(Pocket-lint) - Forget the games, forget the hype, one of the main features of any games console is the user interface that underpins it all. After all, it's probably the part of the console you'll see the most. And Sony has always presented simple, intuitive menus and home screens in the past. Can the PS4, therefore, match or even improve on former glories? How easy is it to get to your games? What about the movies you've stored or the messages you've sent or received?
Strangely, although we've been talking about the PlayStation 4 since February, we've not really known the answers to those questions as we haven't seen the user interface at all. That is, until now.
Pocket-lint was given early access to the console ahead of the US and UK launches to find out what you can expect when you turn on your console. There were some aspects still to be finalised for the UK, but the version we played with was the final retail US edition and there will be only a few minor changes.
In similar fashion to an Android smartphone there is a thin bar along the top of the screen that delivers key information at a glance. Messages scroll along the top about software updates, and you can see who you are logged in as. There are also icons showing your Trophy statistics, and the all important time. Scrolling up reveals the settings menu (more on that in a bit).
The new-look Xross Media Bar
The PS3 interface is based around a single bar of items that run across the screen and then lets you zip up and down individual elements: Games, TV, Settings and other sub-menus. It's an interface that is simple, but has served the PlayStation crowd well.
But the PS4 has a considerably more refined and simplified take on the old XMB.
Firing up the console for the first time you will see links to What's New, TV & Video, the Sony Unlimited Video and Music stores, as well as PlayStation Live, a browser and your Library where all your downloaded content is stored. There is no Blu-ray player until you put in a Blu-ray disc, and no games show as default.
This row is about giving you immediate access to what your console is doing now rather than what it could do or has done six months ago. It also changes constantly depending on how you use the PS4, giving you quick links to the stuff that matters to you: the game you are playing at the moment, or the movie service you keep using.
That "Facebook" or even "Windows Phone" approach is expressed even further once you start to interact with the console and provides a living, breathing, experience rather than something that is cut in stone and never changes regardless of what you do.
In-depth game worlds
Rather than simply turning the wallpaper of the console into a big advert for the game you are selecting, the PS4 gives you a much deeper dive into what is available for that specific title. We were able to see this on Killzone Shadow Fall quite clearly. Scroll down from the square icon on the all-new Xross Media Bar and the game not only takes over the screen as before, but now gives you a lot more information. It's like a dedicated hub for all things for that title.
You quickly get to see how many have liked the game, as well as seeng associated content, including DLC, manuals and even stuff experienced and enjoyed by your mates, whether that's screenshots or videos.
It really feels inclusive and certainly better than the PS3 experience of having to find all the latest content in the PlayStation Network Store. We suspect Sony will enjoy the additional sales it generates, because you are able to find that extra map you never knew existed.
Scrolling upwards on the home screen reveals all the boring information that you rarely look at: messages, settings, friends and so forth. It's easy to access, and is where the menus really start in earnest. It's easy to manage, but we doubt you'll spend much time here. That's clearly something Sony realises, having buried it out of your main line of site.
It's fast, like really fast, and we could quickly zip through the interface selecting what we wanted, when and how we wanted. Sony tells us that the speed of the menu system gets even faster if you are on a hard-line connection rather than Wi-Fi - like we were in our demo. That's got to be good news.
User interfaces are important and Sony's XMB has always been enjoyed, but not necessarily liked by all. The update for the PS4 enhances what we've been used to and thankfully adding no crazy annoyances. It's particularly good at making sure you get more from your games - especially if you are social.
What's most important is that the interface is very quick. If all you want to do is play games, you'll be able to do that very quickly and certainly more so than ever before. We like it. A lot.
We will be publishing a full review of the PS4 in the coming days so stay tuned for that and more PS4 news and features via our dedicated PS4 hub