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I have a rather annoying habit. I tend to collect games consoles. The problem with this is threefold. It's expensive, Buggy (she who must be obeyed, but rarely is) doesn't like the fact that the bedroom where they all live and we sleep has more lights flashing than the average xmas tree and the one that's most annoying is I rarely play any games. I can't justify them, and I'm not even going to attempt to, although I managed to state a convincing argument about having a blu-ray player at the time. I did have a PS3 from the day they first came out (I get some great freebies with my job), but due to a slight moment of clumsiness I killed the original so decided to buy another one so this review is for the now standard 40Gb version. Anyway it found it's way to Ant Towers, but the question is should it have stayed in the shop?
The PS3 isn't a light console in any way. It weighs in at around 6KG as well as being pretty big (it's about 12"x10"x3" if memory serves right), but it does looks pretty cool in a retro style. Decked out in black, It has a convex top with the Playstation 3 logo on it in silver, and apart from two power lights on the front and two USB ports that's it. Like the Wii it can either be propped up on it's side (handy if you're low on space) or laid flat. At the back is your ethernet cable port and your many video output options including the HDMI port (for those of you with a HD ready TV), but make note this is my first gripe. The HDMI cable doesn't come with the PS3 (although you do get a standard video out cable) so if you're wanting everything in HD then you need to shell out an extra £13 or so for one of these.
If you took the lid off the PS3 then you'd see where all that weight comes from. As well as the Cell processor and the RSX GPU, it's got 256Mb of system RAM and 256Mb of graphics VRAM. Add to this your wi-fi functionality, the bluetooth functionality, the 40Gb hard drive and the Blu-Ray player, and it's easy to understand why it's pretty heavy. Yes, it's got the specs of a really good system, but it doesn't mean it is.
Upon starting to use the system, the first thing you'll notice is the fact that the controller is now wireless. It looks pretty much the same apart from a row of red LEDs at the top which let you know which controller number you are (you can have up to 7) and the PS button in the middle (kind of like a remote control power button for your PS3) and the lack of cable. This is where the PS3 shines through, and can also fail miserably. Sony have tried to go completely wireless with this console and I must admit that having a wireless controller is a massive bonus, but the downside is they're so expensive at around £35 a shot. On the plus side, you don't have to pay for batteries as there is a USB cable that attaches to the controller and PS3 which charges the controller if it starts to run down. Also, if you'd rather stick with your old PS2 controllers, for £13 you can get a 4 port PS2 adaptor which plugs into the USB port and allows you to use PS2 controllers (it seems that these are 3rd party and not official Sony products so some shops don't know about them - we got ours at GameStation). The minus side to using the old PS2 controllers is when it comes to the SixAxis (6-axis) functionality. The PS3 controllers have a motion sensor called SixAxis (also a palndrome :) ), so as well as the usual controller funtions (analog stick, buttons etc) you get to tilt and twist the controller and if the game has for that functionality then it will make the experience more immersive. So for all those people who used to turn and twist the controller in response to what's going on when playing games, you've been training well...
OK, so I need to digress a slight bit here. As I've mentioned the PS3 has USB connectivity, so the theory is that most standard devices (keyboards, mice etc) will hook-up with it. In reality it's actually true as well. My USB keyboard and mouse both work fine with it as does my Vaio external hard drive. The only real problem is the fact that the external hard drive requires formatting as FAT32 as opposed to the standard Windows variant of NTFS. This presents two problems. The first problem is you're limited to a maximum filesize of 4Gb. For 99% of us this isn't a problem unless you've converted a HD/Bluray video to an AVI file in which case you'll need to knock it down to a lower resolution. The second problem is some operating systems, especially Vista, won't allow you to format in FAT32 any more. The solution to this is go to download.com or do a Google and download an application called CompuApps SwissKnife V3. This is a HD utility designed for Windows XP, but it works with Vista and does all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Use it to delete the partition on the external hard drive and ten format the external drive to FAT32 (just make sure you've backed it up before hand). Anyway, pretty much anything that doesn't require complicated drivers will work with the PS3 so it's 'expandable' and if in doubt give it a try - if it doesn't recognise it, most of the time it will just ignore it.
When firing it up you get a little bit of set-up to do such as date time etc as well as your network settings. After this is done, and assuming you've entered your network settings it will no doubt discover an update it needs. Mine needed the update to 2.10 and it took the better part of an hour to do it's thing. The important thing here is to do this when you've got the time to sit and watch a status bar slowly creep it's way to 100% because once you've started you just can't stop. Or is that Pringles? Anyway, you can't pause mid-update so you just have to grin and bare it or annoy the cats which was what I did while it updated.
OK, so you've eventually got to the main screen and what you're presented with is the XrossMediaBar - pronounced Cross Media Bar - which is the main system user interface. For anyone who's got a PSP, then you'll know what to expect. For anyone who hasn't, let me explain. There is a horizontal bar that goes across the top of the screen about a third down from the top. You scroll left and right and various menu options pop-up. Once you get to the section you want, you then scroll up and down and then press the X key to choose the option and go from there. This either works really well for you, or really badly. For those of us who can adapt well then it becomes more or less instantaneously obvious and we're at home with it. If you're one of those people that has 'system shock' at new interfaces (and there's nothing wrong with that) then you may have to spend a few minutes getting a feeling for it. There's nothing here that can really kill the system so feel free to experiment and see what happens.
Your main options on the XMB are Users (where you create profiles for whoever is using it), Settings, Photo, Music, Video, Games, Network and Chat. Settings, as it says deals with the settings or configuration of the PS3. Most of this is the bog-standard stuff, but where this is important is the Printer settings (yes you can now print stuff on the PS3) and OtherOS.
The OtherOS option is for those of you that want to use the PS3 for other things aside from just a games console. Now I'll be honest here, don't expect to throw a copy of Windows on there or something. It might be possible to do this, I simply don't know. One of the operating systems you can use however is Yellow Dog Linux. Linux isn't for the faint hearted, getting used to it can be difficult (especially for the major technophobes) and unless you're a pure power user I wouldn't bother with it, but at the end of the day it's a nice touch. I do have YDL installed and it's not too bad and definitely increases the functions of the PS3, but you also need a HDMI cable (essential as it only runs in HDMI mode), USB mouse and keyboard to really set this up (my controller simply wouldn't play) so as the PS3 only has 2 USB ports on it you'll probably need a USB hub (this wasn't a problem for me as I was using a spare Apple Mac keyboard I had that was lying around which had 2 USB ports in it) as well. Once it's set-up it works like any normal copy of Linux, but a problem you'll find is that after it's set-up it will default into booting into Linux everytime you switch the PS3 on. To get this to go to the PS3 OS you either need to go into Linux and enter a console command or perform a system reset (holding the power key down for 5-10 seconds). If I've lost you here then don't bother installing it unless you really need to.
OK, so pictures, music and video. Well you can copy all your pictures, CDs/MP3s onto your PS3 and download videos onto it too. Or you can do the uber-funky thing and set up a mediaserver on your PC so you can stream to your PS3. Yes, once again this is something that you need to figure out how to do and can be a right pain to set up if you don't know what you're doing, but once it's done it pays off in the end because you're saving hard drive space and it's easier if you've got a load of stuff you don't want to spend ages copying across to the PS3. For anyone interested in doing it then do a Google on 'TVersity media server' as I've found that one works the best although it can be done on a few other applications such as Windows Media Player and certain versions of Nero. For those of you that want to stream the videos then I'd recommend simply finding out which of your DVD rips work (the 2.10 PS3 update includes support for DivX and a few other things, but sometimes the odd rip doesn't work - out of 480 films we have on the network, around 5 that didn't work) and if you have any problems, download 'Red Kawa's PS3 Video 9' and convert them using that. Obviously the PS3 needs to be on the network and it requires a fair amount of setting up your PC to do this, but it's fun and means that if you have a film you like watching, but it's on your PC as opposed to PS3 then you simply stream it over and watch it as it streams. The downside is the PC that the server is on needs to be running when accessing it. This isn't a major problem for me as I have 3 computers which need to be on constantly due to various things, but for some people it may be. Something to note is that if you have any videos you don't want the kids to access on the PS3 via media server remember to remove them from the library as you can't restrict access to them. Another neat function nonetheless.
So now we're at the games. This is where you do all your games related stuff such as manage the save files, export them to HD, import them from the PS1/2 memory cards and access the games. Pretty much the standard stuff. Let's throw a game in, say Burnout: Paradise City and see what happens. Oh - I need to update to apply a patch that makes the game better. Aaaargh! This is where another gripe comes in. Yes, it's great that you can now update games and apply patches to make the game better and get rid of annoying bugs, but what about the poor people who don't or can't have broadband internet access? The PS3 is so reliant on net access that it's going to discourage people from buying one as if you don't have a router or wireless internet access then you can add *at least* another £40 or so to buy a wireless router, not to mention your monthly cost of telephone/net access and so on. The quality of the games in regards to image clarity is a lot better than on the PS2 especially when you've got an HDMI cable (I did cart the HD TV in from the living room to see which got Buggy shouting at me - see the things I do for Ciao?) and Need For Speed Pro Street on the PS2 and PS3 you'll notice a major difference.
So now we're in the Network section. Here you can access the browser, folding@home which is a distributed computing application which uses your PS3 to help find a cure for diseases (if you know what SETI@home is then you've got the idea), and RemotePlay. RemotePlay is one of the PS3s most interesting features. What you do is connect the PSP to the PS3 using the USB cable you got with your PSP and this registers it. After it's been registered, you can then access and use your PS3 from anywhere you can get a fast enough internet connection or if you're close enough to the PS3 to connect via it's wireless connection to the PSP. The theory goes that you can play games on the PS3 on your PSP as long as the game supports the feature. I haven't been able to play any of the games that I've got on my PSP, but I did pootle around with the basic accessing and stuff on the PSP and it seems to work pretty well. It's a weird function, and I hope more games will start to support it because it would certainly stop the fights over the Sky vs PS3 fight we currently have at certain times.
Now let's not forget the browser, which is a great browser and supports stuff like Flash (so you can watch those crazy animations or YouTube) as well as the standard webpages. Three things do let it down though. The first one is using the PS3 controller to actually move around the webpage is a bizarre experience. You do eventually get the hang of it, but something seems weird about it. It gets even more annoying when you want to do a Google or anything that requires text input as you need to use the controller to put the text in using the on screen keyboard if you don't have a USB keyboard and then it degenerates into something akin to sending an SMS. The second one is the fact that on HD the text can be really small. You can zoom in and out to make the text bigger, but even on a large HD TV (my model is a 32") if you're low down in the vision department, then sitting any more than a few feet from the TV is going to make the text unreadable unless you zoom in.
***PARENTS PLEASE READ THIS*** This is the third and most important issue with the PS3 browser and PARENTS TAKE NOTE! The PS3 does not come with any parental control features whatsoever in regards to the browser. If little Johnny decides to go and do a search for porn then he can. If he decides to go to a website that contains graphic images of people killing one another then he can. You basically get the idea. There is no way of setting banned sites whatsoever from within the browser. Trust have decided to get in on the act and make a parental filter thing in the style of a net-nanny type application. This is free until April 2008, but there are a couple of downsides. It becomes a pay thing after April, which means that you're looking at around a tenner a month (that was the price I was quoted by someone in the know about such things, but not gospel) after that to filter out 'mature content'. The other downside is it's an all or nothing affair. You can't turn it on for certain users and off for others. This is one thing I think that Sony should seriously address and making parents pay for wanting to keep their children safe from undesirable content is just wrong. I've got a feeling that unless some form of free filter is put in place for this then it's going to end up with another situation like the one where the PSP was dubbed the Playstation Porno.
This brings us to the last option which is chat. Now I can't say how good this is as I've not been online with it, but the idea is you can have chats with your mates who also have PS3s. Voice chats can be done too, so it's almost like a VOIP (internet telephone) system. Sounds good in theory, but whether it works good or not I'm sorry I can't say. You do need a USB headset though to enjoy this function from what I believe.
Oh, if you're appalled by the hard drive size of the PS3 that can be expanded too. It accepts most 2.5" SATA drives. These can be picked up for around £40 for an 80Gb version and from then on the prices go up. There is also a limit to what size drive the PS3 will handle, but I know someone who has hooked up a 250Gb drive to his PS3 without any problems so I'm guessing anyone who wants to upgrade their drive will be happy. I'd personally go for hooking up an external HDD to the PS3 as the capacity vs cost ratio is (a 320Gb SATA internal is around £110, but a 500Gb external is around £100) better, but each to their own.
The other function that makes the PS3 a good console is the fact that it's also a Blu-ray/DVD player. Blu-ray is the next step up from DVDs and as the film industry now seems to be swaying towards Blu-ray as opposed to HD-DVD which is in the XBox 360 it may be worth investing in one purely for that reason. Also the PS3 is about the same price as the cheapest Blu-ray player available at the moment. Having said that, to truly benefit from this you'd need a HD ready TV and a HDMI lead.
The PS3 has some truly great features and is a massive advance on the PS2. The sheer power inside the box is pretty good (it's got around 3.6Ghz of processing power which will put most desktop PCs to shame) and in the quality of the games it really shows. The only major drawback at the moment is the price. A bog standard Xbox 360 is around £100 cheaper than a PS3, but then again it's not so readily expandable. There is also the issue of it being both almost reliant on the internet and the fact that the browser is insecure from the point of having no free parental controls. These are issues that I feel Sony need to really address.
I wouldn't part with my PS3 for love nor money as I love it to bits and has been a massive source of entertainment. It's worth the extra money you pay for it due to the quality of the games and the sheer power inside it, not to mention the fact that it's also a blu-ray player. Seriously recommended, but if your budget is restricted you might want to see if the price drops before you commit to one.
***UPDATE*** There's a few things I forgot to mention (oops!) so here they are.
The PS3 is not backwards compatible. What this means is that if you have a load of PS1/2 games then they won't work on the PS3. The 60GB version used to have backwards compatibility, but it looks like Sony have seen fit to pull this. Whether it will be included in a software update I don't know, but it's a real shame as it stands.
Also, it's a good idea to 'activate' your PS3 and PSP if you have one. The reason for this is the ability to download free stuff from the PSNetwork. The other reason is that the PSN has 'classic' games that you can buy from around £3.50 and some of these can be copied to the PSP for play on the PSP without having to remote play.
Once again, sorry for not mentioning this earlier, but I actually forgot.
Had the pleasure of playing on my mates PS3 on launch morning, that was a cool experience, though I can never afford the hardware or games for the first 3 or 4 years of a new generation, so I'll have to wait awhile yet before I get my hands on one. :) tom
eve6kicksass 15.02.2008 14:29
An exceptional review there, though I would never buy a PS3 because I'm not into video games. Chris :)