Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Need A Blu-Ray Player? Why Not A Playstation 3?! (Another Layperson's Review!)

The Good: Generally easy to use, Good storage capacity, Pretty decent speed
The Bad: A lot of programming to get the most out of it.
The Basics: I, rather improbably, discover the Playstation 3 to be a great Blu-Ray player . . . and then some!

One of the nice things about being a writer with a wide range of talents is the ability to review outside my comfort area. This is exactly what one gets from my layperson reviews. Recently, I had the joy of figuring out how to use an iPod Touch (click here for that review!) and the advantage readers have with that review is that I had never even seen an iPod before I received one and reviewed it. By similar extension, I now present a review of my new (to me) 80 GB Playstation 3 gaming system!

So, when my old Memorex DVD player finally died late last year, my wife and I were strapped for cash, but we decided that upgrading to Blu-Ray was the smart idea and now was as good a time as any. While we began to look into it, it quickly became obvious that there were Blu-Ray players that were not just Blu-Ray players. One of those alternatives was the Playstation 3. My wife's love of “Guitar Hero” encouraged me to consider the Playstation 3 for our new Blu-Ray player and after finding a refurbished one at a local store, I decided it was worth it to take the plunge. After the first refurbished one turned out to be a lemon, we were upgraded to our new Playstation 3 free of charge (except the gasoline to get out there!) and I've spent the past week getting to know the Playstation 3.

First, our Playstation 3 was being connected to our Sony Bravia HD television. While this might not cause any initial issues for most users, our ultimate Playstation 3 came to us used and it turns out that when the Playstation 3 is formatted for a type of screen, it is making the output specific to that. So, when we first plugged our Playstation 3 into the Bravia, we got visual garbage. We had to reset the system blind in order to get it to realize it was plugged into something new. As for the plugs, the Playstation 3 has two ports at the back that translate the information inside to high definition appliances. This requires two cables which came with our system, but supposedly only one comes with most systems. The first cable is a high definition cable which connects the Playstation 3 to our HDTV. This plugs into a special port at the back of the Bravia and there is only the one place on the Playstation 3 and on the Bravia it could possibly go. We plugged it in and after rebooting the system, the Playstation 3 accurately scanned the television and optimized itself for the HDTV.

What was a little more problematic was setting up the audio. While the Playstation 3 obligingly sent the audio information through the HDTV, I have a separate surround sound receiver I wanted the sound to go through. There is a separate audio port on the back of the PlayStation 3 which allows one to connect the terminal to a receiver. This requires, in my case, a separate cord as the audio receiver I have is not HD audio. However, I was dismayed when simply connecting the Playstation 3 into the audio receiver did not net a similar scan as the other HD cable. Instead, I had to manually program the Playstation 3 to put the audio out through the receiver and surround sound system.

As far as programming the Playstation 3 goes, it is mostly intuitive, but without the manual, there were a few things I was lucky my wife knew from prior video game systems. So, for example, in order to make the system password protected, one needs to reset the password and every Playstation 3 starts with a password of 0000. This is handy to know before setting things like parental controls or securing data stored on the Playstation 3 with a password.

Before anything happens with a Playstation 3, one plugs it in and must program it. In this way, it is far more like a personal computer than it is like a DVD or Blu-Ray player. One needs to set the time, date, and create a user profile as well as confirm that the output is what one wants it to be. One does this using the controller. The Playstation 3 comes with a single controller, or as I call it, the most expensive remote control I've ever bought (new controllers run in the $50 range). The controller is an uncomfortable handheld device designed to be held in two hands and use the thumbs to operate. There are keypads with four controls on each side and little joy-stick controllers in the middle. Most operations involve manipulating the left joy-stick and entering information with the confirmation enter button (bottom button of the right quartet) on the right side. Setting up things like user accounts means navigating an annoying on-screen keyboard where one moves the cursor to each letter or character before entering it, with entirely different on-screen pages being necessary to get things like capital letters and symbols like periods, asterisks, etc.

Once the user accounts were set up, which was more time consuming as I had to get used to manipulating the controller and not knock the cursor too far, we set to altering the audio output and this was more a trial and error navigation through various menus than it was actually difficult. Here it is worth noting that the Playstation 3 is extraordinarily intuitive in the way its controls on-screen are laid out. There are very easy to find and navigate menus for video options, audio options, as well as repositories for games, videos and music. Virtually everything is controlled using the one joy-stick on the left and the enter button.

Our experience is somewhat simplified at this point because the Playstation 3 offers us a great number of options we are not in a place to use yet. So, for example, the Playstation 3 has its own wireless internet pickup. Unfortunately, where we live there are few wireless hubs and the room we have the Playstation 3 in does not pick up any wireless internet signals. This is actually important as room placement for the Playstation 3 may determine how much one gets out of the system. Given that it is very much like a computer, I'm looking into installing iTunes on the Playstation 3 to house all of my music.

As it is, the Playstation 3 is intended to be a storage and play device for video games, DVD/Blu-Ray discs, and compact discs as well as other music mediums. In the last week, I've had the opportunity to use all of these things in the Playstation 3 and it is fairly well-designed for those ignorant of such things. When my wife was talking to the salesperson when we purchased this, they were speaking an entire language I didn't understand. While I was asking about whether or not it came with all the cords we'd need, they were talking about LAN (which, fear not, is not something a basic user needs to know anything about!).

For video games, the Playstation 3 plays Playstation 3 and Playstation 1 games, but it apparently does not play Playstation 2 discs. When we started, we had a single Playstation 3 game and two Playstation (1) games. I've been out of the video game culture since college and before when I had one of the original Gameboy systems. Yes, that dates me, but the Playstation 3 has important advances since then as well as important similarities. First, because of the hard drive space on the Playstation 3, users may either play their games off the disc or they may install the game to the Playstation 3, much like playing a game on a PC either by installing it or playing it off a CD-ROM. Games supposedly play faster when they are installed but in the last week of gaming, neither my wife nor I have noticed any problems with running the games off their discs. Recently, we purchased LEGO "Star Wars" and playing that has been an eye-opening experience.

And here is where the Playstation 3 is Ignorant User Friendly. The first time a user puts a new disc in and starts playing a game, the system tells the user they need to create a file for their games to save information and segregate space for keeping certain information from the games. The process is simple and the system moves the player to the relevant place and with the touch of a button, the space is created, which makes one wonder why the Playstation 3 doesn't just create such a folder each time a new user name is added to the system, but given how easy it is to do, this is not truly a gripe.

Our experience with DVD, Blu-Ray and digital video files has been quite a bit more extensive. DVDs are remarkably easy to play in the Playstation 3. When one puts a disc in, the DVD begins to boot up, just as if it were a DVD player. In fact, it is more irksome to try to stop a DVD than it is to get one to play. One has to bring up an onscreen control panel to stop or quit a DVD in progress. Also, the Playstation 3 remembers (sort of) where a disc was when it was last ejected. I write "sort of" because it seems to remember where the disc was when it was ejected the first time. So, for example, my wife and I have slowly been making it through a disc of "Frasier" episodes. The first time we popped the disc, the first episode on the disc was three minutes in. Unfortunately, each time we put the disc in since, the disc starts at that point, not at any of the episodes we have seen since. Outside that quirk, the Playstation 3 is a fine DVD player.

The Playstation 3 is also a Blu-Ray player and as my first Blu-Ray player, it is truly opening up my life to a very different viewing experience. Blu-Ray discs are like the video games in some ways in that they frequently have bonus features or additional content that may be accessed through the wifi connection on the Playstation 3 or may be installed into the Playstation 3 for different screen art. But the basic function is like that of a DVD player. Putting the Blu-Ray disc in brings up a menu, the controller allows one to easily navigate around the menu and start playing a movie. I've only watched about five Blu-Ray discs on the Playstation 3, but none of them have had any sort of delay in play, like DVD players often have when different layers are being accessed. The few discs I have watched in this fashion have flawlessly played without any errors or processing points.

Similarly, I was delighted when my wife's collection of burned video files from her ex (who was a video pirate) suddenly became accessible. I've long loathed those discs on the shelf which have movies we wouldn't watch in our old DVD player, but the Playstation 3 plays MP4 files, which are compressed video files. My wife popped a disc in for play and we watched one of the movies and it was just like watching a DVD. It was wonderful. As well, the Playstation 3 made it easy to copy one of the MP4 files to the Playstation's hard drive and I peeked in on that file to be able to comment on it in this review and it, too, plays flawlessly.

Unfortunately, this concept left me feeling a little spoiled. I want to back up some of my discs and not have to keep getting the discs out. The Playstation 3, though, does not allow this. As a result, as I run out of time on my library's copy of Boston Legal Season Four, I cannot copy the discs to my Playstation 3 for later private enjoyment. This left me a little disappointed, but the Playstation 3 seems to be a fine place to upload all of my legal digital copies of videos (which I never saw the point of before now!).

I had a similar sense of disappointment with music. Having just backed up my complete c.d. collection to my iPod, I have now discovered the Playstation 3 may be used to store and convert my c.d.s into digital files. Without segregating a portion of the hard drive to install iTunes (if that can even be done), I cannot simply connect my iPod Touch and use the Playstation 3 as a repository for my digital music. Or, rather, I cannot make the Playstation 3 my backup without recopying all my c.d.s to the Playstation 3! As for using the Playstation 3 as a glorified and expensive c.d. player, this is easy as it instantly recognizes the c.d.s one puts in and plays them. I've had no problem with playing c.d.s.

Other aspects of the Playstation 3 that it helps to know about are these: the controller does not have any type of battery that is accessible. Instead, one needs to plug it into the USB port on the Playstation 3's front to recharge it. The Playstation 3 and its controller may be programmed to go into a powersave mode - which I like - after an hour or ten minutes, respectively. This, again, is an easy setting to set that even electronics-ignorant folks may easily avail themselves of. The USB ports on the front of the Playstation 3 also makes it possible to move files to the Playstation 3 or plug in a USB keyboard.

As a result, my wife and I have started storing our extensive files - her photography, my writing - on the Playstation 3 in order to free up space on our respective personal computers and have backups so our vital information is not lost. Given my hard drive has less than a gigabyte of memory and hers has less than ten, our Playstation 3 is easily able to accommodate our storage needs and since we did the file transfer, there has been no change in the functioning of the Playstation 3 for games, videos or music.

And, after years of complaining about electronics devices that do not have a true "off" button (I loathe "standby!"), the Playstation 3 gets knocked up in my book for having an actual "off" switch in the back. While the Playstation 3 may be an expensive Blu-Ray player, a good used one might well be the best chance some of us have for getting a Blu-Ray player and given the added functions of this, I've managed to allow my work to continue as well as make my partner happy. This seems like a pretty extraordinary value, despite the price.

This is very easy for those who have no ability to navigate without a manual to get around and this, ultimately, allowed me to rate it so high.

For other electronic devices, please check out my reviews of:
Acer Aspire 5532 laptop computer
Envision EN-7100si Monitor
Fuji FinePix A200 digital camera


For other electronics reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here.

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment