Unless you’ve been living in a cave in Tora Bora, you’re probably aware of the hype surrounding the release of Sony’s next-gen game console, PlayStation 3. News programs showed long lines of eager geeks camped out in front of retailers to be among the first to own one of these coveted gadgets. Then, at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 17, 2006, the doors flew open and the hordes rushed in like a swarm of locusts, stripping the shelves bare in a matter of moments. What you may not know is that the PS3 is far more than a turbocharged game console powered by a supercomputer-grade Cell processor and Nvidia-developed RSX graphics chip. It’s also a Blu-ray player and a media hub, capable of accessing the Internet and downloading music, videos, and other content. The $499 base model is equipped with a 20GB hard drive, while the upgrade console we tested boasts a 60GB drive and built-in Wi-Fi capability for an extra $100. These prices vault the PS3 into the stratosphere of game consoles, making it the most expensive available. On the other hand, PS3 is by far the cheapest Blu-ray player available—that is, if you can find one. As of this writing, consoles were being resold at twice the retail price or more. It seems the law of supply and demand is hard at work here. The PS3 is a sight to behold thanks to its soft lines and elegant black finish, while its considerable heft bespeaks quality construction. The console can be oriented horizontally or stood on end for those who prefer the tower look, making placement more flexible than most A/V gear. And it will blend in with any decor—as long as that decor happens to be Star Trek modern.
Key among the PS3’s I/O complement is the HDMI output, which is one of the first to implement the much-vaunted version 1.3 spec, hailed for its faster data rate and enhanced color depth. The HDMI connection also supports 1080p video at 60 frames per second (not 24fps) and 7.1-channel audio (including multichannel SACD), while the optical digital audio output tops out at 5.1-channel dolby Digital or DTS. On the front panel you’ll find four USB ports for connecting game controllers and other peripherals, such as cameras, keyboards, mice, and so on. These ports also charge the battery in the included SixAxis wireless controller (you only get one), which communicates with the PS3 via Bluetooth. Up to seven controllers can be used at once, setting the stage for some serious multi-user mayhem. Under a flip-up panel next to the slot-loading disc drive you’ll find slots for Compact Flash, SD, and Memory Stick cards, which make it easy to view photos, listen to tunes, and copy all sorts of media files to the PS3’s hard drive.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s see what the PS3 can do. We’ll start with gaming and then check out its Blu-ray chops. Buckle up for what’s sure to be a wild ride!
Given the nigh Biblical prelaunch hype surrounding Sony’s PlayStation 3, I was eager to get my hands on the sleek black console
to find out whether it is, indeed, the answer to game-enthusiasts’ prayers. Is it better than Microsoft’s Xbox 360? Are its media hub features all that they’re cracked up to be? Does it make sense to blow the equivalent of a mortgage payment to get one on eBay while supplies are limited (a situation that’s bound to last a while longer)? As I unpacked the console I considered the PS3s impressive slate of hightech features: a state-of-the-art Bluray drive coupled with a super-fast Cell processor that’s 40 times more powerful than the processor in PS2 and a graphics card that puts even high-end desktop PCs to shame. The potential for lush, 1080p high-def images and hyper-realistic virtual environments clearly exists. And then there’s the SIXAXIS wireless controller with its new motion sensing system. So the question remains: Is Sony’s PS3 poised to ignite a revolution in gaming? Setting up the console was simple enough. I plugged in the power cord, connected an HDMI cable (not included) to my 46-inch Samsung HDTV, hooked up my A/V receiver, and turned the system on by tapping the console’s touch-sensitive power button. Next, I had to synchronize the controller by plugging it into the console using the supplied USB cable and pressing the center-mounted PS button.
Once you go through the initial login screen, Sony’s Xross Media Bar (XMB) interface appears onscreen. A string of icons provide access to the PS3’s multimedia features, which include storing and manipulating photos; storing, downloading, and playing music and movies or videos; and surfing the Internet—all from the comfort of your chair. Before you can take advantage of the PS3’s media hub capabilities, you have to manually configure network settings, which involves entering a user name and encryption key via an annoying on-screen keyboard. The console had no problem detecting my 802.11b Wi-Fi network, but a string of inexplicable service interruptions eventually forced me to break out the supplied Ethernet cable and connect the console to my router.