If there is something I love more than movies, it is video games. I am an avid collector of interactive entertainment and have a large console collection that dates back to the Atari Video Computer System and contains nearly every console since then. The number of movies I have easily outnumbers the video game titles I have amassed, but that was my first real 'addiction.' The past year has been very exciting for me. Two new video formats - Blu-ray and HD-DVD - and three new video game consoles - Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. It was an expensive year, but I spent quite a lot of money on hardware to keep my addictions going. With this latest generation, my two hobbies are starting to merge closer and closer. Microsoft has already unveiled their own HD-DVD peripheral and are providing Xbox Live Video Marketplace downloadable content. Now, Sony has released a very expensive and powerful machine that is a native Blu-ray player. With only the Samsung BDP-1000 unit available since the launch of the format and considered by some to be a poor piece of hardware, the Playstation 3 (PS3) is poised as a lower priced and better-quality alternative to help power the format in the high-definition video war.
When Blu-ray launched, I compared the Samsung BDP-1000 against the Toshiba HD-A1 unit and gave initial impressions of how the formats stacked up to one another. Then, I was given the opportunity to compare the Microsoft Xbox 360 HD-DVD peripheral to the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player and how the $200 add-on performed on Microsoft's capable video game machine. After issues arose with playing numerous discs on my Samsung Blu-ray player, I decided to jump out and pick up a Playstation 3. Fortunately, some connections gave me an opportunity to purchase a 60GB model just after launch, and with the Samsung refusing to play my copy of "Sopranos: Season Six Part 1," I jumped at the opportunity. So now, I get to take a look at the Playstation 3 and how it performs as a Blu-ray player and how it compares to the Samsung BDP-1000 launch machine and even throw in a few words as to how it matches up to the Xbox 360 HD-DVD add-on.
Playstation 3: The Machine
Giving the fact that DVDTOWN.com is a site dedicated to providing news, reviews and information relating to the DVD industry and the next-gen video formats, I will skip past a lot of the technical details on the Cell processor, Bluetooth controllers and other such details that relate to the hardware as a gaming platform. It is tempting and I'd love to write up an article for the masses describing this powerful machine, but I'll keep it short and say that the Playstation 3 is a sexy beast that is large, heavy and very shiny. My 60GB unit cost a hefty $599 before taxes and extended warranty. It is expensive, but not nearly as pricey as my Samsung was - a machine that now sits homeless in a reserve role. What surprises me with the Playstation 3 was the relative quietness of the machine. Comparing the drive of the PS3 to the Xbox 360 console, it is a tremendous difference. The HD-DVD add-on is silent, but when it comes to the consoles themselves, the PS3 is a quiet and silent beast. The downside is that the internal power supply of the PS3 generates a lot of heat. I was concerned about placing the PS3 into the location where my Samsung previously lived the Sony machine feels like a small space heater, but given the sheer power of the machine, it is to be expected.
As a Blu-ray Player
For the next few months, my Playstation 3 will be almost exclusively a Blu-ray player. Given the fact that only "Resistance: Fall of Man" was purchased with the unit and there is nothing of any level of interest that I don't already have on the Xbox 360 until "MotorStorm," The PS3 will live and die to play movies. Out of the box, the PS3 is not quite ready for prime time. At least, not after using a stand-alone Blu-ray player. The first problem lies in the fact that Sony provides only a composite cable to connect to a television. No component cables and no HDMI cable are included in the box. Fortunately, I had an HDMI cable ready to go. Of course, it took some amounts of frustration and finagling to get the PS3 and my Samsung television to communicate via the HDMI connection. I finally had to turn them on and off in a certain sequence for the PS3 to communicate with the television and configure itself. The second problem is minor, but some will certainly miss it. There is no front panel display on the PS3. To see any details on running time, chapters or other familiar information, you must invoke the graphical user interface. After a while, this is not a huge deal, but it is one of those little things you will surely miss.
The third problem lies in the controller. The PS3 Sixaxis controller is less than desirable as a method to command movie-watching activities, and with only a few buttons to remember for playback and a cumbersome pop-up menu to provide functionality, the Sixaxis won't make the grade as a comfortable way to navigate and control Blu-ray movies. Adding to this problem is the fact that the PS3 does not contain a standard IR port to read commands from any universal remote that currently exists on the planet. You see, Sony provides a Bluetooth-enabled remote for $24.95 that acts as Controller #7 for the console and allows you standard remote capability with the PS3. Adding to the cost of using a PS3 as a stand-alone Blu-ray player, the remote is a nice unit, but without a backlight or glow-in-the-dark lettering, it suffers from many of the same problems as the Toshiba HD-A1 remote.
How Does it Perform?:
What is the biggest question regarding the PS3 in reference to its Blu-ray capabilities? Of course, the question is - "How does it perform?" Fortunately, the answer is a pleasing "Yes." It only took a few brief seconds for me to realize that I preferred the gaming machine over the Samsung player. It loaded quickly. It was relatively quiet during playback, and the on-screen GUI provides a nice array of information that was missing from the Samsung. Most importantly, it plays back every title I throw its way. "Superman Returns," "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut," "Click," "The Sopranos: Season Six Part One" and "Speed" all played flawlessly on the Sony device. It took a lot of turning on and off and messing around to get these discs to boot up on the Samsung, and in the case of "Speed," it just wouldn't play it.
Boot-up time for the titles is far quicker and rivals that of the Microsoft HD-DVD peripheral. Menu speeds are improved and you can easily see the difference in the animated menus. The all-important video resolution is better and the picture is more film-like and steadier than that of the Samsung BDP-1000. Early Sony discs had 'black out' issues, and Lionsgate films stuttered about. I'm happy to report that these issues appear to be nonexistent on the Playstation 3. Of course, with HDMI 1.3 and Ethernet capability, the Playstation 3 is better featured than the Samsung - with one exception - the Playstation 3 does not contain analog outputs for multichannel surround.
The lack of analog channels did bring about a level of concern. My Denon receiver does not accept HDMI and the only way I was enjoying the latest and greatest sound formats was via analog connections into my receiver. However, it appears there is a solution for those that have a receiver that can accept bit stream data from an optical connection. It appears the Playstation 3 does the necessary decoding of the information and sends out the sound signals through the Toslink connection. With an A-B comparison between the Samsung analog outputs and the Sony Toslink, I could not tell a discernable difference. "House of Flying Daggers" sounded equally impressive in Uncompressed PCM sound when I was outputting bit stream data. Turning off that function and the Samsung took charge. I wish I had a better understanding of how all of this works, but from my point of view, it appears this solution will be adequate. I thoroughly enjoyed the DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio tracks on some of the early Fox titles. It may not be 'exact' reproduction of the channels, but I can surely tell a difference.
Video quality is improved. Colors appear a bit sharper and are mostly on par with those sent out by the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD unit. Previously, the Samsung was slightly off when compared to its competing format, but the PS3 seems to do a better job with color reproduction. Some of the 'jaggies' are now a thing of the past as the PS3 has softer edges that are not nearly as harsh. Many of the playback problems that were attributed to either MPEG-2 compression or the Samsung can now be pinned solely on the shoulders of the Samsung machine. Picture quality is now rock-steady. Some of the posterization and pixilation is still present that was seen and that is certainly now a fault of the compression of the individual films.
The graphical user interface of the Sony Playstation 3 is a warm welcome. It states which audio track is selected and the bit rates for that particular track. The method of video compression and its rate are also displayed - something that was sorely lacking on the Samsung, but present with the Toshiba unit. A timeline bar appears on-screen that shows how much time is left in the film. For the life of me, I could not find this information on the Samsung. The optional remote does also allow for the same pop-up menu that is available to the Sixaxis controller, but it is unneeded with the full array of buttons found on the Bluetooth controller.
I took a lot of time reviewing the Playstation 3 as a video machine, far more time than I did with either previous device. A lot of this was due to comparing problematic discs against each other and also awaiting availability of the Bluetooth remote control. First and foremost, the PS3 is designed to be a gaming machine that comes equipped as a Blu-ray player. It does not contain some amenities such as a front panel display. Out of the box, it does not have a fully featured remote control and may only be controlled via the Sixaxis controller - a cumbersome and annoying solution to using the device. Still, it does an admirable job as a Blu-ray player and in my humble opinion, slams the Samsung to the curb. The Samsung is riddled with problems and lacking an HDMI 1.3 port and does not possess an ability to connect to the Internet. Therefore, the Samsung is not a fully featured device. I'd trade the Internet capability for a front panel any day. Already I have downloaded two updates that have improved performance and corrected problems. The Sammy has allowed me one update that required a lot more effort to update.
I was not a fan of using the Playstation 2 as a DVD device. It always felt a poor solution and when compared to my old Sony 7700 unit, was a laughable player. The PS3 certainly feels that much of it was designed with Blu-ray playback in mind and not as an afterthought. Sure, the familiar feeling Sixaxis controller has the same control issues as the PS2's DualShock did, and I'm miffed that Sony would force Bluetooth as the only possible option to remotely control the unit. I'd much rather use my Logitech Harmony device, and I'm hoping somebody comes out with a USB solution to this problem. However, adding $25 to the price tag is not that big a deal, and the $25 remote is far better than the Toshiba HD-A1 remote. With a price tag of either $499 or $599, the Playstation 3 is easily the best available solution for those wanting to enjoy Blu-ray. There is the argument that Sony is forcing Blu-ray down the preverbal throats of gamers, but this is a movie Web site and the purpose of this review is how good a player it is. Well, it's a great bargain and easily a better option than the Samsung.