March 23rd 2007. This was the date that many Europeans had been anxiously awaiting, counting down to the day that they would get their shiny piece of the future. Expecting to find graphics that blew away the competition, and features that left all before it in the dust, many early adopters fired up the latest iteration of the Playstation only to be met with a system that lacked support, and had only a handful of exclusive features.
It is true that on launch day the PS3 did not seem to be the powerhouse, or gamer’s choice machine that it promised to be. Despite having great launch titles such as Motorstorm and Resistance, the PS3 was a victim of its own hype, delivering nothing more than a standard console launch with only a handful of killer titles. This was to continue, as time went on the entry 20GB system was axed, leaving the 60GB as the only option for those who wanted to enter the next generation of Playstation, and at £425, it was by no means cheap.
This combination of price, lack of support and only the mere promise of killer apps and a bright future held the PS3 back at the beginning of its lifecycle. Sony believed that they had an ace in the hole however with the inclusion of a Blu-Ray drive and HDD as standard on all consoles, hoping that they could repeat the success they had with PS2 and DVD. Sony’s war against HD-DVD ended in January 2008 as support for Toshiba’s own format dwindled.
It was around this time that the replacement PS3 base model with 40GB HDD began to pick up a sales pace, hot after Christmas and a huge price drop to £299, the sole SKU of Playstation was looking like it’s costly gamble had paid off. More and more games were appearing on the system, and the issues that were abound of it being a difficult system to code for were beginning to disappear.
Titles like Uncharted served to hint at what the PS3 might be able to achieve visually and also set a landmark for third-party support developers to follow, while in-house productions such as Warhawk were serving as example that Sony could provide as good a service as Xbox LIVE with no extra cost to the user. Things were looking up for us early adopters who were wondering if the promises made about PS3 were all hype with no substance.
Roll forward to the present and the system has everything we could want, a great media server, fully updateable Blu-Ray playback, wireless access to a Playstation network that easily rivals subscription services, a plethora of once sought-after features such as in-game XMB and trophies, and of course a collection of games from in-house and third-party developers that is ever growing, and contains many AAA titles. However, despite this great functionality and emerging ability as firstly and foremost a games console, the user-base always wants more.
This is the generation of consoles that can better themselves through the magic of updates. Previous console generations were what they were, there was minimal hardware upgrades and what you bought in 2000 was still the exact same equipment in 2006. Back then people accepted that products had their faults and didn’t expect it to be upgraded for free. The same cannot be said today, users want all the bugs quashed, functionality added, and an ever upgrading system that adapts with the expanding technologies it is based on.
This has good and bad consequences; while it means that developers can add things to their games and hardware at a later date, it also seems that some developers can sell titles that are, for all intensive purposes, not finished, and merely improve its performance over time with patches. Make of this what you will, but in the PS3’s case it means very good things indeed.
The PS3 has so many things on the horizon to look forward to its not difficult to see where most of your hard-earned cash will be spent, with exclusive AAA titles such as Resistance 2, Little Big Planet, Motorstorm 2 and Killzone 2 all set for the next 6 months, Sony will be having a killer Christmas. Not to mention the free exclusive content that every Playstation owner would give their left spud to get their hands on such as Home, Life with Playstation and those ever enticing firmware updates.
These updates spell chaos for every Playstation forum across the internet, as any faint whiff of a firmware rumor ignites the message boards faster than an arsonist with a Zippo and some Lynx. This is because everyone wants to get their hands on the update that enhances their machine, whether it’s in-game XMB or simply the OS using less RAM; people WANT, no they NEED it.
Before its release the PS3 was touted as the most powerful console available, the hardware it housed was supposed to blow everything before it out of the water, but it didn’t, why? The PS3’s hardware has been known since long before it was released, with the CELL processor at its heart. After release, and nearly a year with no games that looked any better than Microsoft’s Xbox this same hardware that was supposed to be superior was coming under fire from all angles: "It’s only a 7800 Gpu". "It only has 256mb vRAM, that’s not nearly enough".
Even some developers were agreeing; Valve even went as far as to say they would not be making any more games for the system after The Orange Box because they simply couldn’t code for it. The PS3’s mysterious CELL at its heart would be the answer.
The CELL processor was a joint venture between Sony and IBM with a development budget approaching $400,000,000. A basic overview in layman’s-terms is that it is best described as a child of a CPU and GPU, I say this because its architecture is akin to how a GPU works, with many stream-processors, but with the brute force and traditional structure of a CPU. It is because of this radical design that early developers found the PS3 very hard to code for, as a game engine needs optimizing in a very different way to what they were used to.
The fruits of what the CELL could do were first seen with Motorstorm and more significantly with Uncharted, which is still the best looking console game available. Motorstorm reportedly only utilizes 20% of the CELL’s power, Uncharted around 33% and Killzone 2 45%. Take those figures with a pinch of salt but those numbers are grounded in reality in some way, and the pattern is consistent with all console lifecycles; as it goes on the standard increases consistently. Time will tell if the CELL can really compensate for the PS3’s aging GPU.
As another year or so passes and we see the middle of PS3’s lifecycle, maybe then we will be able to see what it is truly capable of, but I wouldn’t expect to see anywhere near its capabilities in playable form until at least 2010.
With regards the ever improving and expanding Playstation Network, expect it to go from strength to strength, with Home released and the community growing bigger every day the online experience will constantly be improving. Expect Sony to announce some more updates we all MUST have, like PS3 game remote play with PSP, Live recording of activity direct to the HDD, more games in full 1080p, a Folding@Home breakthrough, a firmware update that vastly improves CELL performance in ALL games past and present, and a chunk of features, games and PSN downloads that we just can’t wait to be added to the Playstation experience.