capsule review

Sony PlayStation 3 (120GB) Game Console

At a Glance
  • Sony PlayStation 3 (120GB)

    PCWorld Rating

    Slim-line game console system stands out for its value, versatility, and options, and rates 4.5 stars for its efforts. As a Blu-ray player, it rates 3.5 stars; the Blu-ray disc images it outputs are good,...

Sony's remodeled PlayStation 3 (120GB) dropped a couple of dress sizes and $100 off the price of its predecessor, the original PlayStation 3. For $300, you can now have a first-class, BD-Live capable Blu-ray player (see our home theater review) with 1080p HDMI output, integrated Bluetooth and 802.11g, an upgradable 120GB hard drive, gigabit ethernet, 7.1 channel Dolby Digital audio support, and Sony's monstrously powerful custom multiprocessing CPUs. Oh, and it plays PlayStation 3 games, too.

The most significant internal change is that switch from an 80GB hard drive to a 120GB unit. On its exterior, the PS3 (120GB) replaces the original version's glossy black finish with a duller black matte finish, and it smoothes out its predecessor's design angles. Fingerprints still show if your hands are oily, but far less than before. My hefting, shaking, and squeezing of the unit led me to conclude that it was just as solid as the original.

The PS3 (120GB)--aka the PlayStation 3 Slim--weighs 7 pounds and measures 11.4 by 11.4 by 2.6 inches. Those specs indicate that the new model is roughly 33 percent smaller and 36 percent lighter than the original; but because it's a hair deeper, it will continue to occupy about as much space as a standard rack-style DVD or Blu-ray player.

Though the Slim retains most features from the original system, Sony has altered a few things. Instead of the original model's four USB ports, the Slim settles for two--an unfortunate limitation when you try to play Guitar Hero or Rock Band with more than two wire-based peripherals (microphone, guitar, drums) or when you want to run an external hard drive (or three) while charging two controllers. A powered USB hub solves the problem, but at extra cost and at the loss of a power outlet.

In the box, Sony supplies the same peripherals that came with the original PS3: a composite A/V input and a DualShock 3 wireless controller with a mini-USB-to-standard-USB charge cable. The system's power cable replaces the three-prong connector with an older two-prong plug similar to the connection on the back of a PlayStation 2. Regrettably, the PS3 (120GB), like the earlier PS3, doesn't bundle an HDMI cable. You can choose to pay Sony's exorbitant "official" HDMI cable price (around $40), or you can drop by an online reseller and find a functionally identical cable for $10 or less.

If you own a Sony Bravia-brand TV and plan to use HDMI, Sony touts a new sync feature that ostensibly lets you control the PS3 (120GB)'s XMB (cross media bar) interface with your TV remote. I tested this option on a Sony Bravia KDL-20B4050, which is supposed to support it, but I couldn't get it to work. The TV indicated that it recognized the console in the HDMI setup (you enable the feature on both your TV and the PlayStation), but it refused to acknowledge my attempts to move the cursor around in the XMB interface itself. On the other hand, the PS3 (120GB) did power off automatically when the TV shut down, in keeping with the Bravia Sync's System Standby feature. You can control movies with the wireless gamepad, but for dedicated button access to multimedia features, you'll want Sony's $25 remote. (If you own a Harmony universal remote, a $45 adapter from Logitech is available.)

The PS3 (120GB) maintains the original PS3's backward compatibility with PlayStation 1 games, but like the original PS3 it won't handle PlayStation 2 games (of which there are many)--a feature that Sony now says is off the table entirely. PlayStation buffs unwilling to retire their PS2 games will have to soldier on with both units occupying their A/V cabinets and taking up input space on the rear of their TVs.

Also absent is any option to install an alternative operating system like Linux. Most gamers and home theater buffs probably weren't aware that the original PS3 could accommodate such OSs, however.

Like the original, the PS3 (120GB) can stand horizontally or vertically, though you'll want the optional stand ($24) if you plan to go with a vertical orientation. The new model's rounded casing and slight main-body overhang make it even easier to tip over than the PlayStation 2. When laid out flat, it takes up less room than its predecessor, but then it won't fit comfortably next to an LCD TV on an average-size A/V stand.

Loading a Blu-ray game or video disc takes about 10 seconds from the instant the mechanism grips it to the moment the disc icon appears on the XMB--about the same as the original. Otherwise, Blu-ray playback remains unchanged from how it worked on previous iterations of the PlayStation 3.

The disc drive itself is whisper-quiet in action. I popped in Metal Gear Solid 4, ran a clean install, and couldn't hear the sound of the drive spinning at all with my head tilted down and nearly flush against the exterior. The noise that the drive makes when loading and ejecting discs is definitely louder, however--and not just because everything else is so much quieter.

On our test unit, the fan emitted a barely audible hum, somewhere in the G-above-middle-C frequency range. I cued Metal Gear Solid 4's introductory briefing--a surefire processor-cruncher--and in a silent room, the Slim was significantly quieter than my MacBook Air (with the latter's fan spinning at moderate speeds). to the reason: Sony's inclusion of a larger 95mm fan with 17 blades and a brushless DC motor allows the system to move more air at lower fan speeds and, therefore, with less machine noise.

Despite the drop in processor size from 65nm to 45nm and the consequent reduction in power consumption (from 110W to 73W, on average), the PS3 (120GB) feels warmer than the original PS3. For this slimmer model, Sony designed the custom plastic molding to route air away from the heatsink; thus the entire chassis tends to feel warm (though never hot) to the touch. Still, if you're planning to run the PS3 (120GB) in close quarters with other warm electronic gear, you'll want to rethink your setup.

As Blu-ray players go, the original PS3 was competitive at $400. At $300 with a slimmer profile and lower power consumption, the PS3 (120GB), when it debuted, was arguably the model to beat. But newer stand-alone players have raised the performance and image-quality standards of this category, and today the PS3 comes in at 3.5 stars as a Blu-ray Disc player, making it a good value for that purpose only if you also want to play PlayStation 3 games.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Slim-line game console system stands out for its value, versatility, and options, and rates 4.5 stars for its efforts. As a Blu-ray player, it rates 3.5 stars; the Blu-ray disc images it outputs are good, but not as pleasing as those on our top-performing stand-alone players, making it a good Blu-ray value only if you also want to play PlayStation 3 games.

    Pros

    • Smaller and lighter
    • Quieter and more energy-efficient

    Cons

    • Only two USB ports instead of four
    • Backward compatibility is limited to PS1 games
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