Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Technophilia: 60GB PS3 shipping again, and why the PS3 is geek lust-worthy

I placed an order from for a 60GB PS3 early last week, only to discover that they were backordered. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, until I saw this report:

see: Sony out of stock on US 60GB PS3

Sounds bleak:

Sony has run through its stockpile of 60GB consoles, SCEA senior director of corporate communications Dave Karraker stated, "We no longer have any inventory in SCEA warehouses. All inventory has been purchased and shipped to retailers."

But the good news:

The 60GB is not out of stock in the US. currently has a back order notice up on their site, but they are shifting some inventory and will have it available again soon." When asked for further clarification, Karraker said, "All we can say at this point is we have ample inventory for anyone looking to buy a PS3 in North America."

Well the good news is that he was right; my 60GB PS3 just shipped yesterday and will arrive next week. And why is this at all significant (other than me wanting my new toy ASAP)? It's because the 60GB version is the last version of the hardware that will have the "Emotion Engine" chip which offers almost full backward compatibility with previous PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games. The 80GB version and all future PS3s will ship with a software emulator that will only be compatible with about 70-80% of existing PS/PS2 games.

How big of a deal this is depends on how many PS/PS2 games you want to play on your new PS3. But as a tech geek, I find it ridiculous to offer backwards compatibility but only at a 70-80% success rate. With the numerous PS/PS2 titles out there, backwards compatibility should be a must-have, no-doubt-about-it feature if it is offered at all.

The flipside to this is that PS/PS2 games will look awful on your big HDTV and there's very little the PS3 can do about that. However I think the PS3 does now offer full-screen anti-aliasing which, to me, is a must-have feature for any 3D renderer. I say "now" because this enhancement was only recently made available in a PS3 software update.

The power of the PS3 processor(s) and the frequency of important, significant software upgrades--not just bug fixes--also make the PS3 a toy worthy of geek lust.

One crucial update added DVD upscaling from 480p to 720p/1080i/1080p. That's no minor update because it, in effect, makes all previous good upscaling DVD players obsolete. Why have a separate upscaling DVD player and a Blu-Ray player (PS3)? Thankfully I'll finally be able to ditch my always-flaky Bravo D1 upscaling DVD player.

Another update added multichannel SACD playback via HDMI (though the DSD stream is converted to LPCM in the process). Previously SACD playback was supported but only by the two-channel analog outs or two-channel LPCM over Toslink. This change almost makes it possible to ditch your high-end SACD player (almost but not quite). At the very least it offers most of the benefits of multichannel SACD for people with HDMI 1.2 preamps/receivers who don't already have a multichannel SACD player.

Another update upgraded the HDMI output from v1.2 to the latest v1.3a. How many consumer a/v components can take advantage of HDMI 1.3a? Approximately zero, but it just goes to show how good Sony has been about keeping the PS3 on the cutting edge with these free updates.

And that paves the way for a future much hoped-for (but not yet promised) update that would allow passing the full SACD DSD stream to your preamp/receiver over HDMI 1.3 (which would be the ideal way to pass the SACD signal without any digital transcoding or inefficient a/d conversion in the player). At that point SACD might even be poised to make a bit of a comeback, though that would be a good year or two down the road, if ever.


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