Playstation 3 and the reason to buy
I have never bought a games console in my life so this was very much a step into the unknown for me. I didn't see the point of a games console when I could do everything I needed to do on a PC including playing games. It was only after very careful investigation that I decided that of all the possible games consoles on the market the PS3 finally offered something that might make it a worthwhile purchase. Ofcourse I could have chosen an Xbox but that really did look like a PC and didn't offer much in the way of extras. I could have chosen a Wii but for some reason that struck me as childish. Whilst I don't doubt that it is likely to be great fun, the pleasure of owning a Wii seems to be in its unique interface when gaming. I actually am not that keen on gaming. Some games are childish, some are boring, and others can be too complicated or the puzzles and riddles can have me stumped for months. Almost every game I have ever played falls into one of these categories so you might be wondering what the hell I am doing buying myself a games console. What really appealed to me about the PS3 was the immense processing power behind it. The 8 cell processor potentially delivers 8 times the processing power of say an old pentium machine. After watching a few demos of its capablities, I understood that it was more than a games machine. It was capable of storing hundreds of videos and photos. It was a DVD and blu ray player. It had high definition capabilites. It could also store music in a variety of formats. I later became aware that it had wireless capability, that I could browse the internet and that I could browse media or stream media from a PC to the PS3. It was these attributes rather than its gaming prowess that swung it for me and eventually persuaded me to bite the bullet and fork out £300 of my hard earned cash on a black box with questionable serious application. Anyway, having done so I can honestly say that it has been quite a good purchase. Don't get me wrong, this machine can't compete with a good spec PC. It's not going to replace a desktop or laptop machine. Infact when you first hook up the PS3 to your television and start to use the Xross Media Bar (XMB) interface you will no doubt encounter some problems. The Dualshock 3 sixaxis controller takes some getting used to and is incredibly frustrating to begin with. Don't worry, this gets easier over time. One of the first things I wanted to do was to put some of my own selection of music on the 80gb built in hard drive. There are a few ways to do this. If you have a USB memory stick you can move your mp3 files from your pc to your PS3 using the USB ports. the PS3 has two USB ports located at the front which ofcourse is a lot more convenient than having them at the back like the older generation PC's. The PS3 automatically detects a USB device and allows you to copy media files to the hard drive or to play them directly from your memory stick. I later discovered that I could just insert a typical music CD into the player and it will allow you to play the CD or to import it. It will however, import into AAC format rather than MP3 format which may or may not be to your liking. The next job I had in mind was to save some photos and videos to the hard drive. Again you can do this using a USB memory stick, although I did intially encounter a problem. We discovered that the photo files must be stored in a folder called PICTURE to be recognised instantly. The other option is to use the 'display all' menu option which will show all the folders on your USB device. If you drill down these folders to locate files that the PS3 doesn't understand or recognise a typical message appears saying something like 'no images found'. Its a similar story with videos with the PS3 recognising familiar formats like AVI and JPG.
What you get in the box
More usually than not you will purchase the PS3 as a bundle. Different bundles are priced differently according to the value of the items in the bundle. I guess mine was a typical bundle coming in at £299.99 and this included the following;
A Shiny Black PS3 box with an 80Gb HDD
A Dualshock 3 sixaxis controller and USB cable
A power cable
An antigrav HDMI cable (optional extra)
AV Scart connector and cable for non HD connections
The game Infamous (optional extra)
The game UFC (optional extra)
There are a whole bunch of additional accessories that you can purchase separately for the PS3, as you can imagine, and these include a tiny keyboard attachment for your PS controller, a blu ray player remote control, and a webcam facility for when you are chatting to friends. I understand that you can attach a USB hub if you need more than the two provided and that it will work with compatible sound systems if you need the ambience.
When I proceeded to try to connect via my wireless router to the internet I discovered that this was the tricky part. If you try to use the internet browser or goto network settings from the menu you have the option to scan for networks. It should automatically pick up your router but you will need the WEP code that is usually written on the bottom or side of your router as your security key before the connection is permitted. Once this is set up and saved correctly you are ready to begin surfing the internet. Surfing using the sixaxis controller is indeed a nightmare to begin with. This does get easier with experience. Similarly using the on-screen keyboard through the PS controller is also hell. Alas copy and paste is something which appears to be missing from so many devices, including the PS3, that typing out URL addresses, performing keyword searches, and writing text is tricky but once you have written a few key words down, this is remembered in the software and predictive text kicks in. Furthermore, once you have visited a few websites, you will be able to use the history list and will never have to type them in again. You can also bookmark your favourite webpages.
Dualshock 3 sixaxis PS controller
Once you become familiar with the sixaxis buttons in particular the circle, square, triangle and cross browsing the internet is almost as easy as on a PC. The circle button is generally used as a 'back to previous operation' key. The triangle usually opens up a list of options and the cross is the execute or select button. The PS controller can be wired or wireless. To go wireless it will need charging for a couple of hours or more using the supplied USB cable to begin with. The disadvantage of using the wired connection is that you have to sit quite close to the television initially. Once it is fully charged though you can sit all the way back on your sofa with full control of your PS3 using the device. It comes with built in vibration and rumble features which I guess adds to the gaming experience. It's handy when I am playing poker as the vibration informs me as to when it is my turn to play.
It apparently uses bluetooth technology to achieve this wireless connectivity. This means that you can also pair or configure bluetooth keyboards, mice and headsets with your playstation. Alternatively, if you wish, you could just use wired USB keyboards and mice but this again means you have to sit close to the TV. The built-in bluetooth technology would be much better if it worked with mobile phones or other exotic devices. You are unable to establish a connection with a mobile phone for the purposes of uploading media files. An oversight by Sony? I don't know if they have any plans to enable this in future but it would be a nice add on. Once you have a few photos, videos and music files on the hard drive of your playstation you can experiment with the interface and functionality of the system. For example, you can perform slide shows on your photos, you can group your photos, videos, and music by different categories, you can display rythmic screensavers whilst listening to your music and you can run a slideshow with music of your choice in the background. The photo menu option of the XMB allows you to display your photographs using a couple of different types of photo album layouts.
Another useful feature is the ability to stream data from your computer to your PS3. This can be configured by using windows media player and clicking on the library button to display the menu. Here you will find a media sharing option which you can select to enable it. The computer will scan for media devices and the PS3 will be displayed as an unknown device but that's ok. Once this is enabled you can view photos, videos and music that are on your computer saving valueable HDD space on your PS3. Ofcourse you have the option to copy data across if you wish saving you the hassle of storing data on DVDs and USB sticks to transfer data to and from your devices. One thing that I would like to see is the ability to back up your pc. If the PS3 had more HDD space and could handle all data files then this could be a serious possibility. Alas, I don't think Sony would ever agree to opening up a pandora's box by permitting files which could be corrupted, infected, or just plain garbage to be copied across willy nilly. Anyway the PS3 is still a useful backup tool for photos, video and music.
Once I had completed all the mundane work of copying and arranging my media I was now free to start gaming. Sure you can just load up a DVD or blu ray disc with a game on it and play it in single or two player mode but that is not a lot of fun. Playstation Home is the gateway to your online gaming experience. Its a virtual environment and to begin with you will need to create a character that typically would represent yourself. You can change the physical characteristics of the character like the height, weight, skin tone, nose, eyes and other features. You then select clothes from the wardrobe and you are free to explore your Harbour Studio apartment. The apartment is fairly sparse to begin with in terms of furniture or decor but you can add to the furniture or rearrange it, and repaint or wallpaper the walls. All of this is achieved at the click of a few buttons. From here you can leave your apartment and venture out in to the Home Square and other exciting locations. Initially entering a new location for the first time will require you to download files for that location and the Home area will take up over 3Gb of your precious HDD space.
In these virtual areas you can play games, watch trailers and short movies, chat to other people from around the world, or simply chill out and take a stroll or sit on a bench. There is even a shopping mall where you can add to your wardrobe or buy furniture for your apartment. Some items are free whereas other items you will have to pay for with real money. I know that the idea of buying virtual furniture for real money does sound strange but some people are tempted. The games that are available in the Home Square and other locations include chess, draughts, pool, bowling, racing, flying, poker and some crazy arcade games. You get to play against real opponents and can chat to them during play. You can also practice golf, or practice shooting in some well known fps environments like infamous. It would be great if this environment included some old favourites like pac-man, one arm bandits or blackgammon but alas I have not discovered these yet, The other option is to buy a well known game with online capability such as Call of Duty 4. I am not sure how this works but it gets rave reviews and is probably something that I will try later on. In your PS Home environment you can make friends and add them to your friend list. You can then message them, call them (if you have webcam or headset facilities), invite them back to your apartment, goto them, or simply chat. You can always block people who become annoying or delete people from you friend list if necessary. You can also check out the profiles of anyone you meet before you choose to befriend them. This should give you a good idea of how much of a geek they are as it will tell you how many gaming trophies they have won. Connectivity is a serious problem with PS Home beta and you might encounter the error D5027 which means that the site is currently in maintenance and not available. This can be very frustrating at times. When the servers are available however, the graphics are awesome and available in high definition. I can only achieve 720p however, and not the full 1080p that should be available with some games and the blu ray discs.
I did not know what to expect in terms of performance when I bought this machine. Something that was superquick given the 8 cell processor I guess. Let me make it perfectly clear that the performance of this machine while good is not as amazing as I was expecting. For photos, slideshows, and videos the performance is better than your average PC by a long way. Browsing the internet however can be frustrating and slow. I guess this is determined more by the connection speed but you might be disappointed with the performance in comparison to a high spec PC. The browser may not be up to the standards of PC browsers and some web content may have trouble downloading. It is however, a quiet machine that sits well alongside VHS recorders and PVRs and don't worry about the heat, I haven't noticed it getting overheated even during long hours of gaming. Similarly when you are in Playstation Home you may encounter poor performance aswell. Downloading can be slow, movement can be slow, connection problems are a real headache and just when I have a winning hand in the poker my network connection goes. I am hoping that Sony might be able to resolve some of these issues with the firmware updates they will offer from time to time. But as of now I am still waiting. Ofcourse you can use this machine to play regular DVDs and Blu-ray discs and in this aspect it performs fine.
Don't let the negative points put you off though. This is still a very good purchase and with the ongoing software updates I can only see this getting better and better. Finally, for those who are seriously interested I guess I should include some technical details.
CPU: Cell Broadband Engine
Internal Memory: 256MB XDR Main RAM, 256MB GDDR3 VRAM
Hard Drive: Internal 2.5" Serial ATA (80GB)
Input/Output: 2x USB 2.0
Output Ports on the Playstation 3 80GB:
1x Analog AV MULTI OUT
1x Optical Digital audio
Ethernet - (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T IEEE 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR)
Wireless Controller Bluetooth - Playstation 3 80 gb allows up to 7 bluetooth controllers
1x Bluetooth Dualshock 3 controller included
Supported screen size Video Resolutions:
480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p (24p/60p)
Blu-ray player maximum read speed:2x
DVD player maximum read speed:8x
CD player maximum read speed:24x
Playstation 3 80GB Dimensions:
Approximately 12.75in (W) x 3.86in (H) x 10.8in (D)
Weight: 11 lbs