Playstation 3 Overview

Sony PS3 – The Powerhouse

The Japanese Giant has learnt a lot from the current generation battle and has put down an aggressive set of cards on the table. While the specifications look meaty on paper (click here to know the specifications on the big three) there is no doubt that the potential is there to unlock. From the outset Sony has an ambitious strategy to make last year’s buzzword a reality – Convergence. The merging of home entertainment and electronic entertainment working in harmony from one small box is their ultimate aim and Sony do have the assets to make it happen. To break the game plan down into bite size chunks, we must first look into the $1.8 billion investment that is the Cell Processor.

Cell – Parallel Processing

Toshiba, IBM and Sony had invested plenty of money into this chip and with good reason. They want to use it not only for their consoles but across the whole electronics line as the core processor to use. The idea came when the PS2 was first released and its Emotion Engine was touted as being the next big thing with the same message of the next generation battle – Convergence. However this did not come to fruition due to many factors but I’m sure Sony will be a lot more aggressive with the Cell. The idea is to share components of the Cell into everyday electronics such as LCD screens, home cinema entertainment systems to washing machines and radios. For now though Sony are focusing on just the console side of things but I am sure we will see a Cell powered TV display very soon. Then and only then will the grand idea of Cell come alive – Sony wants you to buy their Cell products and link them together, working in harmony. The idea is that the more Cell products you link together, the more power there is to process data for gaming. Take this scenario, a Cell ready TV linked to a PS3 which is then linked to a Cell Home Cinema receiver. This will then result in extra parallel horsepower between the three products which then can be used for pretty much anything. Its an ambitious idea and one of controversy as it would limit competition for products for the consumer… That is if the idea hits off and I very much doubt that it will.

While I will not go into specific details about the specifications of the PS3 it is indeed very, very powerful. Since Sony has branded the PS3 as a “supercomputer” it is no joke. The question remains though as to how developers and programmers can get the most out of this system and Sony have claimed they have learnt a lesson from the PS2 era. The PS2 required “coding to the metal” which is a phrase which means that to get the best performance out of the hardware, the code must be very specific and optimised at machine level. At machine level we typically mean Assembler, a coding language compromised of switches, Zeros and Ones. Assembler is a highly specialised programming language and it certainly not friendly for developers to work on so there have been great strides to make things easier this time round.

Too Powerful?

The inclusion of Middleware from the beginning is a very wise decision by Sony and they have licensed what is probably the most advanced and one of the most powerful 3D engines to date – The Unreal 3 engine. By using this engine as middleware, developers, programmers, artists and level designers can worry about content and tweaking instead of building a new engine from scratch of which would cost time and millions of pounds. The engine itself is very versatile as it can be used to power a First Person Shooter, Racing games, Simulations and so forth making it an excellent platform to start out on. The use of middleware will be huge for all of the next generation competitors to begin with as everyone gets to grips with the hardware. Only later on possibly during the second generation of titles will we see highly specialised engines built from scratch by companies to power their videogames but for the smaller developers this comes as great news.

The reason why all of this is more relevant to the PS3 than maybe the XBOX360 is because of the very high specifications of the console itself. Many people including myself can only see a handful of developers seriously pushing the limits of the PS3 and while the glitz and glamour that E3 brought gamers in terms of graphics, we might not see such high level of detail and immersion in videogames. Not at least until the second generation of titles. Some say we will not see quality like the pre-rendered KillZone 2 trailer at all but I think we will given time.

The PS3 though certainly covers all bases with its Bluetooth connectivity, Wireless functions, high quality audio and impressive video connections. For the next generation I had high hopes for full High Definition support and Sony has delivered in spades. Not one, but two full HDMI video out connectors make me smile, but how many people can afford two high definition TV displays in the first place? Not many but it opens up a few interesting possibilities for gaming. Back on the PS2 with Gran Turismo 3 you could link up a few PS2’s and link up three TVs side by side for a huge widescreen display to play the racing game. People who have played Ferrari F355 in the arcades will know what I mean. Now with the PS3 it is possible to connect two TV displays and have them side by side for an equally impressive display. This would best be suited for racing games that need a wider viewing angle or maybe a flight simulator. How about some old skool lightgun action where players one and two no longer have to share the screen but have their own? Or when playing online FPS where on one screen you have the main action and on the other you have a map, stats and video linkup to your online opponents or team members all in real time. Immersion is a keyword coming from the Sony and Microsoft camp for their latest games and this could be one (albeit an expensive) step towards it.

I touched lightly about its wireless networking features as it shares the same ideas as Microsoft – Having the console as an entertainment hub connecting to the internet for online gaming, voice chatting and video conferencing and to your home network, for sharing media files. This is a smart move by all of the next generation competitors as many of us will have some sort of internet connection and home network by now and having this functionality right form the off makes the convergence idea in the living room that more feasible. There are many possibilities as to what the PS3 can offer to the home user (such as capturing video and audio from the Eyetoy then emailing it to friends as an example) but for now Sony are dedicated to establish the PS3 as a gaming device. Something that obviously requires killer, must-have videogames and Sony has plenty of backing and franchises to call upon. Most notable will be Vision Gran Turismo and a possible year exclusive of Grand Theft Auto. With all the major Japanese, US and European publishers and developers on board it would be rather hard to see the PS3 fail as a gaming device. As for online gaming Sony has announced a similar service as Xbox Live but hardly any specific details have been released so we will have to wait and see how Sony will build the infrastructure, how it will fund, maintain and make the online arena as appealing and easy to use for everyone.

The only question lies in the extra cost of the videogames and the console itself. It has been touted that the videogames will receive an extra $10 USD on top of the normal RRP of the current generation of videogames which would make it out o the reach of many children. Speculation on the price of the PS3 seems to point to a $399.99 USD price tag minus the 80gig hard drive. It will certainly be the most expensive of the big three unless Microsoft are also selling their console for the same price as previously a $299.99 price point was touted for Microsoft’s product.

To summarise here is my view on the PS3…

Pros

  • Highly advanced and powerful
  • Superb audio processing power
  • Fully supports High Definition all the way up to 1080p
  • Huge 3rd Party developer support
  • Wireless connectivity
  • Possibility of running Linux off its hard drive
  • Fully backwards compatible down to the PS1

Cons

  • Will be the most expensive console ever for consumers
  • Higher price tag for videogames than usual
  • Specifications being so high that developers could find it very difficult to reach, therefore disappointing consumers with level of graphics
  • Requires HDTV capable displays to get the most out of it visually