PS3's got game: plus Blu-ray, MP3 and more

We take an in-depth look at PS3's non-gaming attributes and cover what you need to know about how it handles Blu-ray and DVD movies, music, photos, Internet browsing and more.

Like the PlayStation Portable before it, the sparkling new Sony PlayStation 3 is not quite a console and not quite a media centre. Yet, despite some of the similarities -- the most obvious being the shared Cross Media Bar or XMB -- they are two very different beasts.

The PlayStation 3 or PS3 has so much more riding on it than a machine that can play a few games occasionally -- it has the potential to make and break an entire industry.

There are several reasons why Sony is selling PS3 at a loss just to get it into people's homes. Part of this move is because of Blu-ray; it is the one killer app that Sony hopes will buoy sales of this machine. Sure, the PS3 will play games, but it offers something much deeper and richer than this -- it will potentially succeed where the media hubs and Media Centers have failed. Besides the addition of Blu-ray, the PS3 can aggregate your multimedia content into a one-stop shop. But how does it work, and is it worth a fortnight's pay?

The PS3 is more than just a games machine, it's also the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market.

Under the hood
For a console, the PS3 has plenty of multimedia muscle -- firstly there's the Cell processor which was developed in conjunction with IBM and Toshiba and runs at 3.2GHz. Most of the delays surrounding the PS3 have been due to problems in manufacturing this new part. But it's also incredibly powerful CPU, and it has enthusiasts wringing their hands at the thought of unleashing it upon the forthcoming Folding@Home application for PS3.

Also, let's not forget it's graphics capabilities: this is a truly powerful HD machine that can replay Blu-ray disks at full 1080p resolution as well as cutting edge games. Sound is also looked after with MP3 and CD playback, as well as Sony's own high-def music format SACD.

Throw in Internet and photo gallery capabilities, including a card reader, and you have a neat little gadget.

Getting started
In order to maximise your PlayStation 3 experience, there's a couple of things you'll need along the way. Given that Sony has cut some corners to keep the price to *ahem* a decent level, you'll need to buy some extras to make the PS3 complete.

    Must haves:
  • A broadband connection, preferably with a high download limit
  • Wireless router
  • Sony PS3 Blu-ray DVD Remote control, especially for BD (Blu-ray disc) and media playback

The remote may cost an extra AU$50, but if you plan on watching a lot of media on this console, it's pretty much mandatory.  Its also a very good remote.

Of course, you'll also need a television, but this should be obvious. Though much has been made of PS3's HD capabilities, you don't necessarily need a HD TV -- though it would of course help for Blu-ray watching. We'd recommend a screen with at least a component input to maximise video quality.

    Nice to haves:
  • A PSP - content sharing features are pretty limited at present but there are plenty planned
  • A USB keyboard and/or mouse - for use with the Internet
  • An existing media collection -- though the PS3 can rip CDs, it's quicker if you do it on PC, as you'll see.
  • Sony Walkman - the combination won't overtake the iPod docks of this world, but there are some nice features.
  • HDMI cable 

So, now that you've got all your extras, what can you expect? Read on to find some of the highlights and pitfalls to owning one of these next-gen consoles.

The Sony BD Remote Control is a must-have for serious home theatre use.

DVD and Blu-ray
As a AU$1000 BD player, the PlayStation is exceptional. Colour is spot on and detail is good. It's more user friendly than the competing Panasonic DMP-BD10 player -- even when using the SIXAXIS controller. It can run in 1.5x mode with audio which is handy. Sound is not as exciting as it could be, and the Panasonic beats it here, but it certainly conveys a lot of the emotion and grit of a film such as Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven.

More and more content is being released in anticipation of the PS3's release. Click here to see a list of currently availble Australian Blu-ray titles.

As a DVD player, the PS3 is also quite good, with little noise or shimmer. It demonstrates lifelike colours and good degree of detail. It's not an upscaling DVD player, but given the lack of digital artefacts, this is not much of an issue. A player such as the Denon DVD 1930 may be able to make images 'pop out' a little more, and at the same time upscale them, but in that case we're talking about a dedicated device. The PS3 is able to do a lot of things very well for a games console.

One of the pitfalls of this player is that it's not as easily to access the setup options as a dedicated Blu-ray machine. For example, you can't alter the video options within the Blu-ray section itself, you need to exit out into PS3 XMB. There you can set the HDMI output to any resolution from 1080p down to 576p.

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