Are Sony's PlayStation 3 Updates Getting Old?

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Are Sony's PS3 firmware updates morphing into glorified publicity stunts? It's a question worth asking. Since the PS3 arrived in November 2006, Sony's issued 34 updates to its glossy micro-tower – a remarkable number for a console* – each a grab bag of bug fixes and feature fills. Menus increasingly swell the XMB's verticals. System stability is indeterminately "improved" and Linux "hacks" are blocked. Formats arrive unceremoniously, sending users clambering over the river and through the woods in search of explanations for jargon like XviD, RTMP, BD-J, AVCHD, and Blu-ray BD-Live Profile 2.0.

Occasionally the updates are momentous, but most seem like tinkering. The PS3's December 2, 2008 v2.53 update added full-screen support for Adobe Flash. The November 5, 2008 v.2.52 update brought three trivial glitch fixes. The July 29, 2008 v2.42 update enigmatically "improve[d] the playback quality of some PlayStation 3 and PlayStation format software." The July 8, 2008 v2.41 update fixed "various…issues caused by update 2.40."

Don't get me wrong, I actually think it's admirable that Sony's willing to tidy up with some frequency. But shouldn't a company with Sony's resources and a predictable hardware development platform clear the windshield ahead of time?

We used to have a rule that end-users were never beta testers (not involuntarily, anyway). Bug-crippled games were routinely savaged in critical circles, and rightly so.

Now? "Patches" are called "Firmware Updates" with intriguing (but occasionally annoying and rarely optional) features tagging along for the ride.

And every time Sony releases a firmware update, we carry the water and cover the story.

Like the 2.60 update, out shortly, with the following change log:

- Fixed error which caused saved games for some titles to become inaccessible if the user's PlayStation Network ID or password was changed.

- Users are now able to view and download free content from the PlayStation Store without the need to create or sign-in to a PlayStation Network account.

- Media changes

- New Photo Gallery application (requires additional 100MB download).

- Video playback of files encoded with version 3.11 of the DivX codec.

Here's Sony's Eric Lempel previewing the update per the PlayStation blog.

The Photo Gallery applet sounds fun if you want to lavishly tease family members with slideshows of the vacation you took and they didn't. At one point in the video, though, Lempel says "There are plenty of ways to do this using the power of the PS3." He's referring to the photo gallery's manipulation tools. But the power of the PS3? Who knew it took a Cell Microprocessor to trick out some JPGs and TIFFs? (I'm totally nitpicking, but implying "power" has any bearing here is like eulogizing a jackhammer standing in for a ball-peen hammer.)

The "guests can view the PSN store (but still need an account to buy something)" feature on the other hand seems superfluous. Is anyone with a PS3 and network access not creating a PSN account?

All I know about DivX 3.11 is that it's a codec that'll let you view a particular sort of ripped video file. If you want more info, try here.

And fingers crossed that Sony starts wrapping these point releases into broader updates and unleashing them less frequently.

* Compare with the Xbox 360's 14 updates since November 2005, or the Wii's 15 since November 2006.

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