ron, May-24-2007

PS3 Firmware 1.80

As had been preannounced, as of today there's a new firmware update waiting to be downloaded when you power up your PS3, bringing the version number up to 1.80. We won't repeat the official list of changes in full, as you can read all about that on the Playstation website. What concerns us the most here is how this improves backwards-compatibility. And dare we jump the gun and say it does so a lot.

First off, the PS3 can now upscale not only DVDs (that requires a "secure" HDMI connection btw) but PS2 and PS1 games. This does not mean that the games are rendered at a higher resolution. Jaggies stay the same size, and texture quality remains the same. So no, no anti-aliasing or any other bona-fide quality enhancements, folks. The scaling is very good, so this option does have a use, namely to replace a potentially inadequate scaling performed by your TV. That's it. Sections of the internet may be foaming over in joy about it right now, but we'd ask that you not expect anything significant from the upscaling feature, even though it's better to have it than not.

In a similar vein there's now another new option to smooth out PS2 and PS1 games. It's a full-screen blur filter. It does dampen the jaggies at polygon edges and the texture shimmering, and the dithering patterns seen in many PS1 games, but it's still a trick. We find it pleasant in PS1 games, as they are so low-res to begin with, but for PS2 games we actually recommend not using it. A matter of taste and heated debate, probably, but again, it's good to have that choice now.

Besides these "big" check-list items, the update brings a number of other remarkable improvements. Ratchet & Clank 3 now runs! Not well, unfortunately. The game is entirely stable and we could not find any glitches while quickly playing through the first couple of levels, but the framerate is far below what it should be (and is on a genuine PS2). The framerate not just dips momentarily, it is in the 10~20 fps range in average battles, and in some cases goes into the single digits. It limits playability, and also the appeal of the game, because so much animation detail is just lost.

Another game that previously didn't even boot, but now plays is Star Ocean 3. That one seems to work just dandily. We also noticed that the audio issues in Champions: Return To Arms have been resolved. We feel these improvements to the actual emulation quality are much more significant than that upscaling and filtering stuff.
There are still quibbles here and there. The FMV interlacing issues in some Square Enix games still stand, and we really don't understand why Sony won't just let the European PS3 output a 480p signal over HDMI. That might fix many problems with games that don't completely fill the screen we reckon.

Overall a nice update, and of course you'd have installed it anyway. Just so you know.

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