Editors' note: The PS3 60GB model has been discontinued for quite some time now. We highly recommend checking out the newly designed PlayStation 3 Slim, as it offers a 120GB hard drive and a slimmer, lighter design.
Please check out our PlayStation 3 resource guide for all of your PS3 gaming news and needs.
There's general agreement that Sony stumbled out of the gate with the PlayStation 3. Months of intense hype were followed by a late launch (fully a year after the Xbox 360) and a staggering $600 price tag for the deluxe model. Even worse, the PS3 didn't have any real must-have exclusive titles, and despite the power of its vaunted Cell processor, multiplatform games from third-party developers didn't look appreciably better than the respective titles on the 360.
Since then, the company's been modifying the PlayStation product line to better fit the competitive market landscape. As of November 2007, a "bargain" PlayStation 3 can be had for a mere $400--but that model lacks the ability to play older PS2 games. If that feature is important to you, you'll need to shell out an additional $100 for the "deluxe" 80GB PlayStation 3 model--or if you're lucky enough to find a 60GB version, the one reviewed here, we'd highly recommend jumping on that as well. While the 60GB version of the PlayStation 3 is currently being phased out of production by Sony, the differences between it and the 80GB model are minimal. Owners of PS2 games may prefer the 60GB model because of its greater compatibility with that system's games due to its internal hardware emulation instead of the 80GB's software emulation. In addition to backward compatibility with many PS2 games, the $500 PS3s include more USB ports and a built-in flash media reader.
Unfortunately however, the 60GB version still suffers from the same problem currently afflicting this entire generation of PlayStation hardware: a dearth of compelling games. While the console offers a handful of great exclusives (Warhawk, Resistance: Fall of Man, and Heavenly Sword), it doesn't look like the PS3 will have some real system-sellers until 2008 and beyond, when Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2, Gran Turismo 5, and God of War III eventually arrive. Plenty of excellent third-party titles exist--from Assassin's Creed to Call of Duty 4--but they're also available on the Xbox 360, which in turn has a cadre of must-have titles (Halo 3, Mass Effect, Gears of War) that aren't on the PS3. Likewise, the Nintendo Wii continues to draw away potential PS3 buyers with its cheaper hardware and more casual and broad-based approach to gaming. Put another way, the PlayStation 3 still feels more like a work in progress than do the rival Wii and Xbox 360. Still, if you want to go beyond the low-res graphics on the Wii and avoid the Xbox 360's notorious red ring of death, the Sony PS3 delivers a full-on Blu-ray player, network media hub, and HD gaming console with a rapidly growing library of impressive titles.
PlayStation 3 models compared:
|Model||PS3 20GB*||PS3 40GB||PS3 60GB^||PS3 80GB|
|Hard disk size||20GB||40GB||60GB||80GB|
|Network compatibility||Ethernet only||Ethernet and Wi-Fi||Ethernet and Wi-Fi||Ethernet and Wi-Fi|
|Plays PS2 games?||Yes [hardware support for most PS2 games]||No||Yes [hardware support for most PS2 games]||Yes [software support for many PS2 games]|
|Flash memory compatibility||None||None||CompactFlash, SD Memory Card and Memory Stick Duo card slots||CompactFlash, SD Memory Card and Memory Stick Duo card slots|
|Unique bundled items||-||Currently ships with Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray movie||-||Currently ships with Motorstorm game|
* Sony has since discontinued the 20GB PlayStation 3 model.
^ While the 60GB version of the PlayStation 3 remains available, Sony has begun phasing it out of their product line.
Like the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, the PlayStation 3 can stand vertically or lie horizontally in an AV rack, though because of its curved top, it's not meant to have any other components resting on top of it. Early prototypes were shown in white and silver, but the PS3 is currently available only in black. The 20GB version (now discontinued) was all black, but the larger capacity models are highlighted with a chrome trim--and there's no way to customize its look as you can with Xbox 360's interchangeable, if overpriced, faceplates. Judging from Sony's recent decision to bring out the PSP in more colors, we don't expect the company to stick to the black-only option for too long, especially since this system, like the PSP, is a fingerprint- and smudge-magnet. If you handle it at all, you'll end up having to wipe it off, so you'll probably just want to stick it in a rack and leave it there.
As for its dimensions, the PS3 measures 12.8 inches wide by 3.8 inches high by 10.8 inches long, which is roughly in line with the overall volume of the Xbox 360. That said, the PS3 does weigh a bit more--11 pounds to the 360's 9.9 pounds including power supply--so if you're going by heft alone, you're getting almost 10 percent more console. Most impressively, there's no external power supply for the PS3; you just plug the included power cable--it's the same standard three-prong style you'll find on most desktop PCs--into the back of the unit and you're good to go. For those of us who own an Xbox 360, and have had to struggle with its massive brick of a power supply, this seems like a remarkable feat on Sony's part.
One obvious difference between the Xbox 360 and the PS3 is the way you load media. As opposed to the more typical tray loader, the PS3 has a front-slot-loading, Blu-ray optical-disc drive, which contributes to the unit's slicker appearance. Discs slide in and eject smoothly enough, so chalk one up for the PS3 here.
On the front, you'll find four USB ports for connecting (and charging) controllers and other accessories, including USB keyboards, thumbdrives, and the PSP. Four ports are nice, but we would have liked to have seen at least one USB port on the back for connecting peripherals such as a camera (the PS Eye) that spoil the PS3's otherwise clean lines by sticking obtrusively out of the front. Rounding out the front panel is a built-in memory card reader behind a door that supports not only memory cards from Sony's entire Memory Stick family, but Compact Flash and SD/MMC cards as well. (Sorry, Olympus fans--there's no built-in xD support, but you can still hook up your camera--or an external card reader--via USB.)
Around back is where you'll find ports for Ethernet, HDMI output, optical digital audio output (SPDIF), and the proprietary PlayStation AV output for analog audio and video. A composite AV cable ships with the unit, and because it uses the same connector as the PlayStation 2, that system's S-Video and component cables should work with it, as well (to get HD video, you'll need component or HDMI). Unlike the proprietary snap-on hard drive of the Xbox 360, the PS3's 60GB internal hard drive is user replaceable with any off-the-shelf laptop drive. The only caveat: It uses the smaller 2.5-inch drive size, which are twice--or even close to three times--as expensive as the larger 3.5-inch hard drive that goes into a desktop computer.
The single controller that comes with the PS3 is very similar looking to the traditional PlayStation 2 Dual Shock gamepad, but there are some notable differences. For starters, it's wireless. You can connect as many as seven (!) controllers via the system's built-in Bluetooth, which Sony's claims offers a 20-meter range (about 65 feet). Recharging the built-in battery simply requires connecting the included USB cable between the console and the controller. You can continue to play as the battery juices up (Sony pledges 30 hours of gameplay between charges), but the cable's somewhat short 5-foot length will put you right on top of the TV. That said, the controller has a standard mini-USB port similar to the one found on many digital cameras and PC peripherals, so swapping in a longer cable--or using a USB extender--shouldn't be a problem.) Unfortunately, the battery isn't removable, which means that if it dies--as inevitably it will someday--you'll have to replace the entire controller ($50) if you want to play wirelessly. By comparison, the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii controllers offer user-replaceable batteries: AAs or proprietary rechargeables for the 360, and AAs for the Wii.
As for the controller's design, Sony has made a few tweaks. The L2 and R2 trigger buttons are a bit bigger, and the increased depth in stroke offers players more subtle game control. Sony has also increased the tilting angle of the analog joysticks to give you more precise control and a wider range of motion. Those analog sticks are more sensitive as well. The PS2's Dual Shock controller had 8-bit sensitivity, while the PS3's controller has 10-bit motion detection. The SixAxis controller also has a centered Home button, which functions much like its counterpart on the Xbox 360 controller. You use it to return to the console's main menu screen, as well as to sync the controller to the console and start it up or shut it down wirelessly.
The other big upgrade on the SixAxis controller is motion sensitivity. As the name indicates, the controller's capable of sensing motion in six directions: up, down, left, right, forward, and backward. Game developers have incorporated it in many of the new games in one form or another. For example, in Call of Duty 3, you can arm explosives with a twist of the controller. 2K's NBA 2K8 also makes interesting use of the tilt feature, allowing you shoot free throws by motioning a shot with your controller.
To be sure, some implementations of the tilt sensitivity are better than others. Some games' use of it are optional and can be switched off, as we can certainly see some folks not wanting to bother with it at all. Clearly, Sony wanted to steal some of Nintendo's thunder, and there's no denying that the Wii's motion-sensitive controllers are more central to that console's DNA. The Wii controllers are also more sophisticated, including the ability to measure actual motion (spatial movement) and acceleration, rather than just tilting--but unlike the Wii, the PS3 doesn't require a motion-sensor bar in front of the TV. (The current Xbox 360 controllers offer no motion sensitivity at all.) It's safe to say we'll see more innovative uses of the tilting sensitivity feature in future games--it definitely adds an extra level of control when flying the eponymous attack vehicle in Warhawk. On the other hand, the highly touted Lair, is widely considered unplayable, thanks to a poorly implemented Sixaxis control scheme.
The big omission is force feedback support: The current iteration of the PS3 controller offers no vibration or rumble control. However, Sony recently announced that a new, rumbling Dual Shock 3 controller will be available in early 2008. In addition, a large portion of existing games will be able to make use of the force feedback simply by downloading a patch. Sounds great--until you realize that you'll have to shell out more dough for that controller once it eventually becomes available.