Interview with the developer of the XMB (Cross Media Bar)

8 04 2008

Here is an interview with Shuji Hiramatsu of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. who designed the user interface of PLAYSTATION®3, including the start-up screen, which appears calmly when a user turns on PLAYSTATION®3

The reason why I prepared a rather quiet start-up screen is that I felt PLAYSTATION®3 was always working. I avoided making a flashy screen because I wanted to have users feel like PLAYSTATION®3 senses them by touching it lightly. If it were a scene from a film, it would be a scene where the main character enters a computer control room and touches a panel, and then the entire system starts to wake up silently… something like that. We did a lot of trial and error on the fade-in before we reached the final one where the brightness gradually increases and then the logo is displayed.

Start-up screen of PlayStation®2

Start-up screen of PLAYSTATION®3

The concept of PlayStation®2 was “the Universe”. So, the themes of the main screen were vastness and coolness. Photon-like light spots fly around the center of the screen. These lights symbolize “the Universe”. Then pillars appear in the screen. The number of pillars is calculated based on stored memory card data that indicates how many times game titles have been launched. The maximum number of pillars was prepared based on the original PlayStation® system’s software attach rate. Our thought was that by playing games, the user could fill the screen with pillars at a comfortable density by the time PLAYSTATION®3 launch came around.

I designed the start-up screens of PlayStation®2, PSX®, PSP® (PlayStation®Portable), and PLAYSTATION®3, and noticed that they have become simpler and simpler. At first, I created heavy and colorful screens. I compressed and trimmed them, and eventually they became simple but rich and full of meaning. The start-up sound of PLAYSTATION®3 is derived from the sound of an orchestra tuning its instruments before they start a performance. The orchestra may consist of 80 musical instruments, and the sound starts from the tuning of an oboe as in a real orchestra. We localized sound sources correctly. Though the process of programming the sound was very complex, we intended it to sound simply.

There is a wave-like image in the main screen, and this is designed to symbolize that the system is connected to a network that exists on the other side of the screen. The wave is dynamically generated by a program and changes its form constantly. The background color changes along with the date and time as well. When a game title is launched, after the slight ringing of a bell, the PLAYSTATION®3 logo is displayed. It represents that players are going through a gate to enter the world of digital entertainment content. XMB™ (Xross Media Bar) - A User Interface with the Quick Response of a Game

XMB™ makes selecting a menu with a controller easy and speedy. Icons are listed side by side. Every time a button is pushed, menus swiftly appear without any delay. How was this exquisite interface which is used in PLAYSTATION®3 developed?

XMB™ was used for the first time for PSX®. The concept was to create an interface utilizing a game engine. It was not for the sake of developing an interface with gorgeous graphics, but of developing an interface with a quick response like a game. You can get feedback immediately after pushing a button. And images on the screen change promptly. We pursued ease of use and precise control generated by speed. The idea of XMB™ came from the on-screen control panel of PlayStation®2’s DVD function. Translucent icons are displayed in the foreground of the video content, and you can operate the video while watching. We laid out the icons to fit the 16:9 widescreen display of an HDTV.

XMB™ for PLAYSTATION®3 - Attaining the Same Usability as PSP®

In addition to playing games, PLAYSTATION®3 has a variety of functions from playing audio and video software such as Blu-ray Discs, DVDs and CDs, to browsing the Internet. How has XMB™ evolved to fit PLAYSTATION®3?

The first impression of PLAYSTATION®3 was simply “it is powerful”. What we cared about most was how we could have users feel friendly toward a powerful computing system that could enable the vision of networking and distributed computing. In the initial stage of development, we considered the possibility of employing a user interface other than XMB™. But we had a plan to connect PSP® to PLAYSTATION®3. If we had used different interface designs for these products, it would not have worked. So we decided to use XMB™, so as to have the same user interface as PSP®. We poured a lot of effort into creation of the texture of the icons, which appear to be three dimensional images. This is why they look as if they are floating on the screen. We use familiar motifs so that both children and elderly people can understand them easily. They also have distinct outlines that can be viewed clearly on both HDTVs and non-HDTVs.

When I think about a new idea for XMB™, I always think about twenty years into the future. Even though XMB™ will be used in living rooms, it may not be displayed on TV screens. XMB™ may appear to be floating in the air. I also think about how a main character would use XMB™ if it appears in a scene in a film. I expand my imagination by thinking about these things.

Photo and Music - Evolving Player Functions

PLAYSTATION®3 also features an Internet browser, a slideshow feature to view photos, and a music player that can also play Super Audio CDs.

“Photo Album” slideshow

The Internet browser is designed in such a way that conventional PC users can use it easily. It is a tabbed browser that can display multiple screens. The browser is one of the functions that we would like most to expand the capability of.

For the Photo function, in addition to “Normal”, we prepared three slideshow styles with special effects. “Photo Album” emulates placing photos on a desk by hand. We make use of the warm feeling of handwritten text there. For “Portrait”, we use face recognition technology (which you may not notice at a glance) to zoom faces and position them to the center of a screen. We intended to make it simple, but dramatic. What we wanted to present for “Slide” is a sense of analog. We added an effect that looks like as if slides were changing by moving the light source slightly. We could implement such analog-like effects because of improvements in the performance of digital computing. During playback of music you can change the background to “Visual Player”, where colors change to the music and waves move to the sounds. Although there are various patterns, they are actually generated from just one data source. We edited the sequence seamlessly, so that visual effects from several creators appear in order.

PLAYSTATION®3 is a hardware system that continues to evolve through system software updates via the Internet and other methods. We will continue to create new features.

To see the interview in it’s true form follow this Link:

http://www.playstation.com/ps3-design/english/interface.html

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