Thoughts on PlayStation 3

In Sony's PlayStation 3 preview event held in San Francisco on Thursday, the company provided a much clearer insight into what will be bundled with your shiny new PS3 when it goes on sale November 17.

What you'll receive

Jack Tretton, executive VP of Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) used the event to first reconfirm the console's pricing: $499 for the 20GB version and $599 for the 60GB PS3 (the only model with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity).

He then made the surprise announcement that the first 500,000 systems will include a Blu-ray disc version of the Will Farrell comedy movie, Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

In the box you'll also receive basic cords like a USB mini cable, ethernet cable, multi audio-visual cable with composite connections and an AC power cord (the PS3 uses a standard cord unlike the Xbox 360's external power brick.)

Peripheral pricing

Though one wireless, motion-sensitive "SIXAXIS" controller will also be included, additional wireless controllers will cost $50. The controller is said to have a 20 meter wireless range, 30-hour battery life and can recharge itself via a supplied cable.

An optional $15 Memory Card Adaptor will allow saved game information from PS1/PS2 memory cards to be transferred to the PS3's hard disk and a $25 remote control for playing back Blu-ray discs (BD) is also expected.

Games available at launch

Sony also seemed happy to quash concerns that its launch titles might be running behind schedule. At September's Tokyo Game Show, the company had previously only provided a small list of what PS3 games to expect at launch, instead focusing more on the release schedule of those still in development.

Kaz Hirai, President/CEO of SCEA explained that 10,000 PS3 development kits had been sent to 208 different game developers worldwide. He claimed that was 50 percent more than for previous PlayStation consoles. The result? More titles available at launch than for any other console introduction (Playstations included). There will be 22 games available in total, with most expected to retail under $60.

SCEA games:

NBA 07 (which looked particularly good running at full 1080p high-definition resolution)
Resistance: Fall of Man
Genji: Days of the Blade
Third Party Games:
Blazing Angels Squadrons of WWII
Call of Duty 3
EA Sports Fight Night Round 3
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Full Auto 2: Battlelines
Madden NFL 07
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire
Need For Speed Carbon
Ridge Racer 7
Sonic the Hedgehog
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas
Tony Hawk's Project 8
Untold Legends Dark Kingdom

Xross Media Bar interface

When the console is first turned on (via the wireless controller no less!), users will first have to login as a user or create a new account. Interestingly, accounts can also be parental controlled (to block access to certain game content ratings or online store features).

Once logged in, you're presented with a navigation interface Sony calls the Xross Media Bar, very similar to that already employed by Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld. From here you can access system settings and multimedia content like photos, music and video. Two things that caught my eye: videos played in thumbnail previews as you quickly flicked through, and one photo viewing mode uses real-time generated graphics to make it almost feel like you're placing photos on a surface for friends and family to flick through.

Window to your world

The Xross Media Bar is also the gateway into the PlayStation Network. You can see when friends are online in order to video, voice and text chat with them or join multi-player games. A Web browser is also included as standard, and was demonstrated by playing a video at YouTube. A few things that I noticed: The browser uses a graphical method to switch between open browser Windows, which in practice was a little reminiscent of Apple's Mac OS X Expose feature. Also, you can indeed plug-in a USB keyboard to avoid using the horrid PSP-style pre-emptive text entry interface.

Speaking of the PSP, another demonstration had the PS3 wirelessly sending video stored on its hard disk to the portable's screen. Sony explained that this is initially intended for use within the home, but it may also eventually be possible to play PS3-stored content on your PSP wherever you can access a Wi-Fi signal.

PlayStation store

Digital distribution looks to be a key part of Sony's overall PS3 strategy. You'll be able to download game demos and movie trailers or pay to download new and retro games, episodic content--or perhaps eventually--even full-length movies or in-game options such as car parts. Methods to pay your "electronic wallet" bill will include credit card or special PlayStation cards, sold in shops. Downloadable games developed by Sony itself will cost less than $15 at launch, and you can expect to see new titles from a variety of developers added regularly.

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