The PlayStation 3 runs with the award-winning and yet awkwardly boring XrossMediaBar (XMB) as the central hub for user interaction. Whether it’s sending friend requests, replying to messages, or using the various entertainment options on the console, Sony’s XMB is the one stop shop for finding everything fun and technical. Scrolling through the various icons neatly sorted by category works, but it would be hard to defend the bland design or robotic execution of the user interface. Sure, a console owner could glam up the backgrounds with themes and custom sounds, but the overall “feel” of the XMB would remain the same.
The PlayStation 4 runs with an evolved version of XMB that’s been injected with super social gaming steroids and cut up with expensive plastic surgery. The core features remain the same with options being arranged along a grid and grouped together by category. However, with the addition of streaming services (Twitch has been confirmed for the PS4), individual game hubs (see how your friends beat a level or get direct help from them!), an enhanced friends list for communication (during games, through your phone, cross-game chat), and a much better on-screen keyboard, the new interface is a recipe for super happy fun times.
Super Happy Fun Times
During Gamescom 2013 (where the PS4’s release date was announced), the new user interface for the PlayStation 4 was properly shown off with Sony’s Shuhei Yoshida at the helm. At first glance, the new UI is much more vibrant and colorful than its predecessor with simpler menus and larger icons for easier navigation.
Once a player enters into his profile and selects a game, he is greeted with an expanded game hub where trophies, recent activities, activities by friends, developer news, and more can be viewed without advancing through multiple screens. A player can also download updates or upload data while browsing through this menu in the background.
Aside from the much more informative games screen, a player can also watch live streams of different games through the enhanced XMB interface. Simply selecting a game will lead the player into multiple channels open for viewing and then it’s just a matter of picking one that tickles your fancy. Almost immediately (depending on your internet connection), you’re connected to the streamer’s game and you can leave comments with the much easier on-screen keyboard.
If you find yourself itching to join your streamer’s game, it’s another simple process through the enhanced UI. Yes, players can go beyond text communication with the people they’re watching and actually join live games provided there is room. Do you know some super secret ninja strategy that could totally help the streamer? Why not join the game and show everyone how awesome you are at sniping Nazi zombie cows while building a ray gun. I know you crazy kids do that these days.
If you’re worried that change in the super steroid XMB will turn you off the PS4 (granted, not a likely scenario), there is still the underlying top-down and left-right navigation above the blockier version of the UI. However, this secondary interface will be mainly for technical options and utilities for maintenance and preferences on your console.
My Eyes, My Eyes!
The three minute demo by Shuhei Yoshida at Gamescom 2013 was a visual feast. The main difference between the PS3 XMB and the PlayStation 4 is the expanded social options ranging from posting your own gameplay videos to your profile, chatting with friends without resorting to an overlay in-between gaming thanks to cross-game chat, the ability to save the current state of your console when you need to go away for faster reactivation, and even quicker switching between games saved on the hard drive. Essentially, Sony went for and succeeded with a streamlined and faster approach to gaming and the stuff between gaming sessions.
Although it has not been confirmed yet, second screens including smartphones and tablets will presumably use the same enhanced XMB that’s on the PS4 if history is any indication. This makes sense to unify a strong UI across all platforms so that there won’t be a need to re-learn operations and options on different screens. Since smartphones can wake up a connected PS4 and install content, it’s safe to assume the super XMB will be the middle man for such procedures.
Switching between menus has also been touted as being slicker and more responsive than anything found on the old XMB. For example, if you’re finding a particular event on a level frustrating to beat, you can look up videos on your friends’ feeds to see how they did it. There isn’t a loading (well, again assuming your internet connection) operation for this, you just switch from one screen to the next and back again. The same applies to go from watching a streamer’s game to joining that same game. While the technical bits of this feature may be exaggerated, it’s a nice touch knowing everything about the system is for quick in-and-out interaction.
If you’re the type who loves listening to music in the background while playing games, Sony has introduced an enhanced Music Unlimited service that will work as an overlay during your game sessions. This means you will be able to access your music library and change options without having to exit your game. The Music Unlimited service can also be streamed to other devices you own provided you have the PS Plus subscription.
Obviously, there isn’t much that can be said concretely about how awesome or terrible the new system will be until the console officially launches on November 15, 2013, for North American players. The product demonstration at Gamescom 2013 is a strong indicator that it will be easy to go from scrolling through your friends’ feeds to watching game streams to joining the fray. With the inclusion of editing and uploading tools for your gameplay videos, there seems to nothing left out of Sony’s 2.0 UI effort.
Article by - Collin Mak
Insert Date: 8/24/2013