The Internet icon on the PS3’s main screen provides access to a browser and the PlayStation Network, where you can sign up for multiplayer gaming action or browse Sony’s online store. You can watch movie and game trailers or buy download-only games such as PSOne favorites Crash Bandicoot and Cool Boarders for less than $10 a piece. Unfortunately, PS3 doesn’t support background downloading, so you have to wait for the download to finish before engaging in any game play.
Unlike Microsoft’s pay-to-play Xbox Live service, free online multiplayer gaming is available for many PS3 titles. I found it to work reliably, with some games supporting dozens of players concurrently. Talk about mayhem! Friend lists and text/voice chat features are also available to heighten the experience.
Despite all the pre-launch hype, Sony’s PS3 comes up short due to a lackluster lineup of software that has yet to demonstrate what the system is truly capable of. (Those annoying software glitches don’t help either.) From a pure gaming perspective, the Xbox 360 is the better deal right now, offering comparable performance for less money. But when you consider PS3’s impressive collection of features—Blu-ray most notably—and its untapped gaming potential, things start to look up. The PS3 can only get better in the months ahead.
PS3 may be the most expensive game console in town, but it’s also the least expensive Blu-ray player (at its retail price, anyway),
which makes it a pretty good deal in my book. The fact that it plays games and SACDs is just icing on the cake. Eager to check out its Blu-ray performance, I mated the PS3 with a Sony 60-inch SXRD rear-projection TV (see sidebar) and the Samsung HLS5687W DLP RPTV (reviewed in Issue 72), both of which can accept 1080p video signals at 60 frames per second via HDMI. I made sure both sets were in their 1:1 mode, which means the pixels in the PS3 signal were mapped to corresponding pixels in the display with no image-degrading overscan scaling.
My sound setup included the Pioneer VSX-74TXVi AVR and a PSB speaker system consisting of two Image T65 towers, a C60 center speaker, a pair of S50 surrounds, and the SubSonic 6i subwoofer. The Pioneer AVR isn’t equipped to handle 1080p signals, so I set the PS3 to 1080i to audition the sound. To evaluate the picture, I set the console to 1080p mode and connected it directly to the TV.
Controlling disc playback with the game controller is less than intuitive, which is why Sony offers an optional remote for $25 that looks and works like a typical A/V remote. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available for this review so I had to make due with the controller. The first thing I noticed was how quickly the PS3 boots up compared with other high-def disc players—12 seconds from power-on to ready. The menu system provides eight horizontal main menu headers. Selected menu items are arrayed vertically, forming a cross with the headers. Submenu items are listed next to the selected menu item. Overall, the menu structure is logical and easy to navigate.
Not surprisingly, the PS3 powers up with its Game menu selected. But when I inserted a Blu-ray disc, there was no onscreen indication that I had loaded a disc and the controller became “unpaired” with the console (I had to “re-pair” them). Given the overall sophistication of the PS3 system, I was surprised to find that the console doesn’t detect disc formats and automatically engage the proper playback mode. I had to select the Video menu to start my Blu-ray movie adventures.
I switched to the Video menu, reinserted the disc, and an icon appeared on the screen 7 seconds later. It took only 13 seconds after
pressing Start to see the first image (the FBI warning). All of this is quite a bit faster than other high-def disc players I’ve used, which is great. Now, down to business. I was immediately impressed with the detail of Blu-ray movie images on both TVs. In Kingdom of Heaven, snowflakes in the opening scene were crisply defined as was the texture of the crusaders’ uniforms and the brick walls of Jerusalem. Color was rich and vibrant without being cartoony, with natural skin tones, vivid reds and yellows on flags and shields, and a deep aqua-blue ocean. Black Hawk Down was similarly beautiful, with exquisite detail in the city below the flying helicopter and in the beads of sweat on nervous faces. Color was gorgeous, especially the natural and varied tans and browns of the dirt and the olive green of the Army uniforms. Motion was rendered very smoothly, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the RSX graphics processor.
I saw nothing to complain about in Stealth. Detail was superb in the produce being sold at the Thai marketplace and the rock faces in the wilderness where Wade bails out. With the initial-release firmware, DVDs are only upconverted to 480p—not 720p, 1080, or 1080p, despite the available processing power. As a result, the quality of the final DVD image depends largely on the TV’s video processing and scaling capabilities. Perhaps DVD upconversion will be added in a future firmware update. The DVDs I watched looked fine, with natural color and reasonably sharp detail, though I thought a few finely detailed scenes, such as the crowd in the plaza at the beginning of The Mask of Zorro, looked just a bit softer than what I’ve seen from other DVD players. Sound was exemplary. The deep throbbing of helicopters in Black Hawk Down was faithfully conveyed, as were the jet engines and explosions in Stealth. Dialog was clean and clear, and music scores were faithfully rendered. Aside from the lack of DVD conversion and automatic disc-format detection, I could find little to fault in the PS3’s performance as a Blu-ray player. Picture and sound quality were first-rate (with a few caveats on DVD playback), and the console was far more responsive than other high-def players in my experience. At nearly half the price of the next most expensive Blu-ray player (unless you fall prey to scalpers), this black beauty is one hell of a deal. TPV