Sony has always pushed the PS3 (PlayStation 3) as an all-round entertainment console, with a remit that goes well beyond the realm of gaming. And its striking design certainly makes it look at home in the living room - even if it is larger than the PS2, the diminutive Nintendo Wii or the Microsoft Xbox 360.
The console comes in two versions. The £425 model (which we tested) has a 60GB hard disk, built-in 802.11b/g wireless networking and MemoryStick, SD, and CompactFlash slots. A cheaper unit, which is not expected to launch in the UK until later this year, omits Wi-Fi and the media card slots, and has a 20GB drive. You can replace the hard drive on either version.
Both versions provide a Blu-ray slot drive (more information here), HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) output, gigabit networking, four USB 2.0 ports and built-in Bluetooth 2.0 support.
At the heart of the PS3 lies a powerful, multicore Cell processor that will impress even hardcore PC gamers. On games such as NBA 07, the PS3’s vastly improved physics and environmental effects are used to devastating effect. It’s far ahead of the Wii (which is at a similar level graphically to the PS2) and the Xbox 360.
Internet connectivity and HD movie playback aside, consoles are all about the games - and exclusive franchises such as Halo (Xbox), Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation), and Zelda (Nintendo) can cement gamers' allegiance to a single console. Whether a PS3 launch title will become such a classic remains to be seen, and its range of games is still comparatively small – but the ones we’ve played so far have been ridiculously fun.
The PS3's wireless, motion-sensitive SixAxis controller lacks the Wii's excellent force-feedback feature. The controller connects to the PS3 wirelessly via Bluetooth (within a 65ft range) and can recharge its batteries (which Sony says will last for 30 hours) when plugged in via the supplied USB cable. The console supports up to seven players at a time.
Thanks to the PlayStation Network, you can see when your friends are online in order to chat with them by video, voice or text, or to join them in multiplayer games. You can also get retro games, games demos and media content at the PlayStation Store.
The XMB (Xross Media Bar) interface is surprisingly responsive; it feels snappier than the Xbox 360 dashboard, and has a less cluttered layout. Launched from the XMB, the PS3’s internet browser isn’t the speediest thing on the planet, but it did load pages reasonably promptly. You can set bookmarks, browse through your history and make text bigger or smaller. Browsing is easier if you plug in a USB keyboard.
The PS3 carries an intimidating hefty price tag, but think about it this way: it seems almost economical compared with a standalone Blu-ray player, the Xbox 360 with its HD-DVD add-on or a Media Center PC.