UPDATE 3 MARCH, 2009: We have a new PlayStation 3 review, looking at it purely as a Blu-ray player.
Here it is – the PlayStation 3. The AV device everyone has been waiting for. The ultimate entertainment package, all things to all men (yes we’re being gender specific), the little box that could, the only thing you’ll ever need inside your entertainment hutch.
Well, perhaps not quite. But the PlayStation 3 is a significant step forward in the quest for a multipurpose lounge-based data and entertainment hub that’s cheaper and easier to use than a PC.
What Sony has achieved with the PS3 is similar to its earlier product the PlayStation Portable. As the PSP redefined handheld gaming, the PS3, while technically in the same generation as the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii, nevertheless feels like a device half a generation ahead. The long delay, far from hurting Sony, has allowed the company to produce a more polished, a more powerful, and most importantly a more adult device than anything
The PS3 is the first lgames console that you – the 35 year old merchant banker who wants to look at photos on a 50 inch LCD TV and maybe play a couple of serious and realistic car racing simulations on weekends – won’t feel faintly embarrassed having stacked on top of the rest of your serious, adult entertainment gear.
Forget the Wii’s sleepover party control dynamic, forget the Xbox 360’s ridiculous candy-coloured interface, the PS3 is a proper AV device that deserves to be plugged into your $10,000 rack.
But is it perfection in a glossy black case with subtle silver highlights? Not quite.
It seems clear that Sony realised there was no way to effectively sell the PS3 on games and gaming alone. There are already plenty of devices in the market, and the company’s own product, the PS2, costs less than $250 in most places and has a massive library of games to choose from.
Yes, the graphics on the PS3 are better and take advantage of 1080p displays. And they do offer new online elements because after all, online gaming is now part of the console experience. But as always, the success of the PS3 as a gaming platform will depend less on the hardware and more on what developers do with it. Still, it seems counterintuitive to suggest that now the most successful console brand ever has powerful new hardware, it won’t continue to boast a library of games that seriously challenges its older rivals.
So gaming will still remain a dominant element of the platform, but the PS3 also boasts some clever and effective media management tools. By combining standard interfaces – USB2.0, Ethernet, Bluetooth and 802.11g Wi-Fi – with Sony’s custom hardware, the PS3 aims to offer the same functionality as a PC-based media server, but one that works faster, more stably, and more intuitively.
The online component of the device also allows for socialisation via friends lists, messaging, and an online 3D community called ‘Home’ to be launched later this year.
And finally, despite its seemingly exorbitant price as a games console (note: at launch the PS3 was $999, the price has since dropped to $699), the PS3 is the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market, especially when you consider it offers 7.1 surround and high definition video (1080p) via its HDMI terminal.
If your system is not HDMI-equipped, component video and optical audio are your fallback options for serving up high definition video and multichannel soundtracks. If your AV receiver provides only a coaxial audio connection, however, you won’t be enjoying any surround sound through your system at all, as the PS3 only offers surround via optical or HDMI.
Gaming on the PS3 is as games consoles have been since optical drives were incorporated into the format. Stick in the disc, and away you go. The SIXAXIS controller is very similar to the older Dual-Shock PS2 controller, but is extremely light. Unlike the Xbox 360 controller, the SIXAXIS doesn’t have removable batteries. Sony includes a USB cable to charge it. Time will tell how long the controller will last before you need to take it to a service centre for a new battery. Will there be an iPod battery controversy all over again? We’ll see.