Summary: After all the hype and speculation, Sony's next-generation PlayStation 3 console is finally here! In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at the PlayStation 3, going over its strengths and weakneses: how easy is it to add a HDD? What about the games? In addition, 3 FiringSquad Editors will chime in with their thoughts on the console so far. With nearly 7,000 words from front to back, you should have a pretty good grasp on the PS3 by the end of our review!
The Playstation 3, love it or hate it, is the newest, most desirable tech toy. This holiday season will find many unfortunate parents and fans left longing for this large black box. So, what's the big deal? We're going to take an in-depth look at the system from every angle and tell you exactly what to expectÖ
On the outside
The most readily apparent place to start looking at the PS3 is on the outside. Depending on your model (20 or 60 gigabytes), there will be a few different inputs, but they're otherwise similar. The only difference between the models as far as input is concerned is the memory card reader that can be used to display slideshows and such.
The slots for the memory card reader are hidden behind a small door on the left side, next to the disc drive opening. They are exposed by flipping up the left side panel on the 60GB version of the PS3. Otherwise, the models are basically the same with the exception of the silver fascia on the 60GB version.
The front of the PS3 has 4 USB slots for charging and pairing controllers. To ďpairĒ the controllers means to associate that controller with your specific PS3, for, I guess, households with multiple PS3s.... Unlike the 360, the PS3 requires that your controllers be plugged in to the unit when you first pair them. Though a little inconvenient, you also have to re-pair them after any firmware updates. Once the controllers are paired, however, you don't have to do it again. Next to the USB ports youíl find two LEDs, one indicating WLAN access, and the other for HDD activity. Now, let's flip it around to the backside.
Originally, Sony planned to only include HDMI with the more expensive 60 GB model, but then (wisely) decided to include it in both packages. This is good news for anyone with a HD TV, especially one that supports 1080p. With that in mind, the PS3 has 3 outputs on its backside, along with the network and power cable input. Also found on the back is the standard Playstation rocker switch that turns on and off the master power.
The other outputs on the back are the usual proprietary Sony cable connection, so if you have old PS2 cables you want to use (such as PS2 component cables), then you don't have to buy any new equipment. Also present is an optical sound output port which, of course, allows for surround sound output via an optical cable. Not exactly what everyone was expecting, according to the original mock ups which showed 2 HDMI and 3 Ethernet ports.
Upgradeable hard drive
Other than a few vents, the only other thing that sticks out about the actual case is the panel labeled ďHDDĒ on the side of the unit. I had to go to the dictionary on this one, as I thought it stood for ďhandy dandy device.Ē I was wrong. This is apparently where they put the hard drive, and after taking a screw driver and popping the side panel off, I discovered that I was right.
When you expose the HDD, there's a single screw that holds it in place. Once that's undone, you can easily slide the drive out. Being the curious sort, I ordered a 120 GB SATA for the purpose of testing out how easy it is to replace hard drives in the PS3. The answer: easy. It took all of 10 minutes to remove the drive, remove it from the tray, put the new drive in the tray and format. Something to note about the PS3 hard drive is that, like the XBox, a large portion (around 12 GB) of the disc space goes to the operation of the PS3. This is a feature that I cannot speak highly enough about. With the way my XBox 360 drive has filled up, I wish Microsoft had taken a cue from Sony on this one.
The belly of the beast
Getting back to the earlier mention of optical and HDMI support, the sound output for the PS3 is quite robust. Though nothing is really taking advantage of it yet, the PS3 supports Dolby TrueHD as well as 7.1 PCM through HDMI. This puts the PS3 in prime position to use some of the newer receivers coming out from companies such as Pioneer, and, well, Sony.
The Blu-ray drive is the other big selling point of the PS3. Blu-ray technology uses a blue-violet laser to read information off of a Blu-ray disc. The wavelength of the blue-violet laser is considerably shorter than the one used in standard DVDs and thus can hold more information. This sounds great in theory, but the problem that earlier Blu-ray games are running into is that the read speed of the discs is also considerably slower than that of DVD. In fact, Resistance has to go through a short installation procedure before you can play it. Hey, at least you can put in a new HDD.
Even though they're not internal hardware, this seems like the place to mention the Sixaxis controllers. The new PS3 controllers are lacking rumble, but to make up for it, they included a gyro that can be used to control certain games. The only thing I've personally used it for so far is the demo of MotorStorm, but plenty of upcoming games are supposedly offering Sixaxis support - most notably, WarHawk, which was demonstrated the Sony E3 conference earlier this year. Other than missing rumble and having motion sensing, the Sixaxis is also wireless and rechargeable. This is a point of contention to certain fans because Sony opted to not include a way to change the battery yourself. Sony has said that they will offer a service to replace dead batteries.
One last quick note about the controllers: they sometimes lose connection or go... a little funny. On occasion, I've been playing Resistance with a friend and my or his character will run at a wall and just stand their staring at it, running in place, until we lift the controller up and wave it around. Now, of course, this could be just a game feature, like I got so freaked out that I ran and hid in the corner, but I don't think that's the case. I've also read reports of peopleís Bluetooth phones interrupting the controller signal as well. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's irritating.
Firing it up
When you start up the PS3 for the first time, you have to go through a few setup steps. These are all your basic questions like language and user name. After that, you're free to start experimenting with the UI and tweaking your settings as need be. This is your first introduction to the XMB.
Display settings are fairly straightforward. You have your choice of HDMI, Component or D-Terminal, Composite or S Video or AV MULTI or SCART. You'll want to go with the highest quality choice available to you. Of course, most TV companies are going to tell you that they only support true 1080p through HDMI, but some of them also accept it via component. You won't know until you try, of course.
I do want to mention this real quick: make sure you keep some composite cables handy if you're messing around with switching modes, just in case you set it to a mode that you want to change back from eventually. When I first picked up my PS3, I was waiting for a new television to arrive and had it running through S Video to my PC monitor. I then hooked up the HDMI on my new TV and had to go find my composite cables again to change it back. Just a word to the wise.
Editor's Note: You can also hold down the PS3's power button until it beeps twice to reset the PS3's video settings.
The Audio settings are also fairly straightforward at first, but may get a bit hairy. You see, there are 3 choices: HDMI, Digital Out(Optical) or Audio Input Connector/AV MULTI. This all seems rather normal up front, but depending on what you pick you have to choose what your device will handle, which can be kind of confusing when you get into HDMI. All I can basically say is that it's best that, if you have a receiver, you check its manual before making your choices to make sure you can support what the PS3 is throwing at it.
The network settings are just as easy as setting up any other basic network device. Most people will end up choosing Automatic setup, but there's always the Manual option for the more irritating among us(me). If you end up choosing manual, you can go as far as setting the operation mode for your network ports or do as little as just setting your IP address.
UPDATE 12/9/06: Reader IeraseU notes that you can listen to music and navigate the XMB simultaneously if you press the PS button while the audio file is playing.
In the next section, the Game menu, you get down to what the PS3 is really designed for. The top selection in the game category is the Game Data Utility. The Game Data Utility displays your partially installed games and allows for deletion.
One of the kind of bizarre things about the PS3 is there isn't any memory card slots for your PSOne or PS2. They sell a device that can connect via USB and accepts memory cards so that you can transfer that information over to your PS3, but there isn't any other way to get your old saves. That leads us to the Memory Card Utility. In the Memory Card Utility, you create virtual memory cards for the PSOne or PS2, and they are used to save your games. You can individually name each of your cards and you have to go into the utility to choose which ones are plugged into your virtual console.
Next down is the Saved Data Utility, and it works just like the PSP. It displays your saved games and you can copy/delete them if you want to from here. A kind of interesting side note: I'm going to be installing Linux on my new 120GB hard drive that I just installed in my PS3 and was worried about losing my saved game progress. While working on this article I plugged my PSP into the PS3 and discovered that you can copy information to and from the PSP via the XMB menus. Keep that in mind if you ever need to move your saved games.
After that, you get down to the actual games section. Below all the utilities, the PS3 displays whatever game you may have in the drive as well as any demos you have saved on the disc. To start playing any game, you simply have to click on it and it starts up as usual. This is identical to the way the PSP displays content.
To the right of games is Network, which is also similar to the PSP. The network section lets you browse the Internet using the proprietary browser, read the Online Instruction Manuals or visit the Playstation Store. Since there's really not much to the browser that isn't found in others (with the exception of possibly not running video playback as well) we'll move on to the Playstation Store. In the Store, you can purchase small games, download demos and watch trailers. It's the PS3 version of the XBox 360 Marketplace. The one advantage that it holds over the Marketplace, at least for me, is that it shows you prices in real world money and you don't have to buy points to purchase whatever you may want. It's not very full at the moment since the console is less than a month old, but it's functional... sort of.
There are a few real problems with the Playstation store in its current form. The biggest of which being that the layout is just completely not suited for the amount of content they're trying to present. The store just feels rushed and, especially for the HD users, is of way too low resolution. In the web browser (which is a different story altogether), I can barely read the text in 1080p, but in the store, it's like I'm using a giant pop-up Sears catalog. Hopefully someone in Sony will sit down and take a look at this interface and come up with a simpler, more effective way to display the information.
Another big problem the store has, at this point, is download speeds. Now, I'm not one to say that the XBox Marketplace is speedy - far from it - but it looks like a bolt of lightning compared to the dismal download speeds displayed by the Playstation Store. This problem is made at least 10 times worse by the fact that you can't queue downloads and do something else while you wait, like you can with the 360. I know that when the 360 launched, you couldn't either, but unfortunately for Sony, we aren't comparing them at launch, we're comparing them now. In a few months, I'm sure we'll see an update, but for right now, the store is pretty sad.
Finally, there's the Friends section of the menu. In the Friends section, you have your friends list, your mailbox and a few other basic options like blocking and adding, as well as players you've met. This doesn't mean much other than the fact that you can see what your friends are playing because you can't actually see it while you're in a game. I suppose it's possible, but at current the game companies have to program a control in that will allow for it.
This is also the section through which you manage your Playstation Network account. You have to sign up for the Playstation network to be able to play multiplayer online and use the Store. It's a fairly painless process, but - trust me on this one - you'll want to hook up a keyboard.
Speaking of which, it's incredibly easy to connect devices to the PS3. In fact, during the registration process, I just grabbed my wireless keyboard and mouse, plugged them in and everything worked great, instantly. The PS3, so far, has great device support.
Despite our reservations about the interface the Playstation Store does have several downloadable demos for current and upcoming PS3 games (including Motorstorm, Genji and Formula 1) along with game trailers, Blu-Ray movie trailers and currently multiple downloadable games; the enjoyable 3D Asteroids-Geometry Wars like arcade shooter Blast Factor and the less enjoyable Smash Wars clone Guns Cash Chaos. Just today, Sony also added the games Go! Sudoku and Lemmings.
As we mentioned earlier, downloading any content from the store basically takes up all of the PS3ís time; you canít do anything else until the download is completed. This was a big flaw in the Xbox 360ís download feature that was corrected via an update several months later. Itís too bad Sony didnít learn from Microsoftís initial mistake. One thing that is good about the downloadable games for the PS3 is that games up to 500 MB can be made available for download. Microsoftís Xbox Live Arcade games can only be sized to fit on a 64 MB Xbox 360 memory card (not including add-ons for games) but Guns Cash Chaos is well over 300 MB in size.
With Sonyís plans to offer full PS1 games in the near future for download we have to question why Microsoft limits its Xbox Live Arcade games to such a small size, especially since Xbox 360 game demos and now movie and TV episode videos take up much larger hard drive space.
In comparing games released for the PS3 and Xbox 360 we noticed little to no visual difference between the two ports. There are some differences; for example there is no online multiplayer support in Activisionís PS3 port of Tony Hawk Project 8 compared to the Xbox 360 version. However for the most part the differences are minimal in the initial launch line-up. Much has been made about Sonyís Cell processor at the heart of the PS3 but as with most consoles it will be two or three years after the launch before games come out that really start to use all of the aspects of the processor and NVIDIA-created graphics hardware.
If you have a PS3 there is no better exclusive game out there at the moment than Resistance: Fall of Man. The alternate history first person shooter from developer Insomniac Games is one of the most entertaining shooters we have played in some time. Part Call of Duty, part Half-Life and part Serious Sam, the game is set in an alternate 1951 in Great Britain where an invasion of ...things...is making life hard for your American soldier player character (the game is deliberately mysterious as to where the monsters foes known collectively as the Chimera come from).
With great graphics, a fast-paced style of gameplay, cool weapons, co-op play, multiplayer up to 40 players and more, Resistance: Fall of Man is just an entertaining way to spend some time with your console (look for a full review of the game in the near future). At the other end of the spectrum is Namcoís mech action game Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire. Every launch line-up has its disaster but we canít imagine a worse game being created for the launch of such a high profile console. Awful graphics, repetitious gameplay and more make this not only the worst launch game for the PS3, but a candidate for worst game of 2006.
The presence of the PS2 Emotion chip in the PS3 means that backwards compatibility is a much easier matter for the PS3 to handle than the Xbox 360. Much has been made in the mainstream press about the numbers of PS1 and PS2 games that wonít work on the PS3, but considering that the game library for both game consoles is vast, the amount of games that donít work on the console is small. We have tried a number of PS2 games on the console and all have worked successfully. Sony execs have pledged to make the PS3 console 100 percent backwards compatible with all PS1 and PS2 games via firmware updates.
The biggest weapon Sony currently has for the PS3 is the amount of games slated for 2007. First party titles like Lair, Heavenly Sword, Warhawk, the next Ratchet and Clank game, and exclusive third party games like Final Fantasy XIII, Metal Gear Solid 4, Tekken 5, Virtual Fighter 5, Devil May Cry 4 and others will certainly help the PS3 gain an audience. However it must be said that Sony has also lost games franchises that were exclusive or semi-exclusive games on the PS2, especially the Grand Theft Auto series which will debut on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 in October 2007.
The real bummer for the PS3 is that it has no standard set of features that extends across the platforms like the 360 does. For instance, if youíre playing Tiger Woods on the 360 and you receive an invite from a friend to hop in to Gears of War, you just switch games and the invite is still waiting. On the PS3, you can't even see what your friends are doing if youíre in a game. Even though the PS3 has a PS button on it, oddly similar to the XBox button the 360 controller, it doesn't do much other than let you quit the game. This also leads to the fact that you can't have custom game soundtracks or a gamer score either. The gamer score is, of course, completely subjective, but a lot of players really like that feature.
DVDs don't scale at all, which is a crying shame. It would be pretty awesome if the PS3 doubled as an upscaling DVD player. As it is, however, the PS3 is just a regular DVD player for all intents and purposes. No loss, no gain.
PSOne and PS2 games don't scale at all either, which is also unfortunate. One of the things that I was looking forward to, as found with the backwards compatible XBox titles, is that the PS3 would display older games in higher resolutions, but that's not the case. Unlike the 360, though, most of the PS2 games work in the PS3.
Blu-ray is where it starts to get a bit confusing. If the movie says that it displays in 1080p, and you don't have 1080p or 1080i, you're going to be watching that movie in 480p, my friends. You see, most HDTVs out there support 720p as the unofficial standard as it provides better refresh times than 1080i and isn't as expensive (and was actually available as compared to) 1080p. You see, the PS3 loads a Blu-ray disc and immediately tries to kick up to the native 1080 resolution for the disc, and if it can't, it doesn't drop to the next best, it drops to 480p. That's a bummer, huh?
PS3 games are also kind of a toss up. At current, if you're one of the users who purchased a TV that supports 1080i without 720p, your games won't be scaled up to 1080i, they'll be scaled down to 480p. What this means is that if you purchased your HDTV before 720p became the standard, there's a chance that it won't look as good as it should. It's fairly unforgivable to scale someones resolution down instead of up. However, this problem should hopefully be fixed via a firmware update.
Backwards Compatibility: If there's one thing you can say for Sony, it's that they've always delivered in the backward compatibility department. The PS3 is no different.
Scaling: Seriously, there's not much more to add, but let's hope this gets fixed quickly.
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