PS3 vs PS4: price
Here's why we're comparing the PlayStation 3 with the all-new PlayStation 4: you can still buy the former. You can still buy games for it and, as we'll find out later, it remains a great Blu-ray and media player.
And here's the kicker, where the PS4 with one controller and no games will set you back £349 inc VAT (if you can get one this year), you'll have no problem picking up a PS3 for £160 or £200, depending on storage. I was in PC World yesterday and you couldn't move for PS3 stock. Worth considering. See also: PS4 price in UK; how much will the PlayStation 4 cost?
PS3 vs PS4: games
Clearly the big money in terms of games development will be headed toward the PS4. At launch there is only a handful of exclusive titles, however. And remember that you cannot easily play PS3 games on your PS4. If you are a keen gamer, in it for the long term, the PS4 is the way to go. But if you just want to be able to choose from a wide range of games the PS3 could be a bargain. (See also: How to play PS3 games on PS4: Is it possible?)
PS3 vs PS4: specs
Although, of course, the PlayStation 4 is a vastly superior gaming rig. It has an 8-core AMD Jaguar CPU, clocked up to 2.75GHz. This is paied with an 800MHz AMD Radeon GPU and a healthy 8GB of GDDR5 RAM.
Compare this with the PS3: it has a single-core chip running at 3.2GHz. You get a 550MHz GPU and 256MB of DDR3 RAM. The clock speed may be high, but that single core processor and relatively tiny amount of RAM is the critical thing. The PS3 is a good gaming rig, but it can't compete with its big brother.
Both devices have built-in hard drives, HDMI, Analog-AV out, and Optical Digital Output. USB connectivity has been updated for the PS4: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 on the PS3, and USB 3.0 on the PS4, three of them (if that isn't too confusing). The PS4 also has an AUX.
Internet connectivity is similar, but critically different: Ethernet (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T), Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR), and IEEE 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi on the PS3 steps up to Ethernet (10BASE-T,100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T), Bluetooth 2.1 (EDR) and IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi on the PS4.
The controllers are different, which we'll examine later. And the cameras are also marginally different: 640X480 @ 60Hz, 320×240 @ 120Hz plays 1280×800 @ 60Hz, 640×400 @ 120Hz, 320×192 @ 240Hz. See also: Sony PlayStation 4 on sale in UK for Christmas for £349 and Video: Sony launches PS4 for £349 in the UK.
PS3 vs PS4: controllers
The PlayStation 4 benefits from the DualShock 4 controller, which is immediately better than the DualShock 3 by virtue of being one number higher. (Is that enough, ed?)
Okay. There are other differences. The DS4 has a touchpad that supports two point swipe and pinch input. It's also, in our experience, more comfortable to use. Share and Options are new ancillary buttons that replace Start and Select
The shoulder buttons have been improved, too. They now have concave dips which makes them easier to use as triggers. And then there's the light bar: three LEDs that can illuminate in various colours, which is nice. Check out concept photos of the PS5, next Xbox and Wii games consoles.
PS3 vs PS4: media playback
This may be the critical point. The PS3 is actually a better media player than is the PS4. Quite deliberately the PlayStation 4 is dedicated to gaming, whereas the PlayStation 3 remains our favourite Blu-ray player. To use the PS4 as a Blu-ray player you need to download additional software as out of the box it isn't licensed as such.
The same is true of one of the other key benefits of the PS3 - on the PS4 you can't play videos stored on memory sticks and external hard drives, or wirelessly stream files from other devices.
It sort of makes sense. Sony is, after all, a huge owner of music and movies, and it also owns Blu-ray. So it doesn't want to cannibalise its own business by encouraging media file sharing. But it does mean that the PS3 is much the better media player (and the Xbox One is better yet).
There are legitimate ways to enjoy media via your PS4. You can watch Netflix or LoveFilm on both the PS3 and PS4 (if you've signed up), but BBC iPlayer is currently available only on the PS3.
PS3 vs PS4: verdict
Clearly, for serious gamers the PS4 is the way to go. It will get all the new titles, specially designed for its superb specification. But the PS3 is an option for more casual games fans. And it makes a better media player, costing far less. Who knew? (See also: Should I buy a next-gen console: Is the PS4 and Xbox One worth it?)