Editors' note: As of September 2009, Sony will be discontinuing the PlayStation 3 80GB model. The console will sell for a reduced price of $300 until supply is exhausted. We highly recommend the newly designed PlayStation 3 Slim in its place, 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.
In November of 2009, Sony introduced Netflix to the PlayStation 3 home console. Netflix subscribers can order a free PS3 Netflix Blu-ray Disc online from the site and must use it every time in order to stream a movie. Users can manage their queue and watch any film that's available (including some HD content) for instant viewing. Please see our hands-on review of the Netflix PS3 service.
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 initially 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 Xbox 360.
Since then, the company's been modifying the PlayStation product line to better fit the competitive market landscape. As of August 2008, a new "bargain" PS3 is available with a larger, 80GB hard drive, and a "deluxe" model is due in November, doubling the capacity to 160GB. Both, however, lack backward compatibility with PS2 games and do not come with flash card readers. If those features are a must, it might be best to pick up the 80GB Metal Gear Bundle version on eBay while they're still out there.
If you don't want to opt for the new 160GB (that will also ship with Uncharted: Drakes Fortune), the 80GB version reviewed here might short you on space. Now that you can fill up that hard drive more easily with TV shows and movies from the PlayStation Store, it's much easier to do so. Still, for those on a budget, the $400 PS3 ups the hard-drive capacity from the older "budget" model and delivers nearly all the same gaming and home theater features as its more expensive sibling. The PS3's game drought has largely evaporated, with popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Rock Band, Call of Duty 4, and BioShock all making their way to the console. While these titles are also available on the Xbox 360, the PS3 has exclusive dibs on Metal Gear, Uncharted, and MLB 08: The Show, as well as the hotly anticipated Resistance 2 and Killzone 2 due to hit in upcoming months.
Yes, the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii also have their own handful of exclusive titles (Halo and Gears of War on the former, and all of the Mario, Metroid, and Zelda games on the latter), but the PS3's HD graphics go far beyond those of the low-resolution Wii, and its stable hardware doesn't suffer from the Xbox 360's notorious red ring of death. Plus, now that Blu-ray Discs have become the de facto standard for high-def media, the PS3 is still the only console available to play back that format, and consequently is the best performing and affordable Blu-ray player on the market--a great option if you want to introduce yourself to high-def content.
PlayStation 3 models compared:*
|Model||PS3 80GB||PS3 160GB|
|Hard disk size||80GB||160GB|
|Network compatibility||Ethernet and Wi-Fi||Ethernet and Wi-Fi|
|Plays PS2 games?||No||No|
|Flash memory compatibility||None||None|
|Unique bundled items||None||Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, PAIN, PSN voucher|
* Sony has since discontinued the 20GB, 60GB and the August 2007 "Deluxe" 80GB PlayStation 3 models.
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 currently the PS3 is only available in black. The 20GB version (now discontinued) was all black, but the larger capacity (and all current models) are highlighted with chrome trim--and there's no way to customize its look as you can with the 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.
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 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 two USB ports for connecting (and charging) controllers and other accessories, including USB keyboards, thumbdrives, and the PSP. Unfortunately if you need more than two ports, you're out of luck as only the older versions of the PS3 came with four. This will certainly become an issue particularly if you want to charge your controllers as well as use an accessory like the PS Eye). The PS3 still doesn't come with USB ports on the back of the unit--something we've desired for a while. Both new versions of the PS3 also now lack multiple flash card readers. While we could see this feature being dropped for a reduced price, even the "deluxe" 160GB model, priced still at $500, will not come with it.
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). This, once again, leaves us asking why Sony does not ship the console HD-ready out-of-the-box. Unlike the proprietary snap-on hard drive of the Xbox 360, the PS3's 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 go into a desktop computer.
The Sixaxis DualShock 3 Controller
When the PS3 was first released in the fall of 2006, gamers gave Sony a lot of grief that the included Sixaxis controller lacked rumble (vibration) support--a feature found on the controllers for the Xbox 360, Wii, and even the older PlayStation 2. Sony has since corrected that with the DualShock 3 controller, which is basically just the Sixaxis with rumble. Starting with the new 80GB core system, all new PS3 versions will include a DualShock 3 controller by default.
With the exception of its included rumble support--and a bit more weight as a result--the Dual Shock 3 is otherwise pretty much identical to the Sixaxis. Fans of the older Sony game consoles will note that it even looks identical to the older PlayStation controllers, but there are some differences. For starters, it's wireless. You can connect as many as seven controllers via the system's built-in Bluetooth, which Sony 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. We should also note that we had some success charging the DualShock 3 on a number of PC USB ports and even the port on a cable box. Unfortunately, the battery isn't removable, which means that if it dies--as inevitably it will some day--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 versus the old PS2 version. 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 2 controller had 8-bit sensitivity, while the PS3's controller has 10-bit motion detection. The Sixaxis and DualShock 3 controllers also have 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. In game, the Home button will now bring up the cross-media-bar (XMB).
The other big upgrade on the DualShock 3 (and Sixaxis) from its predecessors is its motion sensitivity. As the name indicates, the controller is capable of sensing motion in six directions: up, down, left, right, forward, and backward. Game developers have incorporated this technology 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.