Saturday, December 30, 2006

PS3 First Impressions

Unlike the small, modest Wii, the PS3 is a heavy, hulking, imposing piece of electronics. There's something slightly retro about its design, but overall I like it, despite the size. It attracts dust like a champ (you can wipe it off and literally see the dust snap back on the PS3 due to static electricity), but does look snazzy once you do convince the dust to stay off for at least a few minutes.

I ran into one snag which I blame on my Westinghouse TV: when I hooked it up to the PS3 via HDMI there was some flickering white spots on the screen when I tried to view 1080p resolution (the other resolutions were fine). Online postings (especially on the AVSFORUM site) leads me to believe that it is the TVs fault. A firmware upgrade would fix this, but you have to mail it back to Westinghouse (!!!) to get the upgrade. Luckily for me, after one of their updates, the PS3 can pump 1080p signals out its component outputs too, so I got their component adapter and am all set. (The signal is just a tad less crisp than the HDMI output, but given Sony's propensity to have aliasing issues, a touch of softness may not be a bad thing.)

Once I was past my video snag, I checked out their online store, and downloaded a couple games. The PS3's menus are elegant and easy to use. The menu's background/foreground colors change based on time of year and time of day. So, for example in the daytime the mainscreen background is a bland light gray, and turns black at night.

In general, the PS3s colors are vibrant, and at 1080p the resolution is as crisp as it gets. What pleasantly surprised me was how wonderful the sound was too. Like my 360 I'm using the optical output for sound, and I found the PS3 sound to be significantly warmer and richer than my 360. A visiting friend who also has a 360 agreed the sound was noticeably superior.

The launch games are ok for the most part, with Resistance: Fall of Man being the clear winner for currently available games. However, I have to say that in one sense the Gran Turismo HD (free) downloadable demo is the true standout, because it begins to hint at what the PS3 will really be capable of doing. It's truly amazing, even to someone used to high-def PC and 360 games. The scenery (especially the mountains in the background) is jaw-dropping, the number, variety, and detail of the spectators is great, and the look/sound/feel of the cars is marvelous. This is the cutting edge of gaming graphics and sound, and shows that the PS3 has more than enough muscle to be running great looking and sounding games for the next several years.

The SIXAXIS controllers are surprisingly lightweight, responsive and using them will come naturally to anyone used to PS2 controllers. The lack of vibration doesn't bother me too much. The motion-sensitive features aren't really used by any of the games I'm playing, except the arcade game Blast Factor, which uses them minimally. Clearly added as a response to the Wii, perhaps later games will take better advantage of the motion sensitivity in the future.

If you have a 1080i or especially a 1080p capable TV, and send your sound through a Dolby 5.1 or ACS-capable sound system, then the PS3 is definitely a worthwhile purchase. People without a newer TV or sound system don't need to rush to get one. I suspect that I'll be playing the PS3 a LOT, starting with Resistance. It may "lose the battle" with the Wii in the near future, but I suspect that in later years, when more people buy newer TVs and sound systems, and there are more beautiful hi-def games available, that it will gain back that lost ground and come into its own.

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