PS3 – The Hardware

PS3 StandingSince it’s announcement in 2005 the PS3 has always had a rough ride. It’s too big, it’s too expensive, it’s too late. I’ll start of my thoughts on the PS3 by first looking at the hardware. I’ll then follow up with a post on the software and operating system and finally the games. Phew.

The first thing that strikes you is how shiny the PS3 is. Not just the little silver sections but the whole thing – piano black shiny that is a magnet for dust and fingerprints. Then you notice that there is no ugly power brick that sits out with the console. Everything is contained within the not inconsiderable PS3 case and while the case is bigger than the 360 it’s not overly so as first touted by the media. The design also hides it’s size well in my eyes and looks pretty good. If you add the 360 power brick to the 360 then it’s probably a bit bigger than the PS3. Still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some people think it’s butt ugly. I guess it’s one of these love or hate designs.

Annoyingly even though Sony touted the PS3 as ‘true HD’ it doesn’t come with an HDMI cable which is a bit cheap after paying £425. With everything connected up you then plugin the sixaxis controller via the charge cable. For me this is another issue as the cable is really small at only 3ft. While a longer one can be purchased (Maplin sorted me out) it’s another little bit of cost cutting although the 360 didn’t come with any recharging capability – the plug and play kit was a separate purchase so it’s a small gripe really.

Once you switch on the PS3 it will auto detect video settings and then you are in the PS3 front end. One of the more lauded features of the PS3 is 1080p playback. However many launch games do not support 1080p and there are still precious few users who have access to a 1080p screen. If you’ve used a PSP then the interface will be instantly familiar although thats for another post. One of the problems with the 360 is the noise it makes and I was expecting the PS3 to be worse as it uses more power. Surprisingly it’s pretty quiet. After some play it does increase slightly but no where near the noise of the 360 which is down to fan and disk activity. It does generate slightly more heat but nothing thats too alarming if you’ve felt the back of a PC before. It’s quietness is a real strong point and is ideal for movie and music playback unlike the 360.

Another sleek feature is the touch sensitive power and eject buttons. While it’s a gimmick it works really well and adds to the overall finish of the hardware. Disks are loaded via a slot loading mechanism which works like a mac. Put the disk in half way and it’s pulled in by the PS3. The disk when loaded is fairly quiet, impressively quiet compared to the 360. The disks are one of the more contentious features of the PS3. The PS3 is a Blu-Ray player and all games will come on Blu-Ray disks too. This feature undoubtedly added to the delay and cost of the PS3 and only time will tell whether it was worth the wait.

PS3 Top

The PS3 has a 60GB hard disk which is a far better size than the 360’s, although that is rumoured to soon rise to 120GB. The PS3 disk has around 45-50GB free for media and games to take advantage off. Both Virtua Fighter 5 and Resistance copy data to the hard disk when you first play as it’s quicker to stream data from the hard disk. You can also use the disk to install Linux which allows you to run the PS3 like a PC although there is only 512Mb of RAM in total on the PS3 which may be limiting. Again I’ll keep my thoughts on this for another post. You can also copy data to the disk from drives attached via the 4 USB ports or the Memory Stick/SD/CompactFlash slots. The PS3 allows playback from external drives including the iPod although it doesn’t have as well implemented iPod support as the 360. You can also plug in a webcam for video chats, including the 360 camera which works well.

Getting online with the PS3 was very easy. It comes with an Ethernet port and built in wireless up to G (again, the 360 needs a wireless adapter to enable wireless network connectivity) and detected all my settings automatically. It also has Bluetooth 2.0 which is the technology used by the wireless controllers and unfortunately for the PS3 the thing you interact with the most, the controller, is the weakest part of the hardware.

The design is the same as the old dual shock controllers except with some new additions. As mentioned they are wireless and also display four lights which allow you to see what port you are connected too. The PS3 can have up to seven controllers connected at any one time. At the center of the pad is the PS button. This acts as a poor man’s 360 guide button from which you can really only switch off the controller or system. It really does feel tacked on. The L2/R2 buttons have also become triggers although their positioning is fairly awkward. Coming form the 360 pad this really does feel ergonomically wrong which is a shame. Also tacked on is the wireless control, badged Sixaxis. I’ve only used this slightly in Resistance and Motorstorm and although it seems to be a very late addition to the hardware package after the success of the Wii, shaking off a bad guy felt far better when shaking the pad around than it does pressing a button – far more immersive. Oh, I almost forgot. The rumble feature has gone.

An expensive legal case with the patent owners meant rumble was dropped. Some nice spin from Sony stated that rumble was a last gen feature and it wasn’t compatible with the Sixaxis technology. Now that the legal case is settled Sony are rumoured to be bringing rumble pack to the controller. If they had any sense they would spend some time redesigning it to make the triggers more accessible and make it more comfortable over longer periods.

Another technology missing is a standard headset. The headset is part of Xbox online gaming and is taken as a given now. The fact that there is no standard headset on the PS3 leads to a very quiet online experience. Bluetooth headsets can be used well with the PS3. I use a Sony Ericsson HBH-610a which does not need to be paired every time you start the PS3 (guide to recommended models here)and the quality is excellent. It’s just so few others are using them and some games don’t support chat so it makes for an empty experience that feels a generation back from the 360…even the Xbox.

One final feature is the ability to link up your PSP to the PS3 and view PS3 media (movies, pictures, music) on the PSP. A bit gimmicky at the moment and of little value to me although location free functionality should be added soon to allow you to view your PS3 content from any wireless hotspot. It’s also a bit of a pain to set-up as there are no instructions included on how to do it…but that’s for another post.

That pretty much covers the hardware. From what I can see it has enormous potential that the first batch of software is only beginning to touch. As a hardware platform it’s certainly more feature packed than the 360 and could finally be ‘the one’ device that you need plugged into your TV. The next part of this ‘review’ is the software and operating system which will take a wee bit longer as I need more play time. The final bit will be games which again need time to get into.

3 Comments

  1. Nice write up, dying to see it in the er, mm… polycarbonate? Looking forward to the next few installments too… PS. Where did you get the bluetooth headset (need one for the car). It seems only China/HK suppliers on Ebay.

  2. Headset from Expansys (http://www.expansys.com/). You need to watch eBay – Shakeel bought a headset on eBay and it was a knock off!

  3. Nice write up. I pretty much agree with all of it. The fact I’ve not switched the 360 on since I came back in favour of Motorstorm is telling, as I’ve barely played Crackdown. Need to get some co-op on that soon.

    I’m getting worried about all these resolutions that the PS3 and 360 are supporting now thanks to the Sony vs MS p1ssing war. Once upon a time all they did was upscale to those resolutions, but now they are hobbling games in order to get them to render at those lofty 1080 resolutions. A few EA games are silky smooth at 720p as expected but jerky-tastic at 1080i and 1080p resolutions. I wish they’d locked the console to 720p rendering for games and allowed up to 1080i/p for movies. Infact, I’d like to have independant resolution settings for games and movies so I can force movies to 1080i and games to 720p. Not gonna happen, so it’ll be a manual switch over in the settings every time I want to watch a movie.

    Looking fwd to 2 player VF5.

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