The PlayStation 3 is a technical behemoth underneath its cool black exterior-it is, in essence, a high-end PC capable of a wide array of multimedia features. At its heart is the Cell processor, a chip developed specifically for the PlayStation 3 which features a PowerPC-based core with seven different processing units. This allows the Cell to perform insanely complex equations which should result in vastly improved graphics and more realistic physics within games. We say "should", because the drawback of having a specially built processor means game developers have to learn from scratch how to program for the system (as opposed to the Xbox 360, which uses mainly off-the-shelf components). So while the graphics of current-gen PS3 games are on par with the Xbox 360's, we're expecting significant improvements in the years to come.
The PS3 is compatible out of the box with any new PS3 games - even ones from overseas. Sony has (at this stage) put no region locks on games, which means that any title purchased from around the world should work on an Australian PS3. Sony has left it to publishers to implement their own region locks should they wish, however, so this situation may change in the future. Old PS1 and PS2 games are still region locked. And speaking of old PlayStation games, the Australian version of the PS3 is different from US ones in that backwards compatibility with old PS2 games is software instead of hardware emulated. This means Aussie PS3 owners will need to update their machine to the latest firmware version as soon as they unpack it if they want to play old PS2 games. The list of PS2 games currently playable on the PS3 is roughly 1700, compared to the close to 2500 titles available for the old system. Click here for the full list.
It would hardly be a multimedia machine if all it did was play games, however. The PS3 features a long list of hardware extras, the most significant of which is probably the inclusion of a 60GB hard drive. As well as being the main repository to store game saves, the large drive can also be used to store game and video demos, music and digital photos. And in the first of Sony's moves to make the PS3 more compatibility-friendly, the drive is a serial ATA: this means users can easily upgrade the drive at a later date should they run out of space.
When it comes to connectivity, the PS3 is no slouch. The Ethernet port makes it a cinch to connect to a wired home network, while the unit also ships with Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g) built in. The PS3 also features Bluetooth 2.0 for connection with other compatible devices. As mentioned earlier, the PS3 also sports four USB 2.0 slots at the front, which can accommodate devices such as keyboards and even existing PS2 peripherals (SingStar microphones, anyone?). And in another particularly generous act of open standards, the PS3 comes with slots for Memory Stick (including Pro), Compact Flash (Type I and II) and SD. This should make uploading pictures or other data to the PS3 a breeze.
Of course, we still have to cover that much talked about Blu-ray drive which comes standard with each and every PS3. At AU$1000, the PS3 is by far the cheapest Blu-ray player currently available on the Australian market. The unit can output both movies and games at 1080p resolution (for those games that support it), but it can also output at 576i, 576p, 720p and 1080i. As well as Blu-ray movies, the PS3's optical drive can play CDs Super Audio CDs and DVDs (including DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R and DVD+RW discs). But while the PS3 can play games from around the world, the same can't be said for DVD or Blu-ray discs. The PS3 will only be able to play region-specific content, which for DVDs means Region 4 and Region B for Blu-ray.
The new PS3 controllers have limited motion sensitivity.
Getting the PlayStation 2 online was a chore, but the same definitely cannot be said for the PS3. Internet connectivity is practically a requirement for this unit, as Sony has taken a decidedly Xbox-like approach to online with their new console. Getting the PS3 hooked up to the Internet is a cinch - simply plug in your Ethernet cable or connect to your wireless network and you're away. This type of always-on connectivity will be familiar to anyone who has a 360 and is on Xbox Live. Being always-on allows the system to notify the user when friends are online, gives messaging and voice abilities, and will allow for the speedy delivery of system (or game) updates. Most importantly, being online also allows for easier multiplayer games, a system which was hopelessly complex on the PS2. Unlike Xbox Live, playing online against friends or strangers is free for the PS3 - there are no subscription fees that need to be paid.
Being online also allows access to the PlayStation Store, Sony's equivalent to the 360's Xbox Live Arcade. The store will contain free game demos and videos for download, as well as games for sale. Game prices for the PlayStation Store will be between AU$5 and AU$20. Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection, for example, retails for AU$16.95.
The online activity doesn't stop there. The PS3 also comes with a Web browser, which allows for Internet surfing straight from the console. As mentioned earlier, web address entry can be a chore using the PS3's virtual keyboard entry system, so you'll need a real keyboard if you're going to make constant use of this feature.