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Feature: European PS3 enchilada

Posted Mar-23-2007 by ron


The load times for PS2 games seem slightly improved. For the opening scene of GTA: San Andreas, from the Playstation 2 logo until the cab door opens, our slim-line PS2 takes 2 minutes 20 seconds, while the PS3 clocks in at 2 minutes 05. This is just one game, and it's not even pure load-time, as there's already a cutscene playing, and of course depending on the game any such difference might be more or less pronounced, or perhaps even swing the other way.

The emulation doesn't enhance the graphics of PS2 games. As the same PS2 "Graphics Synthesizer" chip is still built into the PS3 and renders these games, as opposed to the PS2's "Emotion Engine" which is now emulated in software, it isn't really possible to go beyond the PS2's own limits in frame rates, resolution and texture fidelity. This cuts both ways, as having the exact same hardware is also the most effective route to an accurate recreation, which allows so many games to run in the first place. The GS is a weird and brutish beast, and we have our doubts that a true, reliable full-speed emulation, short of the current solution of bundling in the hardware, could even be achieved on the PS3 architecture, let alone stacking on enhancements.

For PS1 games, it would have been a little easier to go further. The ancient PS1 hardware is so vastly outclassed in every single metric by the PS3, and indeed even the PS2, that an accurate general-purpose emulation, and then some enhancements, have been possible for quite a while. In that light we're at a loss why we're not being offered the option to force improved texture filtering on PS1 games, which we already had on the PS2.
So even though the pure image quality over HDMI is impeccable, we are missing even the most basic rendering enhancements that we had hoped for, at least for PS1 games. Or maybe we're just too dumb to find the settings and will have to eat our words in a later update. Oh well.

Beside the HDMI output, the Playstation 3 also has the familiar Multi A/V plug for analog connections and indeed the same cables we have used for our PStwo (composite and s-video) also function just fine for the PS3. So if you still have a PS2 cable for your favourite analog SD video connection, you'll most likely be able to keep on using it.

While we were at it we measured the power consumption of the system with an ELV EM600. Others have ventured there before us, but it seems prudent to revisit these things on major firmware updates, and 1.6 was just that after all. We threw in a few more things found in our household for flavor and perspective.

Power consumption (at wall outlet)
SystemPlaying a gameIdle/in menuStandby
Playstation 3180W (PS3 game)
190W (PS2 game)
175W (PS1 game)
170W (XMB)
tbd (YDL)
1.6W
PStwo (slim PS2)18W (PS2 game)
16W (PS1 game)
14.4W1W
Wii18.0W (Wii game)
13.5W (Gamecube game)
16.5W (NES game)
17.5W10W (Connect24)
1.6W
Our (humble) PC120W78W4W
Our (dinky) laptopwhat?22W1W

As you can see, the PS3 gobbles up just about as much power as all that other stuff combined. Of course the comparison is skewed by our disregard for the rather hefty power draw of our ginormous TV, but anyway: ouch. Doesn't help much that the PS3 doesn't seem to idle well. Even if you just let it sit there, it still draws that hypnothic swirling backdrop, and stays ready to render full-motion thumbnails of your videos etc. So while it's somewhat understandable that the system won't go into full sleep in the XMB, all hope was lost when we had another glance during the firmware update. The system just sits there with a static 2D backdrop, i.e. it does nothing at all complex during the process, and it still soaks its 165W. Ouch indeed.
On the upside the PS3 is really quiet, Definitely much more so than our PC, and when factoring in disc access it's even quieter than the Wii, which does tend to hum rather unabashedly whenever its DVD drive spins.

And?

We said we'd take a glance at the media functionality and we did. We connected an external (USB) hard-disk to the system, and some of the music on there could be played, but most of it wasn't even visible in the XMB, a fate that also befell all of the videos on there. We so wanted to watch the Ratchet&Clank Future trailer, but we just couldn't see the file. The PS3 seems to expect a certain directory structure, and if your directories have other names, or you organize your videos into sub-folders, it won't find them. We don't particularly like that, and will probably ignore it until a firmware update adds a sensible file browser.

It's a great system with too few native games currently. We don't really want to get drawn into that trench – you know, covering current, full-priced games – but we think Motorstorm and Resistance are excellent games that haven't received particularly fair treatments by the press; we'd just prefer to have more. If you want to play great games right now on a Playstation 3, you can certainly do that, but you'll have to reach into the vast PS2 library to really have all bases covered.

Conclusion?

Do we really want one?
On the one hand, the PS3's backwards-compatibility is definitely more spotty than we had expected before finding out about the hardware changes. Some games just don't work at all.
On the other hand it could have been much worse, and in context of the current hardware basis, the width and quality of the emulation is a stunning achievement. That isn't saying all is forgiven, because indeed we were short-changed with the hardware revision, but it does smell like the work of a competent team, and that's reassuring. It improves the probability of us getting yet a few percent more emulation bang in a future firmware update.

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