Sony's Packed PlayStation 3: The Nitty-Gritty Details
As the long wait for the much-anticipated PlayStation 3 game console dragged on, gamers started to joke that Sony stood for Soon, Only Not Yet.
The next-generation console finally went on sale November 17, though supply has not kept pace with demand. Having spent in-depth, quality time with a $599 shipping version of the PS3, I can tell you this: The system's impressive weaponry makes the wait worthwhile.
I'll describe my experiences with the PlayStation 3 over the past week in great detail, but you may also be interested in PC World's review comparing the PlayStation 3 with the Nintendo Wii, which goes on sale Sunday.
Below is a video of the PlayStation 3 in action. To view it, you'll need to have the Adobe Flash Player plug-in installed.
Under the Hood
Before I drill down to the PS3's various features, I should mention the technology that has gone into the console. It may not entirely justify the controversial pricing, but it does explain the graphical appeal, not to mention the vastly improved physics and environmental (including lighting) effects.
Weighing about 11 pounds and measuring 12.8 inches wide by 3.86 inches high by 10.89 inches long, the PS3 is certainly larger than the original PS2, the diminutive Wii, or the Xbox 360. Like those consoles, it can be oriented vertically or horizontally. Either way, the PS3's striking design looks right at home in the living room (admittedly, however, its polished top surface is prone to finger marks). The PS3 runs more quietly than the Xbox 360 but is a bit louder than the almost silent Wii. Though the unit itself doesn't get too toasty, the air around it tends to feel warm after a few hours of continuous play.
The PlayStation 3 comes in two versions. The $599 model (which I tested) has a 60GB hard disk; built-in 802.11b/g wireless networking; and MemoryStick, SD, and CompactFlash slots. The $499 unit omits Wi-Fi capability and the media card slots, and has a 20GB drive. You can replace the hard drive on either version, and the supplied manual explains how to swap in your own 2.5-inch, serial ATA drive. Our sibling publication GamePro has posted scans of these instructions.
The differences between the two PlayStation versions end there; both provide a Blu-ray slot drive, HDMI-output, gigabit networking, four USB 2.0 ports, and built-in Bluetooth 2.0 support.
At the heart of the PlayStation 3 lies a CPU that'll impress even the most hardcore PC gamer. This powerful, multicore Cell processor, jointly developed by Sony, Toshiba, and IBM, runs at 3.2 GHz. An RSX Reality Synthesizer graphics engine, based on NVidia's G70 architecture, delivers the graphics. Working alongside these chips are 256MB of high-performance XDR main memory (based on Rambus RDRAM) and 256MB of GDDR3 video memory.
If you're lucky enough to score a PS3, make sure that you come home with all of the cables you'll need. To fully experience the console's graphics capabilities--that is, to play supported games or to watch Blu-ray movies in 1080p high-definition--you'll have to purchase your own HDMI cable (and own an HDCP-compliant 1080p television). Two extras that you might consider buying are Sony's proprietary component video output cable and the optical digital audio cable required for 7.1-channel audio. For optimum Blu-ray or DVD movie playback, you could also spring for the optional $25 remote control.
The standard package includes basic cords: a USB mini cable for the bundled Bluetooth wireless controller, an ethernet cable, a multi audio/video cable with composite connections, and an AC power cord (the PS3 uses a standard cord, unlike the external power brick used by the Wii and the Xbox 360).
Most new PS3 owners will fire up the console without looking at the manual--and they probably won't run into any trouble. It's just that easy to hook up. In case you feel like doing some tech reading before you go shopping, GamePro has scanned the PS3 manual to make it available for the geeky perusal of all.
Once turned on, the PS3 will ask you to choose a language and a time zone, and set the time/date. You then create a user account, sign in, and are presented with a navigation interface that Sony calls the Xross Media Bar (XMB), which closely resembles the interface employed by Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld.
My first priority was to properly configure the high-definition output. I accomplished this by navigating to the video settings and changing the unit's output to 1080p over HDMI. The difference was as if I had switched my computer monitor from 640 by 480 (480p) to 1920 by 1080 (1080p high definition).
I produce music when I'm not working at PC World, and I couldn't wait to hear what the PlayStation 3 audio sounded like through my pair of high-quality music production monitors. I attached the audio connections on the supplied composite multi audio/video cable to my speakers, and set the PS3 to send audio over that route (while still transmitting video via HDMI). The result: Easy setup and great sound.
In the PS3's system settings, I noticed that my new unit's hard disk had 52GB of its 60GB total available, and that the operating system was version 1.00. Not for long, though. The first game I loaded--NBA 07--included the 1.02 system update and installed it before I could begin playing. Though the installation took only a few minutes, having to wait at all was still a little frustrating. The PS3 manual says that some games have their required updates built-in to help you avoid having to patch via the Internet.