation. This interesting feature lets you view live video game competitions as they happen over online networks such as Twitch and Ustream. This isn't my kind of thing, but son grocked it immediately—he said, "oh just like Twitch," before realizing that's what it was—and said it was a good way to learn more about the games you like. You can also interact with others watching the same live feed via a comment list.

Blu-ray. It's been a while since we've had a Blu-Ray player in the living room so I was curious to see how this worked. Visually and sonically, of course, it's stunning, but using the Dual Shock controller as a remote is miserable, with frequently mis-taps and no obvious way to make on-screen menus disappear. A remote is necessary.

More soon...

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