PS3 setup and barebones review

Posted on Sunday, 3 June 2007

To expedite getting the thing set up, I used the supplied AV cable (3 RCA jacks for video, left audio and right audio. They're probably on the front of your TV under a flap) and a Sony TV to start with.

The initial setup was pretty straight forward, I really like that I get to choose exactly where video and audio are sent - especially since I want my final setup to use the HDMI port to output video and the AV port to output audio. There are too many steps required to do all this setup, especially agreeing to EULAs, but it's all pretty simple and I quickly got the thing connected to my wireless network (builtin wifi is an excellent touch), registered on the Playstation Network and updated to the recently released 1.80 firmware.

I'm not going to touch on games here, just what you can do with the PS3 out of the box once you are setup and registered.
The most obvious thing is play Blu-ray movies, but I don't have any of those and don't especially care about buying stupidly high definition movies for considerably more than I get DVDs for. It's going to be a fair while before I have a decent sized TV to take advantage of it anyway and who knows, maybe HD-DVD will destroy Blu-ray before then. It plays DVDs fine too of course, and it does so fairly well. A nice touch is that it remembers where you were in a movie if you quit the player, letting you do something else and come back exactly where you were.
It plays Audio CDs too (and probably DVD audio discs, but I don't even know anyone who owns such a thing, let along have them myself), and can rip tracks from them onto the internal hard disk. You get a choice of various formats all of which were irrelevant apart from the de-facto mp3. The importing is pretty quick, but can't be done in the background. It can look up the artist/album/track information about the CD on the Internet, but it doesn't seem to download a picture of the disc (or at least it didn't for the Hybrid album I tested it with).
There's a vaguely useful web browser which at least has enough Flash™ support to work with YouTube. I have my laptop next to me, so I haven't tested the browser very thoroughly at all. I imagine it's significantly better with a USB keyboard and mouse (which are supported in most of the PS3, from what I can see).
Unusual things lurk about, like Folding@Home. It's not listed as a game (which it isn't), so it shows up in a fairly unusual place. I guess it's nice that people can contribute to health research by leaving their consoles on overnight, but it's not very interesting to me and seems somewhat wasteful and likely to shorten the PS3s useful life.
The Playstation Store lets you download full games, game demos, and videos. It doesn't have a particularly great interface at the moment and there's not a very wide selection of content, but this side of the next-gen consoles is very important - being able to download content either for free or for money makes trying and buying games easier, but also makes it practical to release small games. I have bought flOw and Tekken 5:DR for about £10. Neither would make sense on shop shelves at regular PS3 game prices, they're too small/simple to justify it, but for a few quid each and a short download, everybody wins. I hope this trend explodes into a vibrant marketplace and community, and gets some UI love from Sony!
As well as those two games, I grabbed a bunch of demos and some very pretty HD movie trailers. All very nice and shows much potential for the future.

Printers and digital cameras are supported somehow, but I lack the equipment and inclination (respectively) to test them.

Throughout the media related sections of the PS3 it offers a tantalising "Search for media servers" option. This probably refers to some Sony thing you can buy, but I discovered online that the PS3 supports UPnP (a way for media devices on a network to announce themselves). A quick setup of MediaTomb on my Ubuntu Feisty desktop (which holds all my music/media) and I could browse all of my media through the PS3. Note that I said browse and not play. It plays my mp3s fine, but it can only play MPEG1, MPEG2 and H.264 movies (plus some basic MPEG-4 that isn't H.264). It doesn't play divx, xvid, Real or Quicktime. Still, the formats it does play are available and easily converted to, so I can make some things playable on the PS3 (usually with a recent SVN version of ffmpeg).
I don't really think the UI for browsing media scales well to the amount of media I have on my computer, but would be fine for stuff copied onto the PS3 itself. I hope this changes over time as digital media density continues to increase.

The menu system you get when you turn the PS3 on is called XMB (Cross Media Bar) and is basically the same as the one on the PSP, but it lacks some features at the moment (RSS/Podcast and Themes, most obviously). Some other bits from the PSP are also missing which make much less sense, such as network connection profiles. I will quite likely take my PS3 to other peoples' houses, so it's a pain to have to re-enter all the wifi details every time (or even if I just want to quickly move it to the wired network to copy a big file). Lots of things you can do from the XMB can't be done as background tasks (ripping CDs as mentioned previously, which really has to change. It's not like the PS3 isn't powerful enough to rip a CD, download files, install a downloaded game and browse the web at the same time. Network updates make this all entirely fixable, but who knows what Sony will choose to do.

The settings menus are comprehensive and useful, but fairly boring. There are CompactFlash, SecureDigital/MMC and MemoryStick interfaces, plus 4 USB ports. Media from any of these can be played (if you organise them correctly). Another nice touch is Bluetooth, which can at least be used for in-game voice chat via a headset (which come with many phones these days, so you may already have one).

Adding "friends" to the Playstation Network stuff is pretty basic and the games don't all seem to hook into it, which is a shame. This is something Microsoft have been doing better since the original Xbox and Sony should really have worked harder here, but they don't want to run a big, centralised server operation like Microsoft does with Xbox Live (which also means you don't have a pay a subscription, like you do with Xbox Live).
Local users can be added too, presumably to separate media out between members of the family. It's my PS3, and mine alone, so I don't care about this either. If you want to put media on a PS3, get your own! ;)

I think that about covers all the stuff you can do at the moment that isn't playing a game. It's a pretty impressive list of stuff too and has so much potential for more. It also looks nice, and changes colour slightly during the day.

As a side note, the unit itself is huge, heavy and hot. It does look nice though.

I'm happy so far :)

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