At TechRepublic we've made a habit of getting our hands on the next generation gaming consoles, putting them through their paces, and cracking them open to see what the technology looks like from the inside out. Our Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii galleries have been wildly popular with the TechRepublic audience, and now we've got our hands on a PS3 as well. Unfortunately, as I learned from giving it a basic test drive, it's hard to get very excited about the PS3, especially after playing the Nintendo Wii.
Each time a new console has been released, we've had several TechRepublic staff members on the lookout at various retailers. Bill Detwiler ran down an Xbox 360 in November 2005 (at a Meijer) and then struck gold again when he nabbed a Nintendo Wii in December (at a Toys R Us). However, Bill and I have been resigned to the fact that we might not be able to find a PS3, which initially proved to be even more difficult to find than either the 360 or the Wii. Before the holidays, Bill and I decided that if neither one of us could find a PS3 by the time we got back from the holidays then we'd just get one off of eBay.
However, I lucked upon a PS3 on Dec. 23. While visiting family in northern Indiana, I stopped at a Wal-Mart in Decatur, Indiana to pick up a few last-minute things. While we were there, I made my obligatory stroll through the electronics section, and just as I was walking up to the gaming displays with my son, I noticed a stocker unloading three PlayStation 3s into the glass cabinet. While he was loading them he was slowly glancing to his right and his left with great anticipation, waiting to see if anyone would notice what he was doing. I caught his eye with a smile and said, "I'll take one of those."
After buying the PS3, an extra controller, and a copy of Madden 2007 and X-Men III on Blu-Ray (so that we could test both the gaming and the Blu-Ray playback), I didn't touch the PS3 for over a week. Finally, this weekend I decided to unbox the PS3 and hook it up to my 37" LCD HDTV to see what it could do. I tried to get my 7 year-old son to join me but when I asked him he didn't even look up from his laptop (where he was playing a Bionicle game on lego.com). He just said, "No, thanks." He's more excited about my original NES that I found at my parents house (we've been playing a lot of Mario Bros and Duck Hunt).
So I hooked up the PS3 to the TV with an HDMI cable and connected it to my stereo with an optical audio cable. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my TV recognized the PS3 at 1080p - I thought the TV only went up to 1080i. I easily clicked through the initial setup. The controller was easy to use and fairly intuitive, even though I've rarely played any of the previous generations of PlayStation. I popped in Madden 2007 and quickly started a short game with 4 minute quarters. I used Peyton Manning to shred the Saints defense for a 13-0 Colts victory. Next, I popped in X-Men 3 and was quite impressed with the detail of the graphics and the improved on-screen menus in Blu-Ray. When you sit close to the TV, you can really see the difference in 1080p. However, from a distance of 8-10 feet (or more), it doesn't really look much different than my upconverting DVD player. It might make more of difference on larger HDTVs.
After this preliminary test drive, my overriding feeling was that it simply wasn't very exciting. The game was simply the same old Madden game with nicer graphics, and the Blu-Ray DVD of X-Men 3, while really crisp and clear, did not improve the viewing experience all that much. The total for the stuff that I bought was about $900 (including tax, extended warranty for the system, the 2 discs, and a second controller). I certainly would not have paid that to put it in my living room. I'm not sure that I would have even been willing to pay $200-$300 for it.
The great thing about the Nintendo Wii, which (after we put it back together) has been a big hit in our office at lunch and after hours, is that it gets people to have fun playing games again. It reminds me of when Atari first came out with its console and people would circle around with their paddles and shout, swerve into each other, and jump around because of the simple excitement and joy of playing.
So I've turned over the PS3 to Bill Detwiler, who has been the mastermind behind the disassembly of both the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. Over the next week or so, Bill will be doing a more thorough look at the PS3, and as he did with the 360 and Wii, he'll be cracking it open and taking pictures of the hi-tech guts of the system. I'm sure there will be plenty of TechRepublic readers who are a lot more excited about the PS3 than I am. I look forward to hearing what gets them revved up about the new PlayStation. Meanwhile, I'll probably go home and play Mario Bros on the original NES with my son tonight.
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.