The interface is polished and generally user-friendly, but you do have to drill down a few levels to reach certain features, and getting to some functions isn't quite as intuitive as it should be. Still, the overall design is slick enough to be called Mac-esque, and -- at least from an aesthetic standpoint -- is more appealing than the Xbox 360's Dashboard and Nintendo Wii's Channels interfaces.
Digital media hub
The PS3's media features are extensive -- so much so that the console could be a worthwhile purchase even for people who never even deign to fire up a game. For starters, the PlayStation 3 is still the most affordable Blu-ray player you can buy.
The PS3 can also read digital photos from a variety of USB devices, although the new 80GB and 160GB versions drops the flash card reader and limits USB slots to just two. A few different slide show styles are available, including a unique 'photo album' view that splays the images across a white work surface as if you'd dumped them there and spread them out.
As for music, the PS3 supports most of the major music formats and like the Xbox 360, has a built-in music visualiser. As with the photos, you can import songs from a flash memory card or a USB drive, or rip songs directly to the hard drive from a CD. It cannot play back music from attached iPods, nor can it stream from other music players that incorporate copy-protected music formats.
On the video front, the PS3 plays Blu-ray discs in full high-definition as well as DVD movies. It also supports MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/H.264 video files from flash, USB or discs. If you transfer the videos to the PS3's hard drive, thumbnails on the video menu are shown as 15-second video clips, rather than just as still images of the first frame of the video.
PSP owners will find increasingly close integration with the PS3. Users now have the ability to control their PS3 anywhere in the world using a Wi-Fi connection, thanks to the brilliant Remote Play feature. Photos, music and video can be streamed to the PSP as well.
Since the PS3's debut, we've seen several Blu-ray players from Samsung, Panasonic, Pioneer, LG and Sony itself. None of them generally perform any better than the PS3, even though they cost more (twice as much or more in some cases). HD movies look superb on the PS3, which can output video at full 1080p resolution via its HDMI 1.3 port. Audio support is also top notch as the PS3 decodes Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks internally, outputting them as linear PCM, which should deliver impeccable lossless surround when connected to most HDMI-equipped AV receivers.
Sticklers may lament the lack of 'bit stream' audio output or multichannel analogue connectors -- if either is an issue for you, you're in the small minority who should opt for one of those more expensive standalone Blu-ray players.