Sony Playstation 3: My review January 6, 2010Posted by oktyabr in consumer, games, hardware, other cool stuff, personal.
We’ve lived with a Sony Playstation 3 in our house for just over a year now and I think that’s enough time that I am pretty certain about what I think Sony did right with this version… and what they got wrong!
Actually we own all three gaming systems… an Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii, and of course the PS3. I don’t just blog as a tech junky… me and my family LIVE the tech junky life, so it was only natural that we end up with all of them. To pick one over any other would be a difficult recommendation to make but maybe I’ll touch on that too in this post.
Sony says that the PS3 “can do everything”. Can it?
As a DVD & Blueray player: Yup, it can pretty much play anything that comes on a disc… CDs, CDRs, DVDs and yes, it’s probably the best value out there if you are looking for a BlueRay player. In fact being able to start migrating over to the BD format as our collection continues to grow was one of the key reasons for the it’s purchase in the first place, and yes, it does this extremely well. It even incorporates the most bleeding edge in surround technologies; DTS-HD Master Audio and competitor Dolby Digital True HD. It will handle all your video resolutions too, up to the coveted 1080P. Consider that a stand alone blue ray player might cost you as much as a PS3 and you can start thinking in a different light! A full featured blueray player that includes a top notch gaming console (and more) for free!
What they got wrong was the failure to include an IR (Infra Red) receiver, maybe a $10 part, so that the PS3 could easily be controlled by conventional remote controls, universal or what have you. What were they thinking? I notice the new PS3 “slim” still doesn’t improve in the situation. So you are forced to control it, even for movie playback, with one of those goofy looking controllers in your hand or buy a separate IR -USB dongle that plugs into one of the front USB ports.
As a game console: This is probably the main reason why someone would buy one of these in the first place and yeah, the PS3 got game too! Some earlier models were even backwards compatible allowing you to play your collection of old PS2 games on the same console. Taking a look at a game like “Little Big Planet” it’s hard to imagine any console pulling a better looking game out of a hat for some time to come, certainly a showcase for the PS3’s graphical abilities if nothing else. Recently I even got to participate in a “PS3 only” beta test for a game I am eagerly awaiting for PC, “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” . It didn’t cost a dime and I got a taste of this game months before it was available for any other platform! Very cool.
What Sony got wrong first and foremost was peripherals! You can use the PS3 controller and I think there is a couple of steering wheels that will work for racing games out there too. BUT, as a “life long gamer”, I can tell you that the reason I said I am “eagerly awaiting for the PC” is because at least in the arena of FPS (First Person Shooters) nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can replace the good ol’ fashioned mouse and keyboard combination for flexibility and fine control! Trying to play Bad Company 2 with a Sony controller was like trying to drive home drunk… from the back seat… with your hands handcuffed together! Sure, shooters on consoles have provisions for this failing like a clumsy sort of “auto aim” but that’s still no substitute. I know not everyone plays “shooters” and for console games like “Planet” the PS3 controller is just fine… Look, if you are going to go play a real round of golf, you use real golf clubs, right? What if someone just handed you a couple of lengths of broom stick and said “Here, go play with these.” Yeah, it’s sort of like that. I say they got it wrong because the PS3 is, in essence, a COMPUTER! It even has USB ports, the same ones most of you use to plug your mouse and keyboard into on your desktop PC! How hard would it have been to include the option of using a USB mouse and keyboard (or wireless even) in the developer API? Not hard at all in my opinion. This is particularly frustrating because obviously game console companies like Sony view the PC as their biggest competitor and want you to think “games = consoles, work = computers”. Boy, they sure stumbled over a few hurdles on that one.
As a networked device: This is the device that can “do everything”, right? Trying to replace the humble computer as your major entertainment device… Well, to do that any console these days has to function as a network device too, at the very least for games. The PS3 has a great online community that you can even access via the console’s sluggish but adequate internet browser. Want to read grannie’s latest email on the big screen? Yup, the PS3 can do that. Want to play that new game you just bought online against new competitors? You bet! And the best part is that it won’t cost you a penny over what you are already paying for your internet connection. I say this because unlike the Microsoft Xbox 360, which charges you something like US$8 a month to go online, the Playstation network is absolutely free! Doesn’t get any better than that. But hey, there is more to being a network device than just checking your email and gaming, right? It’s a movie player too, don’t forget! And a partnership with the very popular Netflix means that you can stream movies “instantly” to your PS3 and watch them just as fast as your internet connection will allow. Now THAT’S cool! Oh yeah, YouTube and the like are also accessible, albeit a bit slower than I would like.
Why the PS3 is still lacking as a network device: The service is there, the games are there, even movies are there. What’s wrong with it? You ever try to type a nice email reply to grandma using a game controller? How about shouting obscenities (IN ALL CAPS) at that guy that just took the only jeep leaving you to spend 20 minutes walking to the battle? Yeah, I’m ranting about the lack of mouse and keyboard support again but come on, get real! Even my cell phone has a full keyboard. Top that off with VERY sluggish performance and primitive utilities (again, my cell phone has a web browser that would run circles around this bare bones “browser” that comes with the PS3) and yeah, I guess I’m a little pissy. Sony has made a ton of money on this console, they have the means to do actually do meaningful upgrades to the software, why don’t they do it?
The PS3 as a music player: Ok, this one isn’t nearly important to most people as the first two or three but hey, I’m a serious music junky too and yeah, “everything” includes music! Yes, the PS3 will play CDs. You can even “rip” them to your harddrive meaning that if you have a nice home stereo hooked up to the PS3 you can potentially store and playback thousands of songs any time you like. The DACs (Digital to Analog Converters) in the PS3, while perhaps not “audiophile” quality, are as flexible as a circus acrobat on crack. Variable bitrates and up to 24 bit/96kHz fidelity means that for most people you can probably retire not only your old DVD player but your CD player too. Furthermore the PS3 plays actually quite nicely with the Pandora free music service too! You even get the all essential “visualizations” that make pretty colors dance around (or even the Earth as seen from space) on your big screen while music plays helping to prevent the dreaded screen “burn in”.
What Sony got wrong in this department is actually pretty big. They have a networked device that can play music… and play it well… store a bunch of it internally (a “gig” of storage is enough for about 200-300 mp3s and most PS3s come with at least 60 times that much storage!) and… that’s it?!? Look, Sony, if any of you guys happen to read this, line up the guys in charge of marketing and shoot them… immediately! Then hire me (or at least toss some coin in the tip jar 😉 ) and take on Apple’s iTunes. You know you want to. Even giants like Google and Amazon.com are getting into the online music store game. You have the perfect device, all that is missing is a Sony branded music store! Ok, the big corporate palm-smacking-the-forehead out of the way how about more than THREE visualizations?!? Again, you have the capability to support your fans with meaningful software updates, the console is perfectly capable of rendering all kinds of full screen eye candy, toss some more our way or at least let others do it for you (just think what a Sony version of the iPhone App Store might be like!) And while I’m at it? How about upgrading your music player or integrating one into your “web browser” (look at Songbird for a clue or two) so it can handle streamed media like internet radio (Shoutcast comes immediately to mind) and I can finally retire my beloved Roku Soundbridge that I currently use to play my 10,000+ track collection from my networked PC (via the excellent and FREE Squeezebox Server software) over my home stereo? ~Sigh~ Oh well, neither of the other two big consoles have this conquered yet either… Which brings me to:
How does the PS3 compare? Well, like I said we have all three consoles, the Xbox 360, the Wii and the PS3, in our household… primarily because they are kind of neck-and-neck in the console wars! None of them is so vastily superior to the others that one can take the place of all three. Some of the suggestions I’ve made above could point out how at least in this blogger’s opinion one console could reign supreme, but that hasn’t happened yet and I see no glimmer of light on the horizon yet either…
Ok, we bought the PS3 primarly as a blueray player because frankly to buy anything else, even if you only play video games very rarely, is simply a waste of money. The console just has so much (mostly underutilized) potential! It’s simply the best deal in the way of a blueray player, BAR NONE, even without real IR support for universal remotes (the add on IR receiver and remote is less than $50), etc. And yeah, we own a few games for it… but in reality it just doesn’t get used for games that much (we also have three computers in the house, SONY, each with a MOUSE and KEYBOARD).
The Xbox 360 is the PS3’s biggest competitor. Yeah, it costs money to go online with it but hey, it’s “only” $8 a month. I spend more than that on coffee in a typical work day. What the Xbox 360 has going for it is games. I don’t mean more or better than the PS3… most big titles like Rockband 2 are available for both… but often, for whatever reason, where I live you typically have a much bigger selection of games and accessories available for the 360 than you do the PS3. We mostly use it with the full band kit to play such games. Add the fact that Microsoft knows how to include a $10 IR receiver in it’s design is a big plus in my book too although even MS “forgot” to consider a mouse and keyboard as potentially valuable periphrials for use with most of it’s games.
The Nintendo Wii. What can you say? It’s tiny, it has character (the blue light in the disc slot slowly pulses as if it’s breathing, when activated), it’s usually significantly cheaper than either of the other two consoles, and Nintendo has done much to make it’s console be the “family friendly” champion. The games pale into comparison, graphically anyway, when put up against the other big two but where else are you going to go for a casual game of bowling or a couple of rounds of golf (these favorites are included with the console, as well as others)? The Wii is the only one (so far) that has truly motion sensitive control and more importantly the software titles to support it. You want to swing a golf glub, you swing the controller as you would a real club. You want to bowl a frame? Watch that backswing! Even more impressive is the Wii “Motion Plus” that adds on a full, true six axis of motion and higher sensitivity. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 for the Wii (Motion Plus) is by far the best game of golf you can play without leaving home! Now Nintendo is even doing Jenny Craig style weight loss advertisements (“I used to wear THESE jeans…”) focusing around how many calories you can burn “playing games” with games like EA’s Active and Wii Fit… or you can play something else on the 360 or PS3… sitting on the couch… maybe with a cold bevie between your legs and a big bag of chips in the spot next to you… hey, at least a couple of your fingers might get a work out!
I don’t know when/if a console will come along capable of replacing the PS3 in my household, or any of the consoles for that matter… but they certainly have their work cut out for them! Things have sure come a long ways since that night many years ago when I dropped my first quarter into a “Pong” game.