Playstation 3 Hardware Review
Posted December 13, 2006
I'll always remember the day the UPS guy dropped off the shiny new system, it was like a birthday gift that comes way too early and the excitement of it all keeps you up at night. Although I knew the unit would be in hand, the excitement of seeing the glistening black behemoth was more than I could handle. I cleared the space in the entertainment unit, pre-ran the HDMI can optical cables and waited for the doorbell. Then it arrived.
Opening the box:
As expected in this day and age each and every box includes enough cabling and accessories to get your new system connected to a home theater. However as most people are realizing the PlayStation 3 comes equipped with only composite connections. What this means in that even though the system can output graphics and video in breathtaking high definition, users who actually can take advantage of the supreme viewing format will need to shell out additional money for a component or better yet, HDMI connection.
The system itself is sleek, sexy and actually larger than one might expect. When placed next to the Xbox 360 and especially the Wii, this system not only pushes its raw processing power in their face, but also it's sheer size. If you are particular about keeping components is pristine condition, you may want to invest in a set of cloth gloves or at a minimum a micro fiber cloth to clean off the extraordinarily reflective surface of the PS3.
Setting it up:
Physically setting up the system in remarkably simple, a single power cord with no external brick connects to the system and an easy connection to your television is all you need. On two separate occasions I hooked the system up, once with composite and the other with HDMI and in both cases I experienced no issues to speak of. While it has been noted on many sites that some televisions have handshaking issues when connection via HDMI, the Samsung that I used did not display any of the problems and my initial setup was a breeze.
Upon first booting the system, you are presented with the now familiar Cross Media Bar interface and some initial setup prompting such as time and date, and a default user; providing you have your SIXAXIS controller connected via the three-foot USB cable. As someone who does not have a PSP this interface was new to me, and within seconds I was navigating through settings and getting connected to the wireless LAN in no time. One thing that was immediately noticed was an update was required for the system, and at this point the current revision of firmware is 1.30 and a slew of issues that cropped up with regards to resolution support have been addressed.
A couple of nitpicks to highlight during the setup, the reliance on a very short USB cable to charge the controller that at this time can only be charged when the system is on is a very big negative point. As more users are playing on HD televisions the requirement to sit two feet from those mammoth sets is asinine, and while any standard USB-mini-USB can be used, chances are finding a long cable is difficult.
To this old timer who fits perfecting into the average age of gamers metric, having to use a text message type interface for entering data is tedious and somewhat frustrating. I'm sure that generation-text is more than adept at entering their information, but for guys like me the standard QWERTY interface would have been a welcome change. However, even with all the bitching and moaning I could have just as easily set up using a USB keyboard, but I didn't.
The PlayStation Store & Web:
After sitting through the seemingly endless system update I was finally able to browse the PlayStation store to compare the offerings to that of the Xbox Live Marketplace. In place I did find movie trailers, game videos and demos but I initially did find the interface somewhat sluggish when using the standard SIXAXIS controller. However once I learned the hotkeys and how to better maneuver the cursor, I was flying around checking out items like an old hand. One thing that Sony must implement is background downloads. This was a huge complaint on the 360 when it launched and when it was addressed gamers around the world sighed in relief. There is nothing worse than downloading a near 1Gig demo and having to watch the progress bar creep from left to right. With the multiple Cell processors, I would think that one can be set up to handle all internet traffic allowing for more browsing or even playing other demos.
Web browsing with the SIXAXIS is likewise challenging, and overall I found the web service to be a little slow. However strange it was, I did find some satisfaction in surfing the web on my couch and the lag time was less of a hindrance than initially thought.
Now for some highlights of the system aside from the obvious look of the case and the Cell processor running the show. A lot of internet chatter has been directed at the flimsy feel of the SIXAXIS controller due to its lack of rumble. Because there is no rumble feature, the controller is a lot lighter than the Dual Shock and other competitorsí controllers, but I feel that itís far from flimsy. Iíve tweaked and applied some serious torque to my controller and not once did I get the impression that the controller would break under the stress.
The system also is ridiculously quiet when operating; so hushed scenes in movies or games will not be ruined by a loud fan. Considering the relatively low decibel level of the system, the unit itself stayed quite cool to the touch, but the fans do expel a fair amount of hot air making adequate ventilation a necessity.
Being new to the high-definition movie formats I must say that I am more than impressed with the Blu-Ray capabilities of this system. Movies look and sound fantastic when running from a Blu-Ray disc. While the controller fails as a solid remote control, a console specific remote control should be in stores this holiday season which will make a world of difference when controlling the movies. One very cool feature of the Blu-Ray player is the ability to see the bit rate of both the video and audio portions of the feed. While the everyday movie watcher will care less about this, itís a nice little treat for the inner geek.
Now for some downside. Other than what was mentioned above Ė short USB cable, slow updates, no background downloading Ė there are a couple other issues that need to be addressed to bring the system closer to the competition.
The current selection of games is actually quite meager, and even then the innovation factor in most of them is quite low. For example, the motion control in the launch titles sadly does seem like an afterthought Ė from the ball spin in Tiger Woods to the evasive maneuvers in Genji, itís apparent that at this point in time the SIXAXIS enhancements are nothing more than a gimmick. But given time, I have faith that developers will be able to put this aspect to good use.
The other big disappointment is the lack of video up scaling for DVD viewing. Standard definition movies are displayed in 480p mode even though you have an HDTV and use HDMI cables. Needless to say, people using this as a DVD player will be disappointed for the time being.
Also Iíve been reading reports of some very poor conversions for some PS2 titles when played on the PS3 Ė in these cases making the games look much worse than they do on the PS2. I find this somewhat disappointing seeing as I skipped the PS2 generation and was looking forward to finally playing some of the top notch titles I missed.
The initial thrill of a new console is usually met with some remorse, especially very early in the life cycle. However, people are called early adopters for a reason and they can help propel the development of fixes and tweaks to a system that can continually evolve such as the PS3. At this point, the piles of ports that are available on the system donít really offer much of a wow factor as they were not meant to take full advantage of the system.
While the launch game selection seemed a little light on innovation and new titles, looking further down the line really does look bright. With extremely well established franchises like Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid both making their fourth appearance on Sony platforms, and other promising titles like Heavenly Sword and Lair coming out hopefully soon in the new year, the outlook seems brighter than first imagined.
Also, considering the pace that Sony is addressing problems as evidenced by firmware updates, the other niggling issues are sure to be addressed in due time. As developers become more familiar with the console itself and find ways to squeeze out raw processing power and find unique ways to use the motion control I am confident that the PS3 will be another hit for Sony as time roles by.