Friday, August 10, 2007

Playstation 3 revealed

I reviewed the PSP in a post on here in November 2006 and concluded it was wrongly marketed as a games machine. Sky told me unofficially then they wanted to embrace the PSP and the deal with Sony has been confirmed in the last week.

No surprise then that I would be investigating the Playstation 3. I am not one of these who pays through the nose for brand new technology the day it is available. I like to wait for a few updates to add vital features and the first round of price cuts. Hence when I found a cheap deal in Argos for a PS3 with 2 controllers and 2 games I went out and put my birthday money towards one :)

Why given that I am not a fan of games? Most only entertain me for a couple of days as I have mentioned elsewhere when complaining about the pricing. It is a blu-ray disk player. One of the cheapest and best you can get. It has an internal disk on which to store downloaded games, photos, video and music. And it talks to the PSP. On the game front it is the most powerful and the only one with proper full hi-def 1080p support. The Xbox 360 can only do 1080i and has no HDMI socket.

So what have I found out that the Sony marketing department have not shouted from the rooftops? Soooo much.

Firstly, all the sales figures for the next-gen games consoles are putting the Wii up front because people like the new way to play with a motion sensitive controller. No-one seems to know the PS3 wireless six-axis controllers are motion sensitive in 3 planes!!

Second, blu-ray. What a silly name for a format. I told my mum I was going out to buy a blu-ray disk and she looked at me thinking I was about to buy an X-rated blue movie. So the HD-DVD versus blu-ray format war.... Everyone except Universal are releasing on blu-ray (90% of movies). Two studios will be releasing on both formats giving the HD-DVD camp about 50% of movie availability. Universal players are starting to hit the market that can play either format, so chances are eventually the consumer won't need to know what format the movie is on. The Sony Playstation 2 was one of the driving factors in takeup of the DVD so it makes sense the PS3 could help drive blu-ray, as Blockbuster in America have found. It's looking quite good for blu-ray - except as one salesman told me Sony have a bad track record with formats backing Betamax, Minidisk and UMD.

The PSP interactivity allows the PSP to access the PS3 via your wi-fi or any internet hot spot. At present you cannot access the games, a DVD or a blu-ray movie. You can play videos, music and photos that can be accessed by the PS3.

The PS3 can access multimedia stored on other computers on your home network running the DLNA protocol (Eg Windows XP or Vista). This massively enhances the available storage. It also supports USB hard disks and incorporates a memory card reader.

The biggest plus for me is the online Playstation Store. Were you aware that you could connect to a Sony store via your broadband connection? This allows access to lots of free movie trailers, game demos and chargeable games. These chargeable games are downloaded from the net to the PS3 hard drive - no CD is available - and they cost from £3 upwards. Chris is happy - some good and cheap games (Eg Lemmings and Gran Tourismo HD)!!

The last point is online gaming. Did you know that if you wish to play other people over the Internet on a Microsoft Xbox you have to pay £10 a month subscription for ever? With the Playstation these features are available for free.

For the techies it is officially supported by Sony to plug in any USB keyboard and mouse, partition the hard disk then dual-boot a guest operating system. I have installed Ubuntu Linux and can use the console as a normal PC that can run OpenOffice or any other open source or home written programs. It can't run Microsoft Windows properly yet. The processor is a new design called the Cell/BE. It has a dual-core 'normal' processor and 8 extra specialist processors or 'SPUs' that are managed and controlled by the main processor. In some cases the SPUs can each perform 2 operations at a time. This gives it far more number crunching power (18 simultaneous instructions) than any current PC processor.

So the PS3 is the most fully featured, powerful and cheapest next-gen games machine to own in the long run. It is capable of playing latest generation DVDs and has the best quality video and sound outputs. Not bad for £400. You won't get a gaming PC with blu-ray drive for anything like that - but the games console can be a PC or a DVD player as well!

My only concern is that the motion sensitive controllers and the new processor design have not yet been understood and used to their full ability by developers. I hope it isn't because the designers have made things too complicated or that they do not actually work in practice. There are not yet many specific games, but all the PS2 back catalogue will work and can be upscaled to hi-definition. Watch this space...


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