After years of promises, (some true, some false) the PlayStation 3 is here. But only for a lucky few though, since launch numbers were far below the PS2's Day One tally.
Although small numbers of units are coming in each week, the launch left many eager shoppers without, to say the least.
But is Sony's new system worth your $600? That depends on a lot of variables, I am afraid. It is difficult to look at this from only one or two angles.
If you want to watch Blu-ray movies and play games, then this is an easy choice. You are not going to find a $600 Blu-ray player any time soon.
If you are a PS2 owner and are upgrading to a PS3, there are a lot of advantages. If you own a PSP, there are even more features that integrate with your PSP, sweetening the deal even more.
However, if you are like me and have owned an Xbox 360 for the past year, you are only going to find a couple things to like, and that might not add up to the hefty asking price.
But lets open the box and see what we got. Strike number one comes fast. Sony says that HD gaming "begins" with the PS3, yet they ship it with a composite cable. I can forgive Nintendo for not shipping the Wii with component cables, but not Sony.
Go ahead and add on the cost of component or HDMI cables so you can experience the PS3 as Sony indented.
For those who thought the original Xbox was big and heavy, think again. At least the PS3 feels like it cost $600. The SIXAXIS controller, on the other hand, feels very light, as it has no motors. After about a week of playing, however, the weight of the controller is not an issue.
These controllers charge over USB, so you get a mini-USB cable for that. It also performs double duty if you want to connect your PSP to your PS3 too.
Other things in the box include an Ethernet cable, and if you are lucky, a Blu-ray copy of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Not only does this BD movie not utilize the features of the BD spec, it doesn't really show off the enhanced high definition video that well either. I could have though of better choices to include as a pack-in.
Initial setup was a breeze. I chose to use HMDI and it automatically picked 720p as the optimal format. Although there have been some reports of odd HDMI handshaking issues with both BD movies and games, I have had no such problems.
The only hiccup I had was when trying to get the Remote Play functionality to work with the PSP, and that was just because I was doing things out of order.
Sony makes some impressive hardware, there is no doubt about that. The PlayStation 3 is no exception. The slot loading drive is quite nice, making me wish the Xbox 360 had one.
The Power and Eject buttons are touch sensitive, so they are flush with the trim. On the "expensive" model, there is a flap to the left of the disc slot for SD, CF, and Memory Stick Pro media. Underneath these ports are four USB ports.
Most all USB devices will work with the PS3, which is great. Most perplexing is the fact that you cannot plug in any USB web cam for video chat. Currently the only video camera that works is the PS2 EyeToy.
The last thing you notice is how quiet it is. This is in stark contrast to the blast furnace that is the Xbox 360. It is hard not to be impressed by the looks of the PS3. It is well engineered.
As mentioned above, the controller is growing on me, though is a little too small to my liking. I also cannot help but think of the ways these games could have used rumble, but rumble is no more on the PS3.
Until you get used to it, the SIXAXIS feels too light. Playing the Xbox 360 after prolonged hours of the PS3, the difference is quite jarring.
I have a problem with the size though — this controller is smaller than the DualShock PS2 controller, and I find is too small for my hands. Also the molded "lip" under the L2 and R2 buttons is not as pronounced, making the controller harder to hold on to. More adjusting is going to be needed here.
Sony has also changed L2 and R2 into triggers, though they do not depress as far as the triggers on the Xbox 360 controller. This is another change that is growing on me.
Additionally, the controller has a "PS" button, similar to the Guide button on the Xbox 360 controller, four indicator lights to signify which channel the controller is using, and of course the motion controls built inside.
The launch games don't show a lot in the way of motion controls. There are some glimmers of light, but that is about it. I am sure that with more development time, better motion control mechanics will arise.
One final nag about the controllers: they do not automatically turn off when not in use. You have to hold down the PS button and turn off the controller. This is yet another feature that Sony should have been keen on when the Xbox 360 has been on the market for an entire year.
Cross Media Bar
The Cross Media Bar, or XMB, is the user interface for the PS3. Sony uses this thing everywhere, from the PSX, PSP, and even WEGA TVs, this is a familiar interface.
I really like the XMB, as I use it all the time on my PSP. It is easy to use and just as easy to flip through long lists of items at a staggering clip. It might look a bit cluttered, but I think it will scale well after years of PS3 use.
However, the majority of my gripes with the PS3 are with the XMB; it has some jaggies, so to speak. Thankfully, Sony can, and already has, updated it with firmware upgrades.
For starters, I don't want my games to auto-load when I turn the system on. Sony just added this feature to the PSP, and Microsoft added this feature in one of their massive Dashboard updates.
If there is one thing that can be said about the PS3 software, it is that they should have taken a closer look at the Xbox 360 Dashboard. The Cross Media Bar works pretty good, it just has that clunky feeling.
You can rip music CDs to the hard drive, connecting to the CDDB is a snap. You can transfer music to the hard drive too, but just like the PSP. Alas, you will not find advanced options for music playback like the Xbox 360 has.
You cannot, for example, create playlists. You can also forget about listening to custom music in your games, something that every Xbox 360 game allows you to do. It seems that this is a feature that will have to be built into every PS3 game.
You can transfer photos to the hard drive using the media slots. A number of viewing options are available, including the totally useless but cool looking Photo Album mode that displays your photos on a virtual table.
You can also move video files over to the hard drive. The PS3 supports MPEG-4, H.264/AVC, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2.
All these things are similar to the PSP, and Xbox 360 (though you can only stream video to the Xbox 360, one annoyance that Microsoft has not fixed yet).
My final thought on multimedia functions is this: why not support DivX and Xvid?
This is the one place where the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 diverge the most. Microsoft has, in my opinion, a very solid service that I gladly pay to use.
Sony, on the other hand, is offering free online gaming, but to be honest I would rather pay them a subscription fee as well — just to have a unified infrastructure for the PS3. One example of this is your friends list.
The PS3 offers a web browser, the PlayStation Store, and the biggest step Sony has ever taken for online gaming. But without unified friends lists, this system falters. The "community" present on Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 is nowhere to be found.
Getting online was smooth sailing. I would just recommend a USB keyboard. The PS3 uses the same keypad layout found on the PSP, which works great — for cell phones. Why do you torture us so, Sony?
The PS3 web browser seems to be a big brother to the PSP version. Oddly enough, "out of memory" warnings came along for the ride. This is quite irritating when you think of the power and memory that is inside the PS3.
You can open three windows and switch between them. Nothing too daring here. I must say that being able to watch YouTube videos on my couch is devilishly good though.
You can save bookmarks, but I would suggest sticking with a USB keyboard if you are going to surf the web on your PS3. The only thing I found to be terribly broken on the PS3 is GMail, which will only work in "basic HTML" mode. So it is not the world's most advanced web browser.
Reading text on web sites is not that easy on the eyes, as it offers little in the way of anti-aliasing. The left analog stick is your cursor, and the right stick allows you to scroll. This setup works pretty well, actually.
The PlayStation Store also looks like a web site, something that doesn't really fit on a console. The ease of navigating the Xbox Live Marketplace is gone, replaced with it is a cursor.
After adding money to your digital wallet, you can purchase items with real dollar amounts, no "PlayStation Points" here. If you do not want to enter your credit card information, there is a spot to enter a PlayStation Card that you can purchase at a retail outlet.
Everything is organized well enough, it just has that clunky web site feel to it. This was not made for a console — it was made for a PC. However, the more I use my PS3, the more I feel like this is just another PC, which, ironically enough, is why I do not like gaming on the PC.
You can download Blu-ray movie trailers, game trailers, demos of retail, and Sony's "e-Distrobution" games. In an evil twist of fate, the service has two dual-analog shooters for purchase right now, the Xbox 360 is no longer alone.
Although not available at launch, now PSone games are available for purchase. They cost a respectable $5.99, but currently only play on the PSP. A later firmware update will allow PSone emulation on the PS3. More on these PSone titles later in the PSP section.
If there is one glaring flaw with the PS3, it is that it does not support background downloading. The Xbox 360 did not have this feature at launch, but it has since been added. If anything, Sony needs to replicate as much as possible from Xbox Live on the 360, starting with background downloads.
Sitting there while a 500 MB demo, or game, downloads is no fun. Really the only thing to do is switch to the Xbox 360 and play games on it while you wait — or *gasp* go outside. Background downloading needs to be added pronto!
To add insult to injury, you cannot resume downloads. So if you hit Cancel, or your Internet connection drops (which it has) then you must download the item all over again, from the beginning.
Thankfully, games make the system, not the hardware itself. Sadly some games that were set to launch on Day One have been pushed back, some have been canceled.
The system launched with 14 retail titles, and two downloadable games. However, only six of the retail titles are exclusive to the PS3.
On the download side of things, there is Blast Factor and Cash Guns Chaos. Soon to be available downloads include: Calling All Cars, FlOw, Go! Puzzle, Go! Sudoku, and Lemmings 2. These games all cost $9.99, but Blast Factor can be bought for $7.99 right now.
The launch day games might not be jaw dropping in number, but no one has launch day games anymore, they are called "launch window." The 14 games available at launch are:
Sony considers the following titles within the launch window:
- Blazing Angels: Squadrona of WWII
- Fight Night Round 3 (out this week)
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
- Full Auto 2: Battlelines (out this week)
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
Of these games, only Full Auto 2 is an exclusive, the rest are already available for the Xbox 360.
Finally, Sony has released (as of Dec. 4) PSone game for download, as mentioned above. For starters, these games include:
- Cool Boarders
- Crash Bandicoot
- Hot Shots Golf 2
- Syphon Filter
- Tekken 2
More are sure to follow, and this is a good start.
Two demos that I recommend trying out are for MotorStorm, and F1 Championship Edition. There are demos for games that are in stores right now, too.
Now, as I alluded to earlier, these games may matter more (or less) to you depending on if you are a PSP or Xbox 360 owner. If you own an Xbox 360, 14 of the above titles are already out on that console.
But wait! There's more! Thousands more, in fact. The PlayStation 3 offers (almost) full backwards compatibility with PSone and PS2 games. It even has a nice utility to manage virtual memory cards for both previous PlayStation consoles. You can even purchase an accessory that will allow you to transfer save files from your existing memory cards into virtual memory cards, which are just saved to the hard drive.
Some games are not fully backwards compatible, but Sony can patch these with firmware upgrades, similar to how Microsoft updates its own legacy games.
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of the PS3 launch comes when you also own a PSP. There are a number of features that you can take advantage of now, and one major feature that is planned for next year.
Remote Play allows your PSP to control your PS3 using your wireless Internet. You can view all the media on the PS3, it streams it to your PSP. High-definition 720p videos are converted for playback on the PSP, all in real time. You can also access music and photos from the PS3 hard drive.
Sony has stated that Remote Play will work at any hotspot next year, not just the one your PSP and PS3 live in today. That is going to be a really great feature for those who own both gadgets.
You can control the PS3 web browser, but sadly cannot access the PlayStation Store from the PSP. It seems ideal that you would be able to do this, especially when Sony rolls out the update to allow you to access your PS3 from any hotspot.
You can also plug your PSP in using USB and access the Memory Stick directly on your PS3, or just take the Memory Stick out and use the card slot on the front of the PS3.
When you purchase PSone games, you must have your PSP connected to the PS3. The games are downloaded and installed on the PSP's memory stick. I found this process seamless, but it took a very long time.
Instillation took longer than the download. But it worked, and now I have Syphon Filter and Crash Bandicoot on my PSP, and that is pretty sweet. These PSone games range in size from 200 MB to over 500 MB, so you will likely need to purchase more memory before you download too many games. (The store will not allow you to download the games unless enough space is available on the Memory Stick.)
PSP owners are given some substantial features "out of the box" once the PS3 is plugged in. The only thing I could ask for in this department is to be able to charge my PSP when plugged into my PS3.
Ultimately, it is easy to tell that Sony is a hardware company, and Microsoft is a software company. The Cross Media Bar needs some work, it has some rough spots. Sony is planning on updating this via firmware upgrades, which is a very good thing.
Sony should have learned from Microsoft's mistakes from last year; some feature parity would go a long way to making the PS3 user interface more user friendly.
The PlayStation 3 feels more like a PC than a console, from the web site-like store to installing games and demos. Some games, such as Ridge Racer 7, Genji: Days of the Blade, and Mobile Suit Gundam Crossfire have optional installs of up to five gigabyte of data, all to reduce loading times (you want to perform these optional installs).
Automatic title updates, which are seamless to perform on the Xbox 360, are not pretty on the PS3. Call of Duty 3 required a four-part download that took quite a while to download. Once installed, I was prompted to quit the game using the PS button, and relaunch it. This is all handled automatically, and much faster I might add, on the 360 (for the same game, even).
Besides a component cable not being in the box, you will not find a remote either. This means using the controller and convoluted DVD/BD menu overlay for controlling movies. Sony will sell you a BD remote of course. Microsoft gave you a remote as a bonus for the first shipment of units, it was a nice bonus.
One of the biggest glitches so far — and one that Sony is aware of — is that some games get down-sampled to 480p if you do not have a HDTV that outputs 720p (whereas the Xbox 360 would just upscale it to 1080i.) Sony cannot fix that, and the lack of background downloading, fast enough.
If you have been an Xbox 360 owner for any amount of time, the holes in the PS3 user experience start to become apparent rather fast. Sony needs to create an experience that is equal, if not better, but Sony's software is riddled with a feature set that needs fit-and-finish.
What They Got Right
It is much easier to focus on what is wrong with the PS3, but there are many things Sony did right. The first is the promise of actively updating the firmware, similar to the PSP. The PSP has great features that did not exist when it shipped, I have a pretty good idea the same will come true for the PS3.
The unit is very quiet, a sharp contrast to the Xbox 360. The slot loading drive, and touch sensitive buttons are a nice touch, too.
Borrowing much from the PSP's user interface was a smart decision, using the same universal save system is wonderful, as such, Sony should receive kudos for bringing this feature over. There is work to be done of course, but the Cross Media Bar is a solid start.
On the peripheral side, the support for third party USB a Bluetooth devices, while sketchy at times, is better than the competition.
The PS button menu — which comes up when you hold the PS button for couple seconds — is also nice. This has options to quit the game, turn off the controller, and turn off the console. You are also given indicators for battery life and wireless channel the controller is using (including the option to swap channels — a plus).
Sony's commitment to backwards compatibility is great, and the virtual memory card utility works well.
Plus, you can't talk about the launch without mentioning Resistance. This is the "must have" PS3 game of the launch. And, lets not forget what was available Day One of the PS2, so the games we have right now on the PS3 are pretty good in comparison.
Ridge Racer 7 and Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom round out my top three for the launch of the PS3. Blast Factor is also worth the price tag.
If you are interested in Blu-ray movies, the price point is easily justified. But I believe that most gamers are more concerned with the PS3 being a gaming device. The PS3 is quite attractive for its PSP related features, something I think Sony needs to push more in advertising.
For me it all comes down to games, and the system does not have many exclusives right now. However, Sony does have a list of impressive looking exclusive titles coming out in the next two years — of course these are subject to change, take Assassins Creed as a prime example. Followed is a list of games that may catch your eye:
- Metal Gear Solid 4
- Final Fantasy XIII
- Virtua Fighter 5
- F1 Championship Edition
- Gran Turismo 5
- Ninja Gaiden Sigma
- Devil May Cry 4
- The Eye of Judgment
- Heavenly Sword
- Unreal Tournament 2007
Just like the Xbox 360, and to a lesser extent the Wii, the PS3 has a lot of untapped graphics power under the hood. It will likely take a year before we see anything like Gears of War — which took a year after launch of the Xbox 360.
Right now the PS3 has a lot of potential, but the question is: should you buy it? If you are asking that right now, the answer is no. Those who wanted one, got one. In time, the software library will sell the PS3 and ultimately make it a worthy investment.