There's a general consensus that Sony stalled off the line with the PlayStation 3. Months of intense hype were followed by a late launch (fully a year after the Xbox 360) and a staggering £425 price tag for the deluxe model. Even worse, the PS3 didn't initially have any must-have exclusive titles, and despite the power of its vaunted Cell processor, multiplatform games from third-party developers didn't look appreciably better than they did on the Xbox 360.
Since then, the company's been modifying the PlayStation product line to better fit the competitive market landscape. A new PS3 is available with a larger, 80GB hard drive, and a deluxe model is due this autumn, doubling the capacity to 160GB. Both, however, lack backward compatibility with PS2 games and do not come with flash card readers. If those features are a must, it might be best to pick up an older model on eBay while they're still out there.
If you don't want to wait for the new 160GB (for which prices have yet to be announced), the £300 80GB version reviewed here might leave you short of space. Especially now that you can fill up that hard drive more easily with TV shows, games and movies from the PlayStation Store. Still, for those on a budget, the PS3 ups the hard-drive capacity from the older 40GB model and delivers nearly all the same gaming and home cinema features as its more expensive sibling.
The PS3's game drought has largely evaporated too, with popular titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Rock Band, Call of Duty 4 and BioShock all making their way to the console. While these titles are also available on the Xbox 360, the PS3 has exclusive dibs on Metal Gear and Uncharted, as well as the hotly anticipated LittleBigPlanet, Resistance 2 and Killzone 2 due to hit the console in upcoming months.
Yes, the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii also have their own handful of exclusive titles (Halo, Fable and Gears of War on the former, and all of the Mario, Metroid and Zelda games on the latter), but the PS3's HD graphics go far beyond those of the low-resolution Wii, and its stable hardware doesn't suffer from the Xbox 360's notorious red ring of death. Plus, now that Blu-ray Discs have become the de facto standard for high-definition media, the PS3 is still the only console able to play that format, and consequently is the best performing and affordable Blu-ray player on the market -- a great option if you want to introduce yourself to hi-def content.
Like the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, the PS3 can stand vertically or lie horizontally in an AV rack, though because of its curved top, it's not meant to have any other components resting on top of it.
As for its dimensions, the PS3 measures 99 by 325 by 274mm, a similar size to the Xbox 360. The PS3 does weigh more, but there's no external power supply -- you just plug the power cable into the back of the unit and you're good to go. For those of us who own an Xbox 360, and have had to struggle with its massive brick of a power supply, this seems like a remarkable feat on Sony's part.
As opposed to the more typical tray loader, the PS3 has a slot-loading, Blu-ray optical-disc drive on the front, which contributes to the unit's slick appearance. Discs slide in and eject smoothly enough, but how the mechanism wears over time, we can't say -- but the odds of snapping off or damaging the Xbox 360's disc tray aren't exactly negligible.