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Sony PlayStation 4: Hands-on preview

I have the seen the future – and it isn’t the PS4. If, however, you’re looking for a console that’s easy to set up, puts games at the forefront, and makes sharing screenshots and live gameplay video almost too easy, then the PlayStation 4 is a very fine choice indeed. Read on for our hands-on impressions of Sony’s eighth-generation PlayStation, along with lots of pretty photos of the interface and PS4 exclusives Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack.

Very slick, with bouts of lag

For the most part, the PS4 is a very slick console. The interface is snappy. The DualShock 4 is probably the nicest controller I’ve ever held. Logging in with facial recognition is surprisingly quick and snappy. Controlling the PS4 with voice commands (“PlayStation, home screen!”) is fairly painless. Being able to flip from a game to the main menu and then back to the game with the PS button is impressively quick and easy.

At times, though, the PS4 slows to a crawl. For some reason, the PSN sign-up process – which is just scrolling through selection boxes and typing on an on-screen keyboard – feels laggy, as if it’s streaming the whole thing from online. Sometimes, on the main menu, the d-pad isn’t responsive – and there’s no indication for why that’s so; no loading bars, no grinding noises from the console’s optical drive, etc.

I suspect this is mainly caused by lots of on-screen content being downloaded from the Internet – and if your Internet connection is a bit slow, then the Interface in turn becomes laggy.

This could be a major issue on launch day in a fortnight’s time, when thousands of people hammer Sony’s servers, or if you happen to be in an area where Wi-Fi channels are congested.

Beyond the lagginess, the only real issue with the PS4’s interface is the menu system itself: It’s still pretty much just a big mess of unorganised boxes that you have to scroll through. In general, though, the PS4’s interface feels surprisingly polished for a launch console.

Installing and playing games

While it’s still not quite as simple as an old-school cartridge-based console, playing games on the PS4 is pretty quick and painless. Slot in the game disc, allow the game to perform any required updates (on launch day you will have to install quite a few updates), and then the game will install. Once the game is installed, games load quickly – but in the case of Killzone: Shadow Fall (pictured above), there are some non-skippable cut-scenes while the game loads in the background. Knack loads and is ready to play very quickly.

Once both games are running, there’s no sign of frame rate slowdown or anything like that. Neither game is all that visually impressive, though. Killzone is certainly quite attractive, but the graphics are not PC-grade and you’d be hard pressed to see a big difference over the PS3. It’s fairly clear by this point that neither the Xbox One or PS4 will have impressive launch games, but that seems to be par for the course over the last two generations (if you exclude the Wii and Zelda: Twilight Princess).

Social sharing via Twitter, Twitch

If you’re into sharing screenshots, gameplay videos, or broadcasting your gameplay live, you’ll like the PS4. By hitting the Share button on the DualShock 4 controller, you can very easily (in just three button presses) share a screenshot via Twitter or Facebook. If you’re in a game, you have the option of sharing a screenshot, capturing a video, or broadcasting to Twitch or Ustream. It is very, very easy to share your gameplay on the PS4.

Sharing isn’t perfect, though. The screenshots – check out the one above which was shared from Killzone 4: Shadow Fall – are low resolution (1024 x 576) and heavily compressed. If you record video to the PS4’s internal hard drive, image quality is pretty good (full-res I think), but it probably records at 20-25 fps, rather than 60 fps. Live gameplay uploaded to Twitch/Ustream is low-res (probably 480p) and heavily compressed. This is something that Sony could improve on in the future, though – perhaps when it has a better idea of the bandwidth demands presented by millions of concurrent PS4 streamers.

Odds and ends

What follows is simply a list of other cool features and quirks that don’t fit into the above categories.

The reflection of the light bar on the back of the DualShock 4 is very visible on the TV. You probably won’t notice it much in lighter scenes, but it’s very visible when your screen is dark.

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So far, the PS4 and its games seem to make very little use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad. There are obvious cases where you’d like to scroll or pan with the touchpad (such as the built-in web browser), but for some reason it just hasn’t been enabled. Clicking the touchpad isn’t a fantastic experience either.

The console manages multiple users very smoothly. If you have multiple controllers, each controller is essentially paired with a user – so if you want to log in, just pick up your controller and press the PS button. In local multiplayer games, additional players can join games very easily just by pressing the PS button. In general, the multi-user experience is very well executed on the PS4.

For more on Sony's console, check out our closer look at the PlayStation 4 teardown, where we marvel at Sony's excellent design skills. You might also want to read our piece entitled the Xbox One versus PlayStation 4: Hardware, launch games, and media features compared. We'll have our full PS4 review ready for you soon.