Jun 7, 2009

PS3 Rocks!

I am quite a gadget person. Not quite a gadget freak who'd know the firmware version of his cellphone OS, but I own quite a few and take a keen interest in buying anything really useful. I usually buy the best and latest models, before they become mainstream, and don't mind paying a premium for the 'edge'. I also perform a lot of research before selecting models, and generally make an effort to 'match' all my devices to perform at their best, together. As an example, I assembled my current (and previous) desktop PC myself, after selecting each component (processor, motherboard, RAM, HDD etc.) carefully through web-research and buying them from different places.

Still, gaming consoles is a class of devices that left me quite cold. I mean - till last week - I had never ever played a game on a Playstation (any version) or an Xbox, even though I could have, on many occasions such as being at a party where the host had one. Even on the comp, I'd not really played games other than 'Age of Empires 2'.

This context is important for you to understand just how good a PS3 is - I've had mine for just a week now and am totally loving it. I consider it one of my best, and most 'value-for-money' gadget purchases EVER.

For starters, yes it is an awesome gaming station. I've only got one title so far - MotorStorm - which I quite enjoy and spend a good 40-50 min with, everyday. But, well, it is still just a 'video game'.

I ended up buying this system mainly coz I needed a device to play High-Def (1080p) video, which I've started recording with my new Canon HF 10 Full-HD camcorder. DVD players don't offer half the 'quality' of HD video (they support input upto 576p resolution, vs. 1080p Full-HD). You need a Blu-Ray/AVCHD device if you really want your money's worth from your big Full-HD TV.

Now, Blu-ray players - in India - are prohibitively expensive. The one model currently available from Sony is about INR 30k! There are just a few other models available from other manufacturers, but nearly all are more expensive than the PS3, which I got for 20k (new, legit model with warranty and all).

This post is all about what the PS3 offers as a media center (in addition, of course, to being a kick-ass gaming system).

1. A BD drive (reads Blu-ray, DVD and CD discs). The BD format is way superior to DVD, and should be available soon thru Bigflix and suchlike. Plain, standalone BD drives for comps currently cost about 10k.

2. 2 USB ports in front - for your pen drives, portable HDDs, etc. I think this is very close to a USB port on a comp, in the sense that it supports many kinds of devices (perhaps even the iPod), unlike the USB ports on most TVs and DVD players which only support a few devices and a few formats.

3. Support for DivX, Xvid, MTS and AVCHD formats. Which means it'll play just about ANY video file, at upto 1080p resolution! Some formats like MKV aren't directly supported, but it takes 2 minutes to convert a MKV file to a PS3-compatible format using mkv2vob.

4. My favorite feature - which I discovered today - is the ability to connect to a media server (which you can host on your comp!). I downloaded and installed a freeware called TVersity, which basically allows one to share all the picture, audio and video files from their comp on their home LAN. What this means is - if you have a WiFi router at home, you can use the PS3 to play ANYTHING straight off your comp hard drive (using a WiFi connection) on your big HDTV and your Music System. No discs. No USB. No bullshit. Direct WiFi connection to the comp. (If you don't have a WiFi router - get one! Or, you can use a standard Ethernet LAN cable.)

You can also create your own media library and playlists on your comp, and read them off the PS3. I have just shared all my hard drives. This is just so awesome - and so mind-bogglingly convenient - I haven't stopped smiling since afternoon.

You can also set TVersity up to stream web content (such as youtube videos) to your PS3. But I haven't messed around with this feature, yet.

5. With a 3 GHz processor, 80gb hard disk, USB ports, Ethernet (LAN) port, WiFi, and an in-built web browser, the PS3 is as good as a mid-range desktop PC for light users! To prove the point, Sony also offer wireless (Bluetooth) keyboards for the PS3. Some scientists have put together 'clusters of PS3 systems' to form supercomputers. Seriously.
You can also browse and download (directly to the PS3 hard-disk) games, videos, and other content using the free Playstation Network (access is free, though you need an internet connection. Titles need to be paid for, using a credit card, like any other online purchase). Unfortunately, the PSN isn't available in India as yet.

I've heard some opinions slightly favoring the Xbox 360 over the PS3 as a gaming console. But I'm sure any comparison of the two that took versatility into account - would probably find PS3 the winner. And PS3's already kicked the Wii's lame a$$ by simply adding motion-sensing capability to their USB-chargeable wireless controller, the Dualshock 3.

(A note to readers residing in the West - I guess web connectivity through a TV/AV device isn't such a big deal for you, but we are a whole generation behind in India and don't even have HDTV transmission available yet.)

The PS3 is truly a gem of an all-purpose home entertainment system! Do get one if you can. It's definitely worth more than the 20k price tag, even if you aren't much of a gamer.

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