Sony PlayStation 3

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Sony’s Playstation 3 video gaming console was among the most anticipated electronics products of 2006. Video game addicts camped out in front of stores days prior to the launch date. Some paid ridiculous amounts of money for a PS3 on Ebay. Chances looked slim that even we at CANADA HiFi would be able to get one before the end of the year. But thanks to our friends at EB Games, we got our hands on a unit with just enough time to review it for this January/February 2007 issue.

Now that the dust has settled, you should be able to buy a PS3 without waiting in the cold or paying more than its retail price. Two versions of the PS3 are available, a 20 GB model (for $549) and a 60 GB model (for $659). Both systems have exactly the same computing power and are capable of playing Blu-ray (high definition) movies. In addition to the larger hard drive, the 60 GB model also has a built-in wireless network card (IEEE 802.11 b/g) and is capable of reading all common digital memory cards.

The 60 GB model, which I am reviewing here may sound pricey at first. But the PS3 is much more than just a powerful video gaming system, it is a modern home entertainment system. For movie buffs, the PS3 offers Blu-ray disc playback as well as regular DVD playback. This is certainly a very attractive feature of the PS3. To satisfy audio fanatics, the PS3 plays regular CDs, MP3 discs and SACDs. Pictures and movies loaded onto digital memory cards and discs can be enjoyed through the PS3. Finally, the PS3 also allows you to surf the Internet from your couch. The PS3 is packed with features that far exceed its $659 sticker.

The PS3’s computing power comes from a Cell Broadband Engine CPU and an RSX graphics processing unit, both custom designed just for the PS3. Also under the hood are two types of memory, 256 MB of XDR main RAM and 256 MB of GDDR3 VRAM. The front bezel contains 4 USB 2.0 ports and behind a hidden flap, Memory Stick, SD Memory Card and CF digital memory slots. The back of the console has an Ethernet port, an HDMI version 1.3 output, an AV Multi Out connector and a digital optical output. On the picture side, the PS3 is capable of producing video ranging from 480i to 1080p (with a 60 Hz frame rate). Audio is decoded internally with up to 7.1 channels in the Dolby Digital, DTS, SACD and Dolby TrueHD formats. More audio formats will likely be supported in the future by the means of software updates.

The PS3 has a stunning modern design, finished in glossy black. Unfortunately this glossy finish proved to be impossible to keep free of finger prints and dust. My unit looked dirty on the second day. If you own anything glossy black, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The new PS3 controller looks almost identical as the PS2 controller but offers two notable upgrades. First, the controller is now wireless. Its batteries recharge automatically when the controller is connected to the console using the supplied USB cable. The second upgrade is a feature called Sixaxis motion sensing. This feature allows the controller to sense motion in six directions: up, down, left, right, forward and backward. A number of PS3 titles including Tony Hawk’s Project 8, 2K Sports’ NHL 2K7 and Sony’s NBA ’07 already take advantage of this feature.

I first experienced the Sixaxis feature of the controller while playing a MotorStorm demo and I was quite impressed. It allowed me to steer vehicles by tilting the controller instead of steering with the analogue joystick. The feature added a new level of excitement to the game. I look forward to seeing how other games will take advantage of this feature. The two analogue joysticks have also been improved. They now have a wider range of motion hence offering more precise control of games.

But not all things are great about the new controller. The force feedback function no longer exists, which is too bad because it was a cool feature used in many games. Perhaps even worse is the modification to the L2 and R2 trigger buttons. Both buttons are now pressure sensitive which is a great improvement. Unfortunately the slight changes in the shape and position of the buttons make them very frustrating to use with some games. For example, while playing car racing games my finger kept sliding off the R2 trigger which served as the gas pedal. The L2 and R2 buttons are made out of slippery plastic and when pressed for extended periods of time it is difficult to keep your finger on the button without it slipping off. This will be an issue with all games that require the L2 or R2 buttons to be pressed for extended periods of time.

In order to fully take advantage of the power of the PS3 you will need a high definition TV set and a 5.1 or better speaker system. That’s because all PS3 games are produced in high definition. I connected my PS3 using an HDMI cable to a Pioneer PDP-4360HD plasma (720p) and tried it on an InFocus IN76 projector (also 720p). Sound was provided by a Pioneer Elite VSX-84TXSi receiver that drove Sinclair Audio speakers.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of the PS3. So did the PS3 live up to this hype? And how does it compare with the other high definition video gaming system on the market, the Xbox 360?

After a quick initial setup, I was greeted with the Playstation 3 logo and then taken into the main PS3 interface (menu system). I was somewhat shocked to find that the PS3 has almost exactly the same interface as the Sony PSP, I never did enjoy the PSP interface. The interface is navigated by moving horizontally or vertically through an icon menu system. Horizontal icons provide access to the main functions of the PS3 and include selections such as photo, music, video, game and network among others. Vertical icons are the submenus of the main functions. It’s a simple interface to navigate but not nearly as pleasing or visually attractive as the Xbox 360 interface.

Without further delay, I popped in Resistance: Fall of Man, the top game available at the time of this review. The 720p graphics looked fantastic, they were an immense improvement over the PS2. The widescreen picture was filled with details possible only from a high definition source. The game play was smooth as butter and entertaining. But I wasn’t exactly blown away. The graphics were of the same caliber as Xbox 360 games, no better or worse. But as with any new video game console, it’s safe to say that as developers learn to harness the true power of the PS3, the quality of games will continually improve. The graphics of Full Auto 2: Battlelines looked pretty good, although not as good as that of Resistance.

The most attractive feature of the PS3, outside of being able to play video games, is its built-in Blu-ray player. I watched scenes from a few different Blu-ray movies and the picture quality was spectacular. In fact, the quality was very comparable to other stand-alone Blu-ray and HD DVD players that I have used. This amazing Blu-ray performance is definitely a feature that easily justifies the PS3’s price. Stand-alone Blu-ray players are currently about double the price of the PS3, and don’t offer any of the additional features included with the PS3. Regular DVDs looked about as good as they do on a decent DVD player. Unfortunately the PS3 doesn’t up-convert regular DVDs, it simply outputs them in 480p. The audio performance of uncompressed 5.1-channel PCM tracks on Blu-ray movies was equivalent to that of the other high definition disc players that I’ve used.

A service called the PlayStation Network will allow gamers to play online games, as well as chat with voice and video capability. This service was not turned on yet at the time I was evaluating the PS3, so I couldn’t try it out. But the promise is grand – the PlayStation Network will be accessible by PS3 gamers for free. A membership to Microsoft’s equivalent service, Xbox Live, currently costs $59 per year. This is certainly a big plus for the PS3.

The Xbox Live Marketplace currently allows users to download games, demos, video clips, additional game content as well as full length movies and TV shows in high definition. The PlayStation Store will offer similar content and functionality. At the time of this review, there wasn’t much to download from the PlayStation Store but of course it’s only a matter of time before this service grows. By far the most exciting download was the MotorStorm playable demo. This game looked and played incredible and offered a preview of what we can expect from the PS3 in the next few months.

Something that I found very attractive about the PS3 is its whisper quiet operation compared to the Xbox 360.

The PS3 had a rather very weak launch title line-up. For this reason, it did not live up to the Sony hype-machine in my opinion so I wouldn’t run to buy the system just yet if it’s primarily for video gaming. There is no doubt however that during the next few months increasingly better games will start to appear which will make the PS3 a lot more attractive. If you’re more interested in the PS3’s Blu-ray playback, by all means get one right away. All things considered, the $659 price tag of the 60 GB PS3 doesn’t seem that high for an entertainment system that without a doubt has a very bright future.

Manufacturer:
Sony
www.playstation.com

Price:
20 GB model $549 MSRP (Canadian)
60 GB model $659 MSRP (Canadian)

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