Since its inception, Sony’s Playstation 3 quickly ascended the ranks as a market leader – just not in the demographic that the electronics giant would’ve probably preferred. Though it’s become well respected in the gaming sector, its prowess lies in the computing machine’s ability to handle Blu-ray technology on the cinematic side of things. At around $100 less than most of the competition, it decodes advanced audio tracks as an earmark on Sony’s barrage of firmware enhancements while providing an admirable picture and full interactivity with the technology’s BD-Live and BD-Java 2.0 capacities. More advanced machines have now slipped into the market that takes the unit’s capability down a few pegs, but it’s unequivocally still the best value – you know, because it ‘s also a fine gaming machine and media hub.
Much like the transition between slimline and launch Playstation 2 systems, Sony have now spearheaded a slim Playstation 3 with an attractive new price tag underneath $300. To say that it’s one of the best values for the money is certainly a beleaguered understatement; however, the real significance lies in whether this new model outperforms its older siblings, the bulkier Playstations launched on and since October 0f 2006. The results are a mixed bag of strong positives and middling negatives that ultimately give way to a firm “yes”, but not without a few stipulations that’ll likely weigh on the minds of Sony’s loyalists.
Out of the Box:
With the Slim PS3, streamlining of build size was clearly a prime driving force to releasing this new 120 GB system – along with offering a sleek new design at an attractive price. It arrives in a box that fits somewhere between the launch system’s packaging and the sturdier PS2 style of support, arranged in a fashion that contains folded cardboard inside to support the component. Inside, you’ll receive the slim PS3 unit itself, the newer model DUALSHOCK / SIXAXIS controller, a standard two-prong AC adapter, Composite A/V cords, Sony’s Playstation 3 demo disc, a mini USB cable for the controller, and a user manual.
Note that even though Sony has been advertising the system as the unit that “only does everything” – including high-definition playback of both gaming and Blu-ray tech – it only comes with the gear to rig it up for 480i signals and stereo sound. Keep in mind that you’ll need to fit an HDMI cable in the budget, or go the route of finding component A/V cables and/or a Toslink cable. Since we’ll be testing the full extent of the PS3’s capacity as a Blu-ray bitstreaming player, the slim PS3 will be hooked up via HDMI to Onkyo’s SR605.
Build Quality / Differences:
Needless to say, the first Playstation 3 unit is a beast; measuring close to 4 inches tall at its thickest point, 12.75 inches wide and 11 inches deep , it has a difficult time finding enough space to receive ample breathing space in any home theater arrangement. Users can find ample placement, but there was always the concern of overheating the unit when considering the heat generated from a combination of all the components at play – receiver, plasma screen, etc. When the temperature spiked, the Playstation 3 mirrored something akin to a jet engine with its volume of sound coming from the fan. With those factors under consideration, and under the right conditions, the thicker PS3 could be kept cool and relatively quiet for longer gaming / movie screening sessions. Rarely did the comparison PS3 unit for this review, the 20 GB system, ever pop up with an overheat message over several years of use – even though it had its moments where it sounded like it was ready to blast into orbit.
The slim PS3 – measuring a little over 3 inches high, 11 inches wide, and about 11 and a half inches deep, going further back than the thick PS3 -- stands as an attractive upgrade over its thicker predecessor, sporting a grainy matte-style coating over most of the unit that removes the sheen that the older systems carried. Fingerprints can be kept at a minimum due to this thoughtful exclusion, except on the right and left flat sides of the system that still carry the glossy finish. Though more attractive in these eyes (beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder), it’s obvious that the framework isn’t either as thick or sturdy as the previous system. As a nice touch, the new PS3 logo has been etched into the top. Yep, you can say goodbye to the Spider-Man font embossed in silver across the entire length and welcome a simple emblem on the top. For those curious, the Playstation symbol underneath the loading tray cannot be rotated like other models. Whether that’s a clear indicator over whether the PS3 should be on its side or laying flat isn’t certain, but it’s a suggestive “nudge” in the right direction.
Design elements start to shift from purely aesthetic to more usable applications at the front of the system. For starters, the silver lining that separated the 60, 80, and 160 GB systems from the 20GB system has been removed; once again, the PS3 has reverted back to a jet black front with no silver to be seen. It’s a minor yet attractive feature when considering the unit as a piece of home theater equipment, since the solid dark property of the unit makes it soak into a room’s darkness. Also, instead of the touch-registry sensors that control the Eject and Power On / Off functions, actual buttons have been put in place. Though no issue arose with not being able to push a sensor and get the desired result from the previous system, it’s nice to both feel the button and hear that “click” underneath your fingertips – sort of like feeling that sting from disinfectant ointment when putting it on a cut. Instead of having to hold down a nonexistent, head-sensing button like the previous models, a quick press of the snap Power On / Off button controls the power.
To the bottom-left of the unit sit two USB ports (not four, but two), primarily available as charge stations for the controllers. However, they’re also ports for portable thumb / hard drives and as ports for web cameras and other USB devices. Though nearly fully-functional USB ports, a USB network adapter cannot be used to hook the PS3 unit online. However, if you choose to keep the PS3 offline, firmware updates can be downloaded onto portable devices and plugged into the unit for easy uploading. Furthermore, images and mp3 files can be accessed through these ports. Disappointingly, an SD card reader has not been included with these new models, as have any extra USB ports in the rear (ideal for other items, like the Playstation Eye).
Shipping with the 120 GB system is one of Sony’s DUALSHOCK 3 / SIXAXIS controllers. Featuring the company’s signature four-button system with geometric shapes etched into each button, it’s fairly easy to use and compatible as a remote for the PS3’s Blu-ray technology. If the controller doesn’t suit your fancy, then a Bluetooth Playstation 3 remote is also available for purchase (at a list price of $25). Bear in mind that Sony’s unit doesn’t have an infrared sensor, which negates the opportunity to simply use the universal remote of your choice (though adapters have become available over the past year). Though the rumble feature might not jive with every gamer (able to be toggled On / Off), the added weight from the weighted spindles in the handles gives it a nice center of gravity.
When taking a look at the rear of the slim PS3, one difference will immediately stand out. Instead of the three-pronged AC cord most commonly used with computer systems that became commonplace on thePS3 models, Sony have shifted back to a two-pronged AC adapter with no power brick. It’ll make the process of purchasing replacement cables a little easier and possibly cheaper, yet it brings up some concerns regarding the temperature of the unit and how strong it’ll handle a power current. Also, Sony decided to not include the power switch at the rear of the unit. It’s a surprising choice since they’ve included this switch on the back of both PS2 systems and on the first PS3 models, but not one that’s either a positive or negative. Considered as a security measure for when the unit won’t be used for a prolonged period of time, or as a quick switch-off during a thunderstorm, the PS3 will now have to perpetually sit in Standby Mode when plugged into the wall outlet.