Friday, October 30, 2009

PS3 Early Impressions

I've only had the PS3 a couple of days and things still aren't working properly on all fronts, but I've spent enough time with it to have formed some impressions. Overall I'm pleased with my purchase although like most of my consumer electronic purchases of late, I'd like some things to be different. Sony seems to give and take away with equal measure which is annoying, but no more so than most gadgets I've been dealing with lately.

First let's talk appearances. The PS3 slim is a very good looking piece of hardware. The matte finish makes it look elegantly understated. It's much, much smaller than I figured it would be as I had envisioned something akin to obelisk in 2001.


It's a pretty sparse rig with only an eject button and a power button up front to let you know that you can actually do stuff with it. It doesn't even have a disc tray option instead for a "suck it in and spit it out" thingamabob like what you might find on a car stereo disc changer. There's two USB ports up front and some A/V connections in the back. Like I said, pretty sparse, but it still looks damn nice. This is where Sony's years as a hardware company come into play unlike Microsoft who couldn't make a good looking piece of hardware if their life depended on it.

Getting the PS3 set up was fairly easy, until I turned it on. As my receiver is four years old, it doesn't have HDMI switching so I'm relying on an external switch to go between the 360 and the PS3. The 360 initially had problems with the switch however once I started giving the projector time to warm up a bit before talking to the 360 everything worked fine. Not so with the PS3. It simply did not like the switch to the point where the whole console would lock up. I can only assume that this has something to do with the PS3 being a Blu-ray player and maybe there's some HDCP shenanigans involved. I don't know. All I know is that the 360 doesn't give a shit what it's connected to as long as the end result is that the signal gets sent to a device via HDMI. The PS3 only works (now) if it is connected directly to the projector. The switch only cost me 17 bucks, so it's no big loss. I have a slightly more expensive powered switch on the way from Monoprice so hopefully this one will work.

On the audio side, I have everything connected via optical cable which is where my most recent slew of problems started. While checking out my spiffy new copy of Transformers 2 on Blu-ray I noticed that my back surrounds weren't firing. Ditto for when playing Uncharted. My receiver can matrix 5.1 to 6.1 if need be as well as do native 6.1 ala DTS so I knew it wasn't a receiver problem. I've been rocking the 6.1 setup for almost half a decade now with nary a problem. I searched on various PS3 and AV forums for advice which was a monumental effort in and of itself as a lot of the information was from a couple of years ago.

I found a couple of things to work with, namely a setting that tells the PS3 to send audio for Blu-ray as Bitstream rather than PCM. According to some folks, PCM can't be matrixed by receivers so if the mix is laid down natively as 5.1 and sent over as PCM, well that's how your receiver will deal with it. I have no idea if this is true or not, but it sure sounded good. Armed with this knowledge I set out to make things right.

I changed some settings in the PS3 and then fired up Uncharted. After pressing some buttons on my receiver I was able to get the receiver the matrix the signal to the back surrounds. Oddly enough the audio in Uncharted is DTS which my receiver should matrix natively so I wasn't sure why I had to tell it to do so. Armed with this minor success I fired up TF2. Everything was going great, sounds from the back speakers, sounds from the ceiling surrounds but the mix was very heavily weighted towards the right. I mean, like the aural equivalent of having the whole room tip. I went up to the left, front speaker and put my ear right up to it. Nothing. Oh no. Please don't tell me I blew a speaker. I ran the test tones through it, still nothing. Double oh no.

I pulled the cabinet out and looked around back of the receiver and there was the problem, a pulled out speaker wire. At one point I must have been fiddling around back there and I knocked a wire loose. I put it back, put the movie back on and everything was great.

Not content to rest on my laurels I threw in my DVD of Bruce Springsteen live in Barcelona. Now it's been a while since I watched this one downstairs and it is mixed to sound like a concert with a decent amount of crowd noise, but this seemed overly noisy in the crowd department. Usually I can hear Max's drum hits very distinctly but this time they were drowned out. Not sure if my piddly speakers in the family room where I last watched it weren't able to handle the background stuff as well so I wasn't remembering how it sounds correctly, but it seemed off. Next up was Behind Enemy Lines, my choice for best surround sound test disc. The scene at the beginning where Owen Wilson and his pilot are trying to evade the SAM will give any home theatre set up a serious work out. In this case everything was great, both sound and audio.

Finally I threw Uncharted back in and this time the back surrounds had sound coming from them without me having to tell my receiver anything. I wonder if having that speaker disconnected caused problems with the receiver. I don't know. All I know is that things are sounding the way they should be and I'm happy.

Now while I'm thrilled that everything works great, it does bug me that I'm not getting the full audio experience due to my connection type. Oh sure you can connect via optical, but you don't get the Dolby TruHD or whatever the hell it's called unless you send audio over HDMI. Plus, the PS3 seems to limit the bandwidth going over optical which I probably wouldn't notice any way, but now that I know it, it bugs me. Not enough to spend more money on a new receiver, but it bugs me nonetheless.

On an interface side, there is tremendous amount of shit going on in the PS3 interface. I'm used to it due to the PSP but holy Christ, if you were new to gaming you'd probably crap your pants. I much prefer the 360 dashboard, however there's a great deal of familarity there, so that may have something to do with it. I also like how the 360 has your friends and your gaming experiences as a whole more integrated into the interface. Given that the PS3 wants to be a total media hub, I can see why it isn't so focused on gaming but the overall impression is that it's kind of sterile and slightly unfriendly. The 360 dashboard on the other hand is a little homier but generally more comfortable to be around. Think Pam from "The Office" compared to early Caprica 6 from "Battlestar Galactica". Sure, I'd sleep with either, but I'd rather hang out with Pam. For the record, I don't want to have sex with any of my consoles. Ok, maybe with the DSi just a little.

On the gaming front the PS3 has yet to disappoint. I'm only playing Uncharted but so far I'm very impressed. The game looks great, and while I don't like the shooting parts, it is, hands down, the best written, voice acted and mo-capped game I've ever played. I'm also thrilled with how Elena looks like a real woman and not someone trying to smuggle watermelons in her chest. I'm still getting used to the PS3 controller, mostly the lightness of it all. The 360 controller is a beast and with the chatpad attached, as mine is, it's pretty heavy. Moving to a much lighter and slightly smaller controller is something to get used to. On a related note, I love that I can charge up the controller by connecting it to the PS3 however the power needing to be on to do so sucks. Luckily I can charge it off of the laptop that I always have riding shotgun. Sony giveth and Sony taketh away.

Finally, I'm not too happy with the notion of needing yet another remote control but trying to watch movies with a controller is a) unwieldy and b) embarassing. This ain't a dorm room. We're all adults here. I have a universal remote, but the PS3 uses Bluetooth, so my Logitech goes right out the window. Sure I could buy the adapter but I'm not spending 50 bucks for the adapter when I could get the PS3 remote for under 20. So now I have the universal remote, the projector remote for when the projector isn't listening to the universal remote and the PS3 remote. The truth is that I need to map some of the projector buttons to the universal remote and make my life easier but that requires effort whereas complaining is pretty easy. That being said, the PS3 remote is pretty nice and very responsive. As remotes go, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

So far I'm enjoying the PS3. I have a bunch of games to play for it (the aforementioned Uncharted, Uncharted 2 and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time) as well as the first PS3 R&C game coming for Xmas. All of this on top of Borderlands which I'm still loving the hell out of, Dragon Age: Origins which comes out next week, Lego Rock Band and Left 4 Dead 2 which come out in November. Oh and I just bought Bill's review copy of DJ Hero complete with turntable controller. Not sure when I'll play all this stuff but I can tell you that I won't be watching any movies while working out for a while. I'll just have to figure out how to scratch a record while riding the exercise bike.

Wikki-wikki-wikki!

2 comments:

Greg said...

I sold the original Uncharted after I finished, and now I'm actually regretting it. Especially since they put out a patch to add trophies to the game.

Glad you're digging the PS3. If only you could play co-op Borderlands between the PC and Xbox. I'm also looking forward to Dragon Age, which I'll also be playing on PC.

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