That said, Xbox Live has been around for years and has had time to mature, plus the majority of Xbox 360 games offer some form of online play. Microsoft also has its Xbox Live Marketplace, where you can download games, demos and video content, as well as game themes and additional game content. As the PSN matures, Sony has been moving more in that direction, as well: there are now plenty of free demos for download, as well as dozens of original mini-games and classic PlayStation One games available for purchase. Sony also recently debuted an entire video section to the PlayStation Store, allowing PS3 owners the same content-on-demand experience Xbox Live users have had for some time now.
Instead of the points-based payment system found on Microsoft and Nintendo's networks, the PlayStation Store sticks to real currency -- users can simply transfer cash to their PlayStation 3 Wallet via credit card or with prepaid gift cards.
Overall, there's a strong and growing list of titles with solid online play primarily composed of first-person-shooters, action games (Resistance: Fall of Man, Warhawk, Call of Duty 4, Unreal Tournament 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV) and sports titles. Pairing a Bluetooth headset will give you chat support in most games as well. While the online multiplayer support isn't quite as robust and widespread on the PS3 as it is on Xbox Live, it's a big notch up from the Wii -- the few online games the console offers are burdened with Nintendo's 16-digit friend code system, which must be activated on a game-by-game basis.
When final specifications were released for the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 there was, not surprisingly, an epic debate over which system was technically more powerful. The 360 uses more off-the-shelf PC components, while the PlayStation 3's 3.2GHz Cell processor was built from the ground up for the console. It consists of a single PowerPC-based core with seven processing units and is the result of a joint effort between IBM, Sony and Toshiba, which was ironic, considering that Sony and Toshiba were in a deathmatch over Blu-ray and HD DVD.
From the beginning, we were told that the Cell has the juice to run a new class of gameplay physics that will allow developers to create spectacular effects and eventually provide a whole new depth of realism to games. Paired with PlayStation 3's RSX Reality Synthesizer graphics-processing unit, a gargantuan 550MHz, 300-million-transistor graphics chip based on Nvidia's GeForce 7800 GTX graphics technology, and you're looking at a very high-end PC.
The only problem, of course, is that it has taken developers years to learn how to take full advantage of all that processing power and truly deliver on the graphical promise of the system. Titles such as Heavenly Sword and Metal Gear Solid 4 (as well as previews of 2009's Killzone 2) have shown that developers are finally beginning to tap the full potential of the PS3's power. That said, the hope that the PS3's graphics would run circles around those of the Xbox 360 has yet to be realised. To date, the vast majority of games that appear on both systems look roughly indistinguishable.
As with the graphics chip, the PS3's Blu-ray drive -- which allows for games of 25GB to 50GB in size -- has yet to show a big advantage over the 8.5GB limit of the Xbox 360's DVD media. Presumably, as games become larger and more complex (Xbox titles could eventually spread to two or three discs, all of which should have no problem fitting on a single Blu-ray), the PS3 still has one annoyance: its Blu-ray drive has a comparatively slow transfer time, which requires most games to utilise a PC-style hard-disk installation. Installs can take up to 20 minutes but only usually need to be done once, but it doesn't exactly scream 'next-generation' from a convenience standpoint.