|Sony Premium 60 GB Playstation 3|
|Home Theater Video Players Blu-ray Players|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
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Several years ago, when word of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 began spreading around gaming websites, HDTV was still out of financial reach for many consumers; only early adopters had plunked down the big coin for their 720p/1080i sets. Forty-two inch plasmas were around $8,000, 56-inch rear projection DLPs were around $5,000; truth be told, they all pretty much stunk compared to what you can now get for significantly less than half the price. DLP color wheels have gotten faster and have more color segments. HD-ILA TVs have deeper blacks, and today’s plasmas don’t “burn in” as often – if ever. Many of the old sets didn’t even have DVI digital inputs, let alone an HDMI input with HDCP compliance.
Microsoft introduced the Xbox 360 game system in late 2005, and by that time, the prices of quality HDTV displays had dropped significantly. Most sets had HDMI or at least DVI digital inputs, and some even had multiple digital inputs. Many gamers were ready for this HD-capable system from Microsoft and had their spare HDMI input ready to go on their TV, switcher, AV preamp or receiver. Some talked about the possibility of HD DVD playback capability and digital HDMI output, but it was not to be.
Microsoft took advantage of the 2005 holiday selling season and cranked out as many boxes as possible, getting about a million into gamers’ hands at launch, but many consumers, myself included, were disappointed to find no HD DVD drive and no digital video output. Surely PS3 would have HDMI and was going to be powered by Blu-ray, so I kept a space on my switcher reserved for PS3, and November 17, 2006 was the day this spare HDMI input was filled.
Moving my feather-light Nintendo Game Cube and Sony PS2 out of the way to make room in my theater for the PS3, I quickly realized what a serious piece of gear the Sony Playstation 3 is. With a weight of 11 pounds, the compact and stylishly boxed PS3 feels quite dense. The Xbox 360 was actually less bulky than the original Xbox, but the PS3 is noticeably larger than the PS2. The system is 3.9 inches wide by 12.8 inches long and 10.8 inches deep. Sony opted to put the power transformer inside the PS3, while Microsoft’s box has a large gray brick that sits outside the console. I actually prefer the way Sony did it, as all you need to do is plug in the included standard computer-type power cord, flip the small toggle switch on the back, and your PS3 is powered up.
Opening the box, I noticed the packing materials are not up to the level of a company like Apple, but still the look, smell and feel of a virgin video game system on launch day are something to experience. Included with the system is a standard power cable, as well as a wireless Sixaxis controller, an Ethernet cable, a short USB cable, a composite video cable (red/white/yellow RCA), the instruction manual and a Blu-ray disc of the Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy “Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby” (Sony Pictures), just to remind everyone that this is more than just a game machine, it’s a Blu-ray player too. You’ll note the lack of an HDMI and/or component video cable. It has been reported that the PS3 costs Sony around $900 per unit for the first few million that they make, so it’s understandable why they didn’t include every single cable option. Official Sony as well as a host of aftermarket HD cable options are available. If you have a native 1080p input, you will need to have an HDMI cable. If you want to listen to multi-channel SACD discs, your receiver or AV preamp will have to be at least HDMI 1.2 with the capability of decoding audio coming down the HDMI cable. The highest video resolution you will get out of the box with the PS3’s included composite video cable is 480p, the same as standard-def DVD. A menu in the display setup screen allows the system to automatically detect the highest resolution available for your display, and will set up the system for it. The maximum resolution is 1080p at 60hz via HDMI 1.3.
The system and controllers have been shown online in many variations, colors and styles in spy and prototype photos, but at launch the first generation PS3 is a shiny black rectangular box with a curved top that has a higher quality feel than either its predecessor or the muted white, bulky-looking Xbox 360. The finish of the PSP is the same as the handheld PSP Playstation portable. The Premium 60 GB PS3 has silver trim and slots for external memory cards in a flip-up window just to the left of the disc drive slot. The 20 GB version lacks this decorative silver trim and does not have memory card slots, and also lacks the 802.11b/g wireless card inside for connecting to the internet wirelessly as well as linking PSP units to the system.
Like the PS2 and Xbox 360, users can lay the system flat or stand it on its side. When standing sideways, however, the relatively thin football-shaped footprint just screams out “tip me over and ruin me.” Unless it’s going to sit in a very secure, out-of-the way location, I highly recommend you don’t stand the PS3 on its side. The small multi-colored retro Playstation logo between the eject button and the drive slot can be rotated so it’s oriented to suit your tastes. If you are really punk, you can set the logo for vertical orientation while the system is laying flat. Go ahead, do it, I dare you.
Both the 20 and 60 GB systems feature the same 3.2 GHz Cell Broadband Engine processor created jointly by Sony, Toshiba and IBM. Microsoft and Sony can fight till they are blue in the face about the performance specs of each machine (I have seen several conflicting reports), but the one thing I can tell for certain is that whatever the PS3 is doing under its hood, it’s generating a hell of a lot of heat while doing it. The PS3 really cooks so I don’t recommend putting it in any kind of sealed cabinet. The first Xbox 360s generated reports of overheating; it wouldn’t surprise me to see some thermal shutdown issues with the PS3, but I have yet to experience a problem with this. Sony states that the PS3 has “heat bars” to dissipate heat without having to resort to using noisy fans.
The Blu-ray drive inside the system allows users to play Blu-ray discs, DVDs, PS3 video games and SACD audio discs. The front loading drive has excellent action as it gently pulls the disc in; a small row of soft felt-like material on the top and bottom of the disc brushes dust away, keeping it out of the inner workings of the machine. This drive is the heart of the system and it’s what sets the PS3 apart from other gaming systems. However, it is also what caused the extreme shortage of systems at launch, as it has been widely reported that the blue diodes needed for the Blu-ray drives have been in short supply. To handle the graphics, Sony has included a very powerful RSX graphics processor.
The upgradeable 60 GB Serial ATA hard drive (20 GB in the $499 unit) allows users to save their player profiles, save their places in games, store video clips, movies, pictures, music and other assorted media. I will not go into what it takes to upgrade the hard drive’ however, unlike TiVo users—who have to crack their boxes open and have a degree in computer science to upgrade them—Sony has provided easy access to the PS3 hard drive through a slot on the left side of the machine labeled HDD (hard disk drive). I’m sure computer geeks around the world will be posting online in droves about how they now have 160 GB of space on their PS3 and have downloaded a bootleg clips of “Spiderman 3” stored at 1080p resolution.
A built-in web browser (potentially much easier to use with an aftermarket keyboard and mouse) is available. Using the provided Ethernet cable with a spare port on my 4-port router, I set up the internet connection using the auto DHCP setting; it quickly grabbed an IP address and was set up and ready to go. The web browser is a proprietary one developed by Sony rather than a typical Microsoft Internet Explorer or Apple Safari browser, and other than a few little glitches with forms and Java applications, browsing the internet with the PS3 is pretty simple. However, I don’t in any way shape or form recommend this as your sole connection to the web. Chances are effectively doing your online bill-pay at the bank or your Christmas shopping on Amazon.com will not be a breeze on the PS3, but if you want to quickly check your online email or a sports score or two while gaming and your laptop isn’t handy, the PS3 can get the job done.
This internet connection also makes it possible for gamers to play other PS3 users around the world (once a satisfactory number actually have systems) and Sony has thoughtfully set up a link on the system menu to the online Sony store. Online users can purchase, download and store music as well as video clips, demos of games and in the future order games and accessories directly from Sony.