Hands-on: PS3 Slim as a Blu-ray player

CNET takes an in-depth look at how the PS3 Slim handles as a Blu-ray player.

Sony

With its new $300 price tag, the PS3 Slim has been selling like crazy , and the fact that it's an excellent Blu-ray player is at least part of the reason.

Since Blu-ray's inception, the PS3 has been our reference Blu-ray player, only recently getting edged out of the top spot by the Oppo BDP-83 . Now that the new 3.00 firmware has been released, we've had some time to put the PS3 Slim through our Blu-ray testing suite.

Editors' note: This story has been updated since publication to reflect that the PS3 Slim can now stream Netflix .

The good

Blu-ray performance

Testing the image quality of the PlayStation 3 has always been a challenge, mainly because it does not deinterlace native 1080i content to 1080p at 60 frames per second. That means test discs specifically designed to assess Blu-ray image quality--like HQV, Spears and Munsil, and Qdeo--aren't helpful; they all feature 1080i content and the PS3 just passes it along without processing. The PS3 Slim is no different in this regard. Not much Blu-ray content is available in 1080i, however, so this quirk of the PS3 isn't a huge problem in real-world scenarios.

Without the comfort of our reliable test discs, we switched to our favorite challenging passages from actual program content. The kitchen scenes during chapter 2 of "Sunshine" are often difficult for lesser players, but the PS3 Slim had no problem rendering the ridged cups or striped shirts. It also handled the end of chapter 6 on "Ghost Rider," where we sometimes see moire in the grille of the RV on players with faulty 1080i deinterlacing. A couple of select scenes from "Spider-Man 3" looked flawless as well.

We also threw some less common content at the PS3 Slim. We looked at "Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic," and although we saw some jaggies, we're pretty sure it's in the source material; the same jaggies were present on the Oppo BDP-83. We saw the same thing on "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy," with both players having some minor jaggies that likely aren't the fault of the players.

Although in our testing we saw virtually identical performance from both the PS3 Slim and the Oppo BDP-83, we'd still give the Oppo a tiny edge on Blu-ray playback because of its exceptional handling of rare content material. (See the Oppo BDP-83 review for more details.)

DVD performance

The PS3 doesn't have any problems with DVD test discs, so we started with Silicon Optic's "HQV" suite. The initial resolution pattern looked sharp, with full detail and absolutely no image instability. The next two jaggies patterns were mixed; the PS3 Slim handled a rotating white line, but we saw plenty of wavy edges on three pivoting lines.

The Slim aced several other test patterns, including a waving flag and a 2:3 pulldown test with race car driving past grandstands. The "detail" test looked just a smidgen softer than the Oppo BDP-83, as we couldn't make out as much detail in the marble stairs. The Slim also failed on some of the more obscure cadence tests, but since actual program material in those cadences is rare, we didn't don't put as much weight on those tests.

Moving beyond test discs, the PS3 Slim continued to hold its own. Few players can handle the difficult introductory sequence to "Seabiscuit", but the PS3 Slim looked jaggy-free. Same with the opening shot of "Star Trek: Insurrection"; the curved edges of the boat hulls and bridge railings were smooth, without any stair-stepping artifacts. Yes, when we flipped over to the Oppo BDP-83, we preferred its DVD image quality, but the differences are relatively minor on most film-based DVD movies. In other words, unless you need the best of the best, the PS3 Slim's DVD performance will suffice.

Gaming and media streaming

When comparing the PS3 Slim to other standalone Blu-ray players, it's easy to forget how much the PS3 can actually do. As much as we love all the streaming content available on LG's BD390 , it's all easily outweighed by the PS3's gaming capabilities for us. It's also an excellent media streamer for music, videos and photos, and its built-in web browser offers access to YouTube as well as many other web sites (Hulu has been blocked, however).

Netflix streaming

One of the longtime knocks against the PS3 was that it didn't support Netflix streaming, like the Xbox 360 or several standalone Blu-ray players. That changed in November, with Netflix issuing a special Blu-ray disc that allows the PS3 to stream Netflix. For more information, see our hands-on report .

Bit streams Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio

This doesn't really matter that much, but the new PS3 Slim is capable of sending Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in bit stream format to a compatible AV receiver. The PS3 could always decode these formats itself, so you won't get any audible difference from using bit stream mode, but you're receiver will light up and say "Dolby TrueHD".

Reduced energy consumption

We compared the energy consumption of the new PS3 Slim to the older 60GB PS3 'Fat' and the results were definitive; the PS3 Slim uses about half the energy, no matter what task we were performing.

The bad

Uses much more energy compared to standalone players

The PS3 Slim is more efficient than the PS3 Fat, but it's still a power hog compared to all other standalones. When playing a Blu-ray movie, it uses a little less than four times the amount of power that a Samsung BD-P3600 . You won't actually save that much money using a BD-P3600 with current energy prices, but it may be an issue for those looking to reduce their energy use.

No longer the speed champion

The PS3 used to be the undisputed king of Blu-ray load times, but the new crop of 2009 players has ended its run. So while the PS3 Slim is still relatively speedy, it's no longer best in class.

For example, we found it took 22 seconds to load "Mission Impossible: III" with the PS3 Slim already turned on; it took the Oppo BDP-83 13 seconds on the same test. When we started with the players off, the PS3 took a sluggish 42 seconds for us to get the movie playing; every other Blu-ray player we've tested this year is faster. It fared better with movie that had more elaborate menu systems. For example, "Spider-Man 3" took one minute, 5 seconds, which is only a little slower than the Oppo's 59 seconds on the same movie.

No multichannel analog outputs

If you have an older, non-HDMI receiver, you'll be stuck using the optical output on the PS3 Slim for your audio if you want surround sound. (The PS3 slim does have stereo analog output.) That means you won't get the full resolution of new high-resolution Blu-ray soundtracks like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. Granted, the differences between Dolby TrueHD and plain ol' Dolby may not be that large , but purists will appreciate the analog output available on some standalone players.

Does not include a standard remote or work out-of-the-box with universal remotes

As much as we love gaming on the PS3, we still like using a standard remote control when watching Blu-ray movies. You can get around this shortcoming by buying the Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray remote or getting the Logitech Harmony Adapter for PlayStation 3 if you have a universal remote, but we were secretly hoping that Sony would sneak an IR receptor on the PS3 Slim to solve this longstanding annoyance. It didn't.

The bottom line

With all of the functionality it offers, the PS3 Slim is the best value in home video today, and it more than holds its own as a Blu-ray player. If you can ignore its minor shortcomings and don't need the standard "disc player" form factor, it's easily the best-for-your-buck Blu-ray player for the majority of tech-savvy buyers.

Related content

PS3 Slim review
PS3 Slim: Everything you need to know
PS3 Blu-ray settings: Ask the Editors
PS3 Slim uses half the power of PS3 'Fat'
Confirmed: PS3 Slim bit streams Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio
Does a cheaper PS3 make standalone Blu-ray players overpriced again?
Best Blu-ray players
Blu-ray players with built-in Netflix streaming

 

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