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Last Updated: Friday, 10 November 2006, 17:28 GMT
A voyage around the PlayStation 3
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Although the PS3 will not hit European shores until March 2007, here technology editor Darren Waters gives his first impressions of the hardware and its capabilities.

Sony has touted the machine as the entertainment hub of the 21st Century, saying it will revolutionise video gaming.

The company has dominated video gaming for more than 10 years but with Microsoft's Xbox 360 on the shelves for more than 12 months and a known quantity, what is Sony bringing to the market?

HARDWARE

PlayStation 3, Sony

The PlayStation 3 is a serious chunk of hardware: Weighty, dense and a mix of sleek curves and blocky base, it is the physical embodiment of Sony's intent to dominate this next round of video gaming.

Heavier and larger than the Xbox 360 behemoth, it can be placed flat or upright but the curved top means nothing can be stacked on top of it.

The aesthetics will be a matter of taste but it is a rather ironic size given how much bad press Microsoft received in Japan when it launched the original Xbox.

The machine comes in two flavours - a 20GB model for $499 and a 60GB model for $599. Both models have a HDMI port for connecting to HD TVs and ultimately to support digital rights management for Blu-ray discs.

Both machines have a Blu-ray DVD player, making the machine very good value indeed for home cinema enthusiasts who would have to pay almost $999 for a standalone player.

The more expensive model also includes built-in wi-fi support and slots for a range of memory cards.

Both models have USB slots for plugging in controllers, digital cameras and MP3 players.

As the wireless controllers for the PS3 use Bluetooth there is also potential to use headsets and other wi-fi devices although nothing other than the controller is supported out of the box.

VITAL STATISTICS
PS3 - Height: 98mm, Width: 325mm, Depth: 274mm
Xbox 360 - H: 83mm, W: 309mm, D: 258mm
Wii - H: 157mm, W: 44mm, D: 215mm
There are plans to connect the PS3 to Sony's PlayStation Portable via wi-fi - to share photos, music and video content.

At launch the two machines will only be able to share multimedia content when connected via the same wireless network but medium term the PSP can be used to access content via any wi-fi network no matter where in the world you are.

There also plans to allow gamers to play PlayStation 1 games - that can be downloaded on to the PS3 - on a PSP remotely.

The machine is startlingly quiet with very little fan noise; the DVD player is also rather hushed - a stark contrast to the Xbox 360 which roars intermittently thanks to the fans.

INTERFACE

PlayStation Portable, Sony
The PS3 user interface is based on that of the PSP
Switch on a PS3 via the on/off switch at the back and the touch sensitive button at the front of the machine and the console comes to life with the sound of an orchestra warming up - it's certainly a sound to generate anticipation.

The user interface is based on the one on the PSP - called the cross media bar. It appears at first glance to be straightforward and stripped down.

You can see what friends are online, your saved games, an online browser, as well as film, music and photo options and settings for the machine.

But with many options buried within the menu it is deceptively cluttered.

It is a rather sterile interface and does not give the sense of being plugged into a wider online world, which is the aim and success of the Xbox 360.

Given how Sony plans to introduce a range of online content to users its clear that the cross media bar will develop.

Can it grow while not becoming cluttered? That's the question.

ONLINE

YouTube, AP
Owners may be able to watch YouTube videos via their PS3
The PlayStation Network is Sony's answer to Xbox Live, the online gaming, community and content network for 360 owners.

Sadly the prototype unit we were given by Sony to review was not fully network enabled so we were unable to assess its features.

The interface will tell you how many friends you have online and what they are doing and from there you can message them.

In contrast to the 360 the PS3 will be able to surf the net directly via a supplied browser. Microsoft's philosophy is to give a safe, walled garden and constant experience for Xbox Live users - and of course the company does not want to undermine the practice of surfing the net with a PC - for internal political reasons.

But the ability to access web content such as Flickr photos, and possibly to do things such as listen to internet radio on your PS3 is a strong feature, especially if the browser supports sites which use flash video players like YouTube.

The browser is also used to connect to the PlayStation store, Sony's equivalent of Xbox Live marketplace where gamers can download multimedia content and game demos and trailers.

The interface will tell you how many friends you have online and what they are doing and from there you can message them.

HIGH DEFINITION / BLU-RAY

Blu-ray movies, Getty
The PS3 has a Blu-ray drive onboard
Sadly the Blu-ray player is disabled on the prototype PS3 so it was not possible to judge the DVD player.

Having said that it would be a major shock if the player were not to be of the highest standard and given the PS3 can output high definition video in the highest-possible resolution of 1080p gamers can expect fantastic video fidelity for their Blu-ray movies.

Sony had made a big deal of its machine's ability to output in 1080p - a feat the Xbox 360 can now match - and it's just a pity that many of the launch games do not output in that quality.

CONTROLLER

Sixaxis controller, Sony
The motion sensitive controller looks like the dual shock
The controller for the PS3 has been one of the most controversial aspects of the new machine - ironic when you consider how much untested and untried technology is in the console itself.

The new Sixaxis controller is a revamp of the original dual shock controller beloved of many PlayStation fans.

Wireless - it can be recharged via the main machine itself through a USB console - it is startlingly light because it lacks the rumble feature of the previous generation of controllers.

To replace the rumble, Sony has added motion sensing so that some games are controlled by tipping the controller over six different axes.

But the lightness of the controller gives a strange disconnected feeling as though the action on the screen is not really under your control.

This is one of the untried features of the new machine and it may yet prove its worth.

CONCLUSION

There is no doubt that Sony has built the PS3 with a long term strategy in mind. Many of the touted features of the machine remain underused and there is a lot of technology in the box that is unused.

There are also lots of unanswered questions, such as:

  • How will Sony's PlayStation Network work?
  • Will Blu-Ray prove a winning technology?
  • How will Sony connect the PSP to the PS3?
  • But one thing is clear - Sony has provided developers with a powerful piece of hardware. It will be fascinating to see just what they do with it.




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