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The Playstation 3 as Blu-Ray player

2008.02.05 — Entertainment | Movies | Technology | by Andrew Cole

PS3

PS3. [source]

Having figured the high definition disk format war has come to an end, I got a Playstation 3 (40 GB) to play Blu-Ray disks. Not having owned a game console since the Sega Dreamcast back in 2000, what I found surprised me in several ways.

Looks

Looks aren't a big deal with electronic equipment, but the PS3 is one of the ugliest boxes I've ever seen. It looks like something that belongs on the set of original Star Trek TV series. I'm thinking of sticking a Philco or Victrola name plate on it. Some people have joked that it looks like a George Foreman grill and have even converted it into one.

It's big compared to the PS2 and earlier game consoles, but only a little larger than most DVD players. It has annoying power and eject "buttons" on the front and an extremely annoying rocker switch for power in the back. Honestly, why would anyone put a power switch in the back of a piece of equipment? If I need to press it, it should be out where I can see it, dammit.

Connections

PS3 connections

PS3 connections. [source]

The PS3 has an HDMI jack and a proprietary jack with a cable that produces an analog composite (yellow RCA) video connection. Therefore, to get high definition, you'll need a TV or video projector that has an HDMI jack or an adapter for HDMI to DVI or component connectors.

My video projector has a DVI jack, but it's used for my satellite box connection. Therefore, I got a cable from Radio Shack that can convert PS3 proprietary jack to analog component (red-green-blue); it also has connectors for Wii and X-Box 360, so I suspect many owners would find it useful for switching between game systems. Amazon seems to have it much cheaper.

For audio, you've got the HDMI option, optical audio jack, or analog stereo (red and white RCA) connectors coming from the PS3 proprietary jack.

Noise

Standard DVD players, in my experience, are virtually silent. Not being a video game player, I was unaware that video game consoles tend to be pretty noisy, especially if they don't have good ventilation, which is defined as five feet of space on all sides in a cool room with a stiff breeze. The PS3 has a powerful fan that makes it very noisy when it gets hot. It sounds more or less like a Blackhawk helicopter's turbine engine at idle.

I can't think of any proper way to resolve this. A lot of videophiles will probably resort to isolating the PS3 in a different room and running a cable to the projector from there. It's that bad. High-end home theaters that already run a separate cooling system for the component stack will probably not have a problem.

Loading times and reaction times

The PS3 allows disk makers to create a custom loading graphic. That should be warning enough that you'll be seeing a lot of it. I find load times quite acceptable, tho. Movies seem to cue up in less than 15 seconds.

The PS3 feels a little dull-witted when activating some of the features, such as pressing the stop button or switching from game playing to movie playing. It also likes to ask confirmation questions. I like my electronic equipment to trust my judgment. When I press jump, I want it to jump, not to ask "are you sure?"

Controls

PS3 remote

PS3 connections. [source]

It took about 30 minutes to set up the PS3. You have to register the wireless controls, including the optional $25 wireless (not infrared) remote control. The remote control is better than the game control for controlling movies, but it has some drawbacks. It's surprisingly badly laid out, for one. The transfer buttons (play, stop, reverse, fast forward) are separated from the arrow controls (up, down, left, right) by buttons for the left and right trigger and Select and Start. The Display and Menu buttons are even further up.

The transfer buttons themselves are badly arranged. The Play button is separated from the Pause button by the Stop button. This makes it inevitable that, from time to time, you will press Stop when you wanted to press Play or Pause when you are pausing the action and then restarting. (Of course, here, the PS3 does not ask "are you sure?")

There are also some mild irritations in the implementation of the controls. If you are on the main menu of a disk, where there is pretty much always a selections that says "Play Movie," pressing the Play button on the remote does nothing. Instead, you must select the Play option with the cursor keys and press the Enter button. Like some badly designed DVDs, the audio and subtitle buttons don't always allow you to select the audio track or subtitle track you want; sometimes you just have to go back to the disk menu and select them in the disk's Setup menu.

Playback

Playback of Blu-Ray movies is just about flawless. Unlike my satellite DVR, the PS3 stops the action on a dime and lets me step from frame to frame with perfect accuracy and with very small on-screen displays. My DVR, on the other hand, makes finding a specific frame a nightmare of frustration, with the thing jumping several seconds back or forward from where you paused and displaying big, fat bars to inform you of where you are.

One feature I like in particular is 1.5x playback. That's the first "step" for fast forward (it then goes 10x, 30x, and 120x) and it includes audio (the faster modes don't). The audio playback is pitch controlled, so the voices don't sound like chipmunks, plus the volume is lowered. I've had other systems that play audio during fast forwarding but at full volume, and it's painful.

With the PS3, I've experienced no layer-change freezing or digital breakup or other anomalies. The playback is crisp, clean, and smooth from beginning to end. Displayed on my 720p video projector, the picture is fantastic—as good as, if not better than, any high definition television content I get from satellite. By this time next year, I'll have a 1080p video projector which will be able to take advantage of the 1080p format Blu-Ray is capable of producing. At that point, I'm sure it will outshine HD content on television.

But it will still whine like a turbine engine when it gets hot.

 

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