Playstation 3: The Seventh Gen Beast

By Mike on 9:42 pm

Filed Under: ,

Updated Review: September 2008

A review today. This time it's the Playstation 3. The underdog of the seventh gen. I had been saving for a while to get a seventh generation console. I originally went out yesterday to pick up the Xbox 360, which was only $399 for the 20gb model and came with a couple games. An excellent deal but my lucked turned out to be typical. They were all out. Only the Halo editions were left, which are just Premium 360s painted green and orange. I figured the extra $50 for the snazzy paint job wasn't worth it. They did have one 60gb PS3 left so I picked that up instead. Now you might be saying, why would I pay $200 more for something when I wouldn't pay $50 more for the Halo 360. Well, the PS3 happens to have a built in Bluray, while the 360's HD-DVD drive is $200 extra, so the same setup would have cost the same. The PS3 also lacks a lot of the hardware issues the 360 has. Lets take a look.

The PS3 is slightly bigger and heavier than the 360. It features a 3.2ghz IBM Cell processor, 256mb 3.2ghz XDR-RAM, and a nVidia G70 GPU at 550mhz with 256mb DDR3. Over the PS3's entire lifespan, there have been six models available for sale, which are listed below. Currently, only two remain in production. All PS3 models include a Bluray drive, PS1 emulation, user upgradable hard drive, SixAxis or Dual Shock 3 controller, and built in gigabit LAN.

-The 60gb model is the "top of the line" PS3. Features include a flash card reader, four USB ports, built in 802.11g Wifi, Emotion Engine for hardware emulation of PS2 titles, Super Audio CD playback, 60gb hard drive, and chrome trim. This model currently retails for $449 brand new but has been discontinued.
-The 20gb is identical to the 60gb but lacks chrome trim, wifi, and card reader. It came with a 20gb hard drive. It also included a built in Emotion Engine chip for PS2 games. It has been discontinued. Current price is unknown but it originally sold for $499.
-The 80gb is identical to the 60gb model except it dropped hardware emulation of PS2 titles in favour of software to reduce price. Compatible with 80% of PS2 games. Comes in a bundle with either Motorstorm or Metal Gear Solid 4. It is currently in production and sells for $499.
-The 40gb was an ultra low cost model. It cut out the card reader, PS2 backwards compatibility, Super Audio CD support, and chrome trim. It reduced the number of USB ports to two. It uses a 65nm CPU for reduced heat and power consumption. It included a copy of Spiderman 3 on Blu-ray. It has been discontinued but is still available for $399.
-The new 80gb (not to be confused with the one above) is identical to the 40gb but includes a larger hard drive. Comes with DualShock 3 controller. Currently in production and retails for $399.
-The 160gb is identical to the 40gb but includes a larger hard drive. Comes with DualShock 3 controller. It is bundled with a copy of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and a PSN voucher for PAIN. In production as of October 2008 and retails for $499.

In box, you get the usual goodies: power cables, composite/RCA AV cable, ethernet cable, USB cable, and one SIXAXIS controller, as well as manuals and the various advertisements. HD video cables are not included in the box, likely as a cost cutting measure. You'll need the component or HDMI cable for BD playback, and the HDMI cable for DVD upscaling to HD resolutions. HDMI provides the optimal HD experience. Just don't go forking out more than $20 for a 6ft cable because it's not worth it. Those expensive cables are identical to cheaper ones. The system itself sets up quickly. Just plug in the power cable and the AV cable and you're ready to go. The PS3 has a built in power supply so there's no brick like the 360 has. The SIXAXIS can function as either a wired or wireless controller through the USB port. It charges via USB.
All PS3 models feature a built in 2.5'', 5200rpm SATA2 hard drive. Currently available units feature a 40gb or 80gb drive. The two original models featured a 20gb or 60gb drive. A big plus is that Sony allows you to upgrade the internal drive with any off the shelf 2.5'' SATA laptop drive, unlike Microsoft which requires you to purchase a proprietary drive. The PS3 can also use any FAT32 formatted USB drive such as a thumb drive or portable hard drive. Portable drives can be used to store game saves, music, videos and photos. It cannot however store game installs to these drives. Additionally, the built in card reader in the 60gb and 80gb models can add even more storage.

Lets look at the software side of things. Sony has pretty much made the system software identical to what's on the PSP. Sony calls it the XrossMediaBar. It's used in the PSP and some of their HDTVs. It's a simple, streamlined, user friendly interface. Non-tech minded people should be able to figure it out quickly. You can control the software through either the controller or a USB keyboard and mouse. Any USB keyboard and mouse should work. You can use it to enter text on the web browser or any other function that demands text input. Some games, COD4 I believe, allow the keyboard and mouse in game, but most don't. The XrossMediaBar has functions for pictures, music, movies, networking, and the Playstation Network. You can easily import photos directly from your camera's memory card, rip audio CDs to the HDD, and watch your movies. For gaming, you can play demos or games bought through the Playstation Store on your HDD. The PS3 also allows you to install another OS on a 10gb partition. Linux distros such as OpenSUSE, Ubuntu, and Gentoo have PS3 distributions. Sony officially supports Yellow Dog for the PS3. The PS3 can be used as an all-in-one media centre or a desktop PC, or both. I tried Ubuntu and it works fine.

The PS3 of course provides a lot of gaming options. All PS3s except the upcoming 40gb model support playback of Playstation and Playstation 2 titles. The old 20gb and 60gb models are ideal for this since they use hardware emulation with an on board Emotion Engine chip, thus being compatible with almost 100% of PS2 games. The 80gb and 60gb PAL model use software emulation and are are compatible with only 80% of PS2 games. The 40gb cannot play PS2 games at all. The EE was cut on the new models to reduce cost. All models are fully backwards compatible with original Playstation games. If you're a hardcore gamer, try to find one of the older models. It's worth it due to the wide PS2 library. Of course the PS2 is still available but it's nice to have everything in one. At first, PS3 titles were few and far between but now there are plenty of A class games out there to play. Titles such as Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid 4, and LittleBigPlanet shoud whet the appatite of gamers. I didn't buy a game at first since the store I bought the console at didn't have very much. Dedicated game stores like EB tend to have more titles in stock. The local video store wasn't much help either. They only had about 10 titles. I picked up Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Ace Combat 5, a PS2 game. Both worked flawlessly. Oblivion really stresses a system. Even top PCs can struggle with outdoor scenes. The PS3 does a good job at rendering them smoothly. AC5 worked just as if it were on a PS2. In some cases, the PS3 will outperform the 360 in terms of frame rate. Dirt and Assassin's Creed are two examples.
One of the problems with the PS3 and gaming is that the Cell processor is difficult to program for. All PS3 games come on Blu-Ray discs. Some games such as Devil May Cry and MGS4 are starting to require a 5gb hard drive install to play them. This significantly reduces load times but takes up valuable hard drive space. Gamers have criticized how long the games take to install and that this feature defeats the purpose of a console. With BD's 48mbit/second transfer rates, I personally think such big installs are unnecessary. DMC doesn't require an install on the 360.
One final thing worth noting on the games themselves is that they aren't region coded, or rather region coding isn't enforced. Therefore, Japanese and European games will play on a North American console, and vice versa. PS2 and PS1 games are still region coded though, as well as BD movies. I have to commend SCE for going the region free route with their games. There are a lot of really great games that never get released in North America for one reason or another so it's good to see the doors are no longer shut to niche titles.
For control, you get the SIXAXIS or DualShock 3, a bluetooth powered wireless controller. As I already mentioned, it can also be used as a wired controller via the included USB cable, and is charged via USB. The original SIXAXIS lacks a rumble function, which some criticized. However, I've been playing PC games with a keyboard for so long, I don't miss it. The SIXAXIS has a primitive motion sensing function, sensing tilt and side acceleration. It's not nearly as advanced as the Wii's though. The layout is identical to past PS controllers. A DualShock 3 controller with rumble function is available separately for $54 and is bundled with the new 80gb and 160gb models. The PS3 can also be integrated with the PSP using Remote Play, which allows a PSP to control a PS3 wirelessly. This function is a tad on the slow side due to the PSP being limited to the older and slower Wireless B Wifi. Pixel Junk Eden is a notable title that allows gameplay with Remote Play. Most PS3 games will not though. Remote Play does allow you to access all your media as well as the PS Store and the web browser from your PSP.
For online gaming, the PS3's Playstation Network (PSN) service is 100% free. However, some say it is not as good as the fee based Xbox Live.

One of the big draws to the PS3 is it's Blu-Ray drive. It supports BD discs, DVD, CD, and SACD, plus their respective recordable formats. Blu-ray has won the HD format war so the PS3 is a solid buy right now. It's also one of the few BD players on the market that is fully upgradable to the future 2.0 BD Live profile. Contrary to popular belief, you don't need to use HDMI with HDCP compatible devices for BD playback. At least that's according to the manual. It will output to 720p and 1080i, but not 1080p without HDMI and HDCP compliant devices. I don't have a 1080p TV, like most people, so this isn't really a big issue. BD playback at 720p or 1080i still looks excellent. One thing that bugs me is the lack of ability to upscale regular DVDs over component. This isn't really the PS3's fault but I still think you should be able to.
One issue that some people complain about is the lack of an IR receiver, meaning the PS3 cannot use non-Bluetooth universal remotes. Sony sells an additional "Blu-Ray Remote" for the PS3 for about $30. The SixAxis controls for media playback are fine though so the additional remote, while easier, is not necessary.
Additionally, the PS3 has great multimedia capability. For music, it supports MP3, AAC, ATRAC, and non-protected WMA. The PS3 can also rip audio CDs directly to it's hard drive in either one of these formats at various quality levels, DRM free. All models except for the 40gb can play back the elusive SACD high definition audio format. Additionally, the PS3 can "upscale" audio CDs to 48khz, 88.2khz, 176.4khz. For video, the PS3 can play AVC, MPEG1, MPEG2, WMV, and DivX. For photos, you get the usual formats such as JPEG. The PS3 can interface with a desktop PC acting as a media server. The freeware TVersity media server is one of the most popular Windows programs for doing this but Windows Media Player also works. The 802.11g wifi connection is plenty for streaming and transferring standard definition video, audio, and pictures. For HD video, you'll want to use the wired Gigabit LAN connection.

So, is the PS3 worth it? I think so if you intend to use it as an HTPC. It's essentially four devices in one. It is expensive but the addition of the 40gb model has reduced prices to $399, with the sacrifice of backwards compatibility. As a media centre, it works as advertised, and does an excellent job at it. It's user friendly and provides a good gaming experience. I'd say, if you're looking for a pure game console, buy a Wii or the 360 Arcade. However, if you want a full all-in-one media centre, the PS3 is something to consider. The PS3 is also the most futurproof of the three consoles. Lets take a look at the numbers.

Graphics: 10/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Multimedia Performance: 9/10
Ease of Use: 9/10
Build Quality: 9/10
Game Variety: 8/10
Value: 8/10

Overall: 9/10

-Stunning Graphics and sound
-User Friendly
-Access to most of the PSOne and PS2 library
-No region coding for PS3 games
-Integrated BD, WiFi,
-User upgradable HDD
-Wide multimedia support
-Easy to install another OS and use it like a PC
-Blu-ray won the HD format war. Upgradable to Blu-ray Live 2.0 profile.
-Free online play

-No DVD upscaling over Component video
-BD doesn't output to 1080p without HDMI and HDCP compliant devices

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