There's a funny thing about the next generation of consoles: They're all pretty much just dedicated game boxes at launch waiting for a Day One system patch. Sony's PlayStation 4 is no exception to this unspoken rule, which makes reviewing the console tricky business. If you're looking for first impressions on gaming, we have a post about that right here, and we'll have a full judgment of the angular console in our full, post-patch review later this week. For now though, wouldn't you like to know what lurks within the offline PS4's Dynamic Menu -- you know, that thing that replaced the XMB? It's admittedly minutiae, but it's all stuff you'll want to know when you first unbox and boot up the patchless PS4.
Voice control with PlayStation Camera
If you haven't already, you should set aside $60 and order the PlayStation Camera (formerly referred to as the PS4 Eye) right now. That's how well voice commands work on the console, which makes it even more curious that Sony chose specifically not to highlight this feature -- comparisons to the Xbox One's Kinect control, notwithstanding. You won't get to enjoy the full suite of commands out of the box, since prompts for "Power," "Back to Game," "Take Screenshot" and "Log in" (the four basic home screen commands) are part of the Day One update.
What you will have hands-free access to is the "PlayStation" command prompt. Say that out loud and the system will ask you to select a game or application and then say, "Start." Don't be surprised to find yourself yelling at the PS4 in different volumes the first few times you initiate the "PlayStation" command. Finding your perfect voice for control takes a little experimentation and, in our experience, a soft, almost quiet tone works best. Though that all depends on the noisiness of your home environment.
Standby Mode configuration and controller management
You're going to like this one very much: You can set the two USB ports on the front of the PS4 for charging when the console is in Standby Mode. This is all accessible from the system settings menu under Power Save. The clear advantage here is that you can re-up the juice on your DualShock 4 (the battery life of which is shaping up to be pretty paltry) overnight without having to keep the system on. But it also means you can just plug any micro-USB device in, too -- like an Android or Windows Phone handset.
The two other options within Standby Mode allow you to choose whether the system will remain connected to the internet and also whether your remote PS Store purchases on the PlayStation App will trigger the console to wake and download.
We touched on it lightly before and probably won't get too deep into it until the full review, but the DualShock 4 doesn't seem to last very long. We're getting barely a full day so far. Good thing then that you can set a time limit for it (i.e., 10-, 30- or 60-minute intervals) to shut off from within Power Save settings. Controller volume and a toggle for vibration can also be managed from the Devices tab.
Sound and screen: shutting off system music
Let's all just agree that home screen music, no matter how ambient, is the worst (honorable mention goes to Nintendo). The PS3 never had it, but with the PS Vita and the PS4, Sony's ushered in its own background muzak -- and, just like on its portable, you can thankfully turn it off. As an alternative, we suggest you plug in that Music Unlimited voucher and stream the playlist of your choice while you play. But, again, that's part of the post-patch world. Without the update, you just have the option for silence.
A 500GB capacity seems like a lot -- if you don't take into account the size of digital titles, game disc installs and any recorded gameplay sessions/screenshots you'll accrue over time. Until we've logged enough hours with the PS4, we won't know how well that storage allotment will pan out, but we do know that you won't have access to all 500GB out of the box. It's more like 408GB. Actually, it is just 408GB, according to the system storage menu.
To give you an example of how quickly that amount can run out, a game disc install of Killzone: Shadow Fall takes up 39GB of space, while an application like Amazon Prime is a little over 1GB. A lone screenshot is about 350KB and four minutes of gameplay capture is 201MB. That's just one game -- install up to four on the HDD, plus the streaming applications of your choice and available storage will be nearly halved. Now, keep in mind you'll be downloading game patches, system updates, saving copious screenshots and gameplay video and (eventually) CD/MP3 installs, and you're looking at some rapidly diminishing space. The HDD's user-replaceable, though, so at least you can swap it out when things get tight.
Odds and ends: the DualShock 4's too-bright lightbar
You won't just be basking in the glow of your TV as you play the PS4 at night; your TV will also be basking in the glow of the DualShock4's lightbar. Yes, it is that bright and we're fairly convinced it could be used as a flashlight substitute in the dark. Considering the PlayStation Camera is an optional peripheral and developers have to choose to support the lightbar in games, it would've made more sense for Sony to include an option to dim the controller's bright light or turn it off altogether. It's pretty, but not entirely useful at this point and it could be contributing to the DualShock4's weak battery life.
Your first five minutes with the PS4, once you've gotten past the initial setup, should be spent playing with The Playroom and its robo-mascot, Asobi. It's nothing more than a tech demo Sony dressed up as a series of mini-games, but it does a fine job of getting you acquainted with the DualShock 4, as well as the PlayStation Camera.
Thing is, once you've spent that first five minutes punching Asobi with your hands and attempting to dodge his retaliating attacks, or torturing an army of cute drones by swatting them around and then sucking them up vacuum-style into the controller so you can make them dance, you'll want to never play The Playroom again. Perhaps, this is why Sony's preparing DLC for it -- because the gameplay isn't really that deep and the experience wears thin so quickly.
Zach Honig contributed to this report.
Sony PlayStation 4
Sony PlayStation Camera for PlayStation 4