As the bolded title above indicates, the following hardware review is specific to the Sony Playstation 3 as a high-definition, Blu-ray player, and NOT the gaming console, though those looking for that will find more than enough info available elsewhere online. Additionally, this review in particular is in regards to the 40 GB model, which, to date, is one of four different models that Sony has released. The others include a 20, a 60, and an 80 GB model. Further, the 40 GB model has had three versions of itself released, thereby giving the Friday the 13th film franchise a good run for their money. While variety might be the spice of life, confusion certainly isn’t, so for purposes of not starting things off on too convoluted a foot, let’s just say that the main fundamental difference between these four models and accompanying versions are the amount of hard drive storage space they have.
When having to briefly describe the look of the Sony PS3, I defer to the immortal words of Kazakhstan’s most famous export, Borat: “very nice.” Rounded contours mesh nicely with straight edges, all finished in a lovely, piano black finish that’s so preciously shiny you can practically give it bonus duty as a mirror. Silver accents seal the deal, and in the interests of being all things to all people, in a new era where all hardware and peripherals need to blend seamlessly into each other, the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) can be laid flat on its bottom, or upright on its other bottom, not unlike a desktop PC. I prefer the former, but having two options is always nice when it comes to storage and display.
Getting back to our regularly-scheduled programming, (when flat) the left side of the PS3 features a removable hard disk, which in the case of ours is 40 gigabytes worth. Rounding things out, the front right-hand side of the PS3 is where the Blu-ray discs load. Sony opted to go with a feeding slot (the disc automatically inserts itself once it's about halfway through) as opposed to the more familiar motorized tray that ejects out. I’m not sure which one I prefer, though from a purely aesthetic POV, the motorized trays might register a little higher on the classier side of things. Ultimately though, so long as the discs load correctly and properly, that’s really the most important thing, and with a feeding slot as opposed to the motorized tray, at least it’s far less likely for the disc to jam or get damaged and scratched on the way in. Right below the Blu-ray disc insert slot you’ll find the power button as well as the eject button. What’s neat about these buttons is that they’re not buttons in the conventional sense of the word. What I mean by this is that as opposed to buttons that are generally separate rubberized or plastic pieces that get pushed down; the buttons on the PS3 are integrated into the actual hardware of the unit, and save for the perforated, brail-like, hard icon edges that you can feel with your fingers, they are completely flat and flush with the PS3 itself.
One thing you’ll instantly notice about the PS3 is the lack of front display that’s typically available on most DVD players and stand-alone Blu-ray players. This is the usually blue-ish colored display that gives you such useful and handy info that includes time, as well as numbers specific to an inserted disc such as time left or elapsed in the film, and the corresponding chapter stop. While it may take all of a few minutes to get used to this, you can access all of these familiar numbers by using the Display button on the Blu-ray remote, or the Select button on the standard game controller.
Let’s now examine the set-up and performance of the Sony Playstation 3.
Life can be as simple or as complicated as you make it, and the Sony PS3 is no exception to that rule. For all the tech-savvy, cyber-geeks who wish to tailor, adjust, and tinker with every aspect of the PS3 experience from a video, audio, and online perspective, the rivers here run deep and long. For all the rest (most people), if you’re comfortable, or were comfortable, setting up and connecting your DVD player, setting up the PS3 will be equally straightforward. Naturally, I will assume – and hope – that during your set up, you’ll be armed with the optional Blu-ray remote controller, and more importantly, a TV equipped to handle a HD signal (meaning at least a native 720P engine), and the HD cables in the form of either HDMI or Component. Anything less would be akin to owning a Ferrari and never taking it past 60 kilometers an hour. In short: when you’ve got and paid for the horsepower, make proper use of the horsepower. For many people out there, there’s still the misconception that if you have an HDTV, you automatically have a high-definition picture. Not so and not true. In order to have a genuine HD image, you also need HD cables and an HD source (i.e., HD cable box or Blu-ray player).
Moving on, in my case I was connected via an HDMI cable using the Nexus NX4703 1080p LCD TV. As is the case with most consumer electronics products these days, there are no hardcopy, paper manuals provided for you, and as such, the user manual and guide is provided on-screen through a web-based page. That’s perhaps the one thing that sets the PS3 apart from all other stand-alone Blu-ray players: in addition to HD-video playback, with the PS3 you also get an online, network-ready device, that, coupled with its ample hard drive storage space, allows you to download, save, and view/playback Internet content. More importantly, this web access allows the Sony PS3 hardware to be virtually “future-proof” via firmware updates. For instance, on launch, the PS3 could play standard-definition DVDs, but could not upconvert or upscale them to high-definition resolutions. Then as of May of 2007, a firmware update for the PS3 allowed owners to instantly and easily download and update their hardware to support DVD upscaling/upconverting. Had you been unfortunate enough to buy a stand-alone Blu-ray player with this limitation or any another, you’d be stuck with what you had, and be at the mercy of technological progress to not render your product out-of-date and out-of-luck too soon. Further, as is sometimes the case with newer technologies that are launched for the first time, should there be any glitches, a firmware update will usually rectify the matter in seconds, whereas with a stand-alone product minus the web access, you’re left frustrated and inconvenienced with having to physically return or exchange something where you purchased it to address the matter.
Once you’ve connected everything, the next order of business would be to get familiar with the set-up and user menus for the Sony PS3 that are known as “XMB” (XrossMediaBar) due to the way the menu is laid out. Here the proceedings are nicely laid out and easy to follow. During first-time usage and set-up, you’ll be initially prompted to enter info such as language, time zone, date and time, along with a user name. Without getting into the Internet browsing aspect of the PS3 – or any of the other menu categories (there are just too many), in terms of Blu-ray functionality and the video/audio settings, the main section you’ll need to know is Display Settings which can be found under the Settings heading. Once you’ve accessed the Video Output Settings, you’ll then be able to select your connection type from a list that includes HDMI, Component/D-Terminal, Composite/S-Video, and AV MULTI/SCART. If for whatever reason you find the need to navigate and select the Composite/S-Video option, shame on you for using your Ferrari like a Hyundai Pony. Once inside the selections for HDMI or Component, you can then determine your output resolution, which from worst to best is Standard (NTSC), 480i, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The bare minimum for HD video is 720p, and you should never want to dip below that, thus robbing yourself of the magic and glory that is high-definition. Worth mentioning when selecting your video source and resolution, once you’ve checked off all of the appropriate boxes or box that applies to your specific connection type, while the on-screen menu indicates to press the X button to select, it doesn’t indicate that in order to finalize and execute your given selection, you need to arrow over to the right. It took a little trial and error to figure this out, when a simple on-screen instruction or prompt could’ve taken care of this confusion instantaneously. Once complete, the Video Output settings will also prompt you to adjust for your audio settings, thus saving you the trouble of having to access the Audio Output settings separately. Assuming you're running the audio straight from your TV and aren’t sure what selection to make, as opposed to setting the audio via a custom setting command, just pick Automatic and let Sony configure things based on your connection.
In regards to the magic and glory that is high-definition video, let me tell you that this is where the Sony PS3 excels. This clearly may have something to do with all that raw and untapped power under the hood that fuels and powers the PS3 known as the Cell Broadband engine that was developed jointly by Sony, IBM, SCEI, and Toshiba – yes, that Toshiba, the very same company that had been engaged in the bloody two-year battle for HD supremacy that saw Toshiba’s competing HD-DVD format declare mercy earlier this year (February) at the hands of Blu-ray. As per Sony, it’s a multi-processor that uses up to eight Synergistic Processor Units (SPUs) or “cores” to better handle and balance the immense workload when it comes to high-definition video and audio processing. While I couldn’t give you a nuts and bolts breakdown of how and why this all works exactly, I can tell you that the proverbial proof is in the pudding. I watched various discs and segments from BBC’s extraordinary Planet Earth series, and if that doesn’t make an HD, Blu-ray, PS3-convert out of you, nothing will. Colors never looked so bright and lush and vivid, and images never looked so rich and sharp and detailed.
Moving away from HD video, which seems like a crime when you’re talking about a Blu-ray player, for those of you who’ve only just made the jump to HD, but own a healthy amount of DVDs and don’t feel like re-buying and double-dipping your existing collection, as previously mentioned, the PS3 supports playback of DVDs. As of this writing, I can’t speak to how good the DVD scaler via a firmware update is for the PS3, as it was only tested with DVDs right out of the box, minus the update. While this is ultimately an unfair, if not incomplete assessment of how the PS3 does with DVD playback, I will say that out-of-box, DVD playback was just ordinary. Not bad, not great, just very ordinary and average. Once said firmware update is complete, we’ll have to revisit this particular area of performance with a slightly amended version that would make Sony and their three times revised 40 GB model proud. And backtracking just a little bit here, in terms of disc load times, I tried a few different Blu-ray and DVD discs, and I’m very happy to report that unlike many of the current Blu-ray players for sale, the Sony PS3 does a great job of loading everything fast, without any snags, delays, or glitches to speak of. Nothing kills enthusiasm and anticipation faster then when you’re mindlessly staring at a dark screen or a manufacturer’s screen cap waiting for a disc load. Thankfully, with the PS3, that’s likely never going to be the case for you.
Before concluding, I’d just like to touch on a couple of random items regarding PS3 performance once you’re watching your Blu-ray movies and such. Firstly, in regards to the options to rewind and fast-forward your video playback, Sony went with some curious options here, offering rewind and fast-forward options in bizarre increments that range from 1.5 to 10 to 30 to 120. The low end is too slow, while the top might be too fast, but the real problem is how there is no gradual ascension from 1.5 to 120, and certainly none from 30 to 120. A minor gripe, yes, but Sony could’ve done far better in this regard. Secondly, while the optional Blu-ray remote control is certainly ergonomically-designed and fully-functional, Sony opted to make it speak in the language of Blue Tooth as opposed to being IR-friendly (Infrared), which ultimately makes it impossible, as is, to be programmed via a universal remote that many of us like to use with multiple electronic products to cut down the amount of remote controls to a nice, round number of one. Thankfully, companies such as Nyko have come to the rescue by creating an adapter product that will allow the Sony PS3 to communicate sans issue with IR-based controllers. Again, while worth mentioning, this is small potatoes when you consider that the PS3 is one of, if not the best Blu-ray player currently on the market.
A few minor gripes aside (Composite cable as opposed to HD cables provided, and not including a Blu-ray remote controller along with the gaming controller), the Sony PS3 is an absolute monster when it comes to Blu-ray performance, not to mention its online presence that virtually makes it a piece of technology that is “future-proof.” Throw in a reasonable price-point (currently around $349.99 US) and the added bonus of being an ultra-high end gaming console, and what you have is an instant and bonafied winner.
Ridley Acoustics EVIO852B
Sinclair Cube System
RF Link AVS-5811