With the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, Sony strode the gaming world like a colossus, knocking the mighty Nintendo from its throne and swatting away attempts by Microsoft to muscle in on its territory with the Xbox. It looked like Sony could do no wrong, until the PlayStation 3 arrived.
Many gamers found the PS3's initial £300 high price tag hard to stomach and, as a result, the console quickly trailed behind the Wii and Xbox 360 in terms of popularity. Now, with the cheaper PlayStation 3 Slim, which costs around £250, Sony is hoping to make up some of that lost ground. But can this rejigged console really help the company reclaim the console crown?
The new model isn't referred to as the PS3 Slim without reason -- it's significantly thinner and narrower than the original PS3. In fact, it's a completely different-looking machine. Sony has ditched the glossy black finish and sleek touch buttons of the original in favour of a duller-looking matte texture and more conventional push buttons. The whole device looks rather bargain-basement for our tastes, but we have to admit that, when you pick it up, it feels surprisingly well-built and much sturdier than the Xbox 360, for example.
Press the power button and you'll notice that Sony has also managed to make the Slim slightly quieter than the original PS3. This is quite an achievement, as the PS3's fan has always been whisper-quiet in comparison to the cyclone-like Xbox 360, and it's never really suffered from the noisy disc-loading mechanism that blights the Wii.
Sony has been able to reduce the console's noise level because the internal components have been completely re-engineered. Both the main Cell CPU and Nvidia graphics processor have been switched to a smaller manufacturing process, which means they run cooler and so don't need such aggressive fans. This also helps the console to be greener, drawing slightly less power both when in standby mode and when running games or playing movies.
Given the price drop, Sony has had to make a few cuts here and there. This version no longer supports Linux, and backwards compatibility with old PS2 games is absent, although that's also been missing from recent versions of the larger PS3. Similarly, this model only has two USB ports, and the multi-card reader has been given the push. But all of these are fairly minor losses that most buyers won't mind.
On the media front, the console remains highly impressive. When it comes to Blu-ray playback -- one of the console's key features -- picture quality is still on a par with that of most budget players. But the audio-handling has been changed slightly, so the console is no longer limited to decoding high-definition audio streams to the Linear PCM format. Instead, it can pass them to an external receiver via HDMI -- something which audio purists will be happy about.