Review: Sony PlayStation 3 (BD Playback)

January 1, 2007

PS3

I’ll bet that’s a post title some of you are a bit surprised to see here but as the months have progressed since HD DVD’s launch, it has become increasingly apparent we’re no closer to deciding on the next-generation optical disc format than the day(s) they were originally announced. Just after Christmas I found myself in the interesting position of having several gift cards to a certain retail outlet and said retail outlet having a 60GB PS3 in stock and an increasing desire to view more HD content. That was pretty much all it took.

Quick note right up front, this won’t be a review of the PS3 as a gaming console. That’s not what we do here and to be honest, I’m probably the last person you want reviewing a game console, (the last console I owned prior to the Wii was a Turbo Graffix). What I want to do is focus on the PS3’s Blu-ray and standard definition DVD playback, with a strong emphasis on the former.

Un-boxing and Setup:

As I’m sure many of you have heard by now the PS3 doesn’t come with a HDMI cable, or component cables for that matter, but as HDMI cables (of reasonable length) are easy to come by and the PS3 uses the same A/V component cable as the PS2, connectivity to your display shouldn’t be of great concern. I found the PS3 to offer a slightly better image via HDMI, but this could have been due to the quality of my A/V cable (non-Sony branded), and ultimately settled on HDMI (at both 1080i and 1080p) as my primary connection method.

With all the contents of the box (power cable, controller, literature etc.) spread out around me I began integrating the PS3 into my system. Wow I’m really running out of inputs, those new Denon HDMI receivers can’t come soon enough. Anyway, back to the task at hand. After attaching the cables it was time to fire it up and have at it. As it turned out I had to tweak the settings a bit before I could get underway. Initially I was getting video but no audio, strange occurrence with HDMI but there it wasn’t nonetheless. I thought, hey maybe a firmware upgrade will snap it into shape; this proved to be somewhat of a frustrating experience.


Call me a stickler or just paranoid, but I always like to start off with the latest firmware anytime I’m testing out a new device. So I delved into the PS3’s network settings, punched in my information and hit ‘Test Connection’; nada, not even a peep. As it turns out a router incompatibility was hampering one of the settings I chose but oddly enough the Wii had no such difficulties with the same settings.

Speaking of the Wii, it trumps the PS3 in ease of set-up and by a large margin. Granted the Wii is a much simpler machine but I would have liked to see basic networking work a little smoother out of the box. In the end no harm, no foul once I updated to version 1.3; I immediately got sound, odd that the same settings after the update worked; anyway all’s well that ends well.

I was itching to see some Blu-ray discs but figured as long as I was already in the dashboard XrossMediaBar, I might as well go ahead and set-up my online ID and browse the downloads. I have to say registering the account with the on-screen keyboard was a PITA. Imagine typing in your name, address, date of birth, login and password (twice) with a cell phone and you’ll begin to understand the hell I went though. Ok maybe hell is a bit strong but it sure wasn’t something I’m looking forward to doing again; luckily the PS3 stores your login info for one click login.

About the PS3’s user interface, the XrossMediaBar feels a bit disjointed compared to the Xbox 360’s interface. For example, the Sony store downloads are basically run from the internal browser. No biggie but the overall feel smacks of ‘leaving’ the PS3’s interface and moving to a different application. This is likely something they’ll fine-tune in the coming months/years but I have to say, it didn’t feel as seamless and fluid as my (admittedly limited) experiences with Xbox Live.

DVD Playback and HQV Benchmarks:

I tested several of my favorite DVD’s including Kill Bill Vol. 1 and the Fifth Element. Staring off with Kill Bill, I advanced forward to Chapter 14, “You must be Gogo” scene. The color saturation was acceptable but this was far from the sharpest presentation. Again the overall presentation was acceptable but the image was just a tad soft for my taste.

Moving onto the Fifth Element, I skipped forward to the reconstruction sequence. Again the colors were acceptable and the overall image was certainly adequate but I don’t think I’m ready to retire my HD-XA1 for SD-DVD playback just yet.

•Color Bar/Vertical Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Jaggies Pattern 1: Pass – Score 5 of 5
•Jaggies Pattern 2: Pass – Score 5 of 5
•Flag: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Picture Detail: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•3:2 Detection: Fail – Score 0 of 10
•Film Cadence: Pass – Score (Combined) 40 of 40
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Horizontal Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Mixed 3:2 Film, Vertical Text Crawl: Pass – Score 10 of 10
•Total Score:120 out of a possible 130.

Those are pretty impressive numbers for a DVD player, much less a game console. Unfortunately the one area where the PS3 failed with the HQV disc is 3:2 pull-down detection. Shame really, as the PS3 scored surprisingly well in all other areas tested.

Importing CD’s with the PS3:

Importing CD’s was relatively slow but not too far off what I’m used to with other applications. I noticed right away that I was getting multi-channel playback through my system instead of stereo (I’m not a big fan of multi-channel music), so I searched through the settings for a way to select stereo playback for my music files by default. I found no such setting but of course my receiver was able to handle the task with a quick button press. The PS3 defaults to 128k AAC encoding for imported music files, I bumped that up to 192k and found the quality to be on par with similar compression techniques; i.e. acceptable from a convenience standpoint but obviously not as enjoyable as listening to the original disc through a competent CD player.

The most annoying aspect of playing back imported music files with the PS3 is the inability to browse the rest of the XMB while the music plays. Once you leave the music tab, you guessed it, the music stops. Oh well, maybe this is an option Sony could offer in a future firmware update. Overall, I have to say I’m unlikely to use the PS3 for music playback as the interface and options there-in are a bit limiting and offer no advantages over my current playback method. Hey while I’m day dreaming, net radio would be nice…

–Update– As Armen pointed out in a comment below; you can indeed press the PS button and use the XMB without stopping music playback. Now if they’d just let that functionality carry through to the on-line store I’d be set, Thanks again Armen.

Blu-ray Playback:

The first movie I popped in was ‘Kung Fu Hustle’. Load up time was fast (under 20 seconds). My first impressions were a bit lukewarm but as the opening scenes progressed, I definitely got that “HD” feel. The sound however left me wanting more. The bass was a bit anemic in relation to what I’ve been getting out of my HD-XA1, but curiosity got the best of me before I could view anymore, I wanted to check out X-Men 3.

The opening comic montage was sharp and colorful. As the film progressed I liked what I was seeing but felt the transfer was just a tad soft compared to the best HD DVD’s I’ve viewed. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation and felt that it was an improvement over the SD-DVD but again I was missing that razor sharpness provided by the best HD DVD titles I’ve viewed.

Obviously this was the earliest of observations and trying to compare formats without the benefit of the same titles is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless I couldn’t help but think about the difference in my first impressions between HD DVD and Blu-ray. I remember savoring every pixel displayed on my set and day dreaming about which titles I’d love to see announced next for the format. I didn’t really get that feeling here, but I do have one caveat to that statement, more on that in a minute.

Again (with X-Men3) I was getting the feeling that the bass was a little light so I checked the audio settings in the PS3. Nope no bass or EQ settings to speak of, maybe in a future firmware update. Regardless I can only explain away this phenomenon as a minuscule difference in levels versus my HD-XA1 and the PS3. To test this, the next day I inserted the PS3 into a system capable of significantly higher bass levels than my system and noticed no appreciable difference in bass, versus a Toshiba HD-A2 in the same system.

From there I popped in the included copy of ‘Talladega Nights’, immediately I understood what Peter Bracke was talking about when he described the transfer as having “a very unappealing, flat look that I just really did not like”. My thoughts were pretty much what Peter described, I found it slightly better than the SD version (that we’d seen just days prior) but hardly worth the upgrade.

With my initial curiosity satisfied, I went back to X-Men 3 and picked up at Chapter 3. One of the things I was noticing was an increase in film grain versus the majority of the HD DVD titles I’ve viewed. I don’t say this as a negative, not in the slightest, just as a general observation. In all three titles we viewed that night (two encoded with MPEG-2 and one with AVC/MPEG-4), I noticed substantially more film-grain and rightfully so, if it’s meant to be present then by all means lets see it.

Could HD DVD’s favored codec; VC-1 somehow be responsible for the subtle grain and overall sharper images I’ve grown accustomed to? Obviously without a VC-1 encoded Blu-ray title on hand, any such comparison would be impossible. I just happen to have one en-route via Netflix and I’ll update this post as soon as I’ve seen it.

One of the things that gave me the greatest concern in using the PS3 as a Blu-ray Player was the lack of a traditional remote control. However, now that I’ve used the SIXAXIS controller first hand, much of those concerns have subsided. The controller’s triangle button brings up an on-screen quick menu of transport controls and playback options. It’s not quite the elegant solution as the optional Bluetooth remote, or practical as an infra-red remote, but workable nonetheless.

Now lest I leave you with the impression I didn’t greatly enjoy any of the aforementioned titles, I need to go back to ‘Kung Fu Hustle’. I really enjoyed this title, we’d seen the film before but needless to say the transfer left a lot to be desired. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case here. Perhaps partially due to my own admittedly low expectations, I was greatly impressed to see a Chinese martial arts picture at this level of image quality. Lesson learned, nation of origin bears little on the potential outcome. While I wouldn’t go as far as describing it as equal to some of the better HD DVD’s I’ve viewed, it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

Summary:

The PS3 is by design a bit of a mixed bag. It’s part game console, part media center and of course part Blu-ray player. I’ve kept this in the forefront of my mind during my review process and I feel that mindset wound up being critical in my overall satisfaction. The PS3’s value is in the sum of its parts, even if some of those individual parts fall a tad short.

I’m relatively confident the software issues will be corrected but at the same time I can’t help but be a bit miffed they’ve dragged on this long in the first place. The ironic part is that HD DVD owners continue to enjoy reference transfer after reference transfer, with less studio and manufacturer support to boot; anyway that’s a discussion for another day.

The real question I wanted to tackle in my summary has to do more with value than performance. Specifically, is the PS3 a good value at $500-600? The answer to that question however is entirely dependant on your specific needs and current equipment. It would be hard for me to recommend a PS3 as a primary Blu-ray playback device; to those with zero interest in gaming. On the other hand for those with at least a passing interest in gaming, multimedia and Blu-ray playback, the PS3 does indeed offer an attractive mix of features.

I’m still a bit taken aback Sony didn’t see fit to offer a non-Bluetooth remote for integration with IR-based universal remotes and no I don’t consider this to be a viable option for the average consumer. Hopefully with enough interest its entirely possible that Sony and or a third-party manufacturer will release an IR based remote control option, so this isn’t of overwhelming concern in the long run.

To wrap-up, no I’m not suffering from buyer’s remorse but at the same time I can’t help but think about the numerous games available for the Xbox360 and how it would be nice to play some of them, but in the end I purchased the PS3 for BD playback not games. Speaking of games, gamers and value, given what I’ve seen from HD DVD (and now Blu-ray with the PS3), if you’re an Xbox360 owner the HD DVD add-on would appear to be a no-brainer of a bargain. Happy New Year and whatever format or hardware decision you make, here’s to happy HD viewing.

–Update– by the way.. Our Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1, Blu-ray player is due in any day. I’ll most definitely do a head-to-head comparison between the two and report back with my findings. That should be one heck of a shootout.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray, Reviews


Comments

  • Jake

    Mark, Try changing the bitstream setting for audio in the bd/dvd menu.

  • Jake

    Mark, Try changing the bitstream setting for audio in the bd/dvd menu.

  • chris

    I want to hook up my ps3 to my home theatre system which is sony dav dz555k.How do I do this?any help would be good.I have an hdmi cable and an optical cable,but the theatre system doesnt seem to have an optical cable socket.And my tv(sanyo LCD)and sony dav only have 1 hdmi socket each.

  • chris

    I want to hook up my ps3 to my home theatre system which is sony dav dz555k.How do I do this?any help would be good.I have an hdmi cable and an optical cable,but the theatre system doesnt seem to have an optical cable socket.And my tv(sanyo LCD)and sony dav only have 1 hdmi socket each.

  • B.Greenway

    Blaine, the controllers are Bluetooth (wireless) and should work just fine as you’ve described. No need to place the PS3 at the front of the room.

  • B.Greenway

    Blaine, the controllers are Bluetooth (wireless) and should work just fine as you’ve described. No need to place the PS3 at the front of the room.

  • Blaine

    Mr. Greenway or anyone else,
    I am building a home theater and was planning on using the PS3 for gaming for my kids, a CD player for music and, mainly, as a Blu-ray player. I am planning on building into the back wall of the theater, a component rack and the projector box so I don’t have to cut any holes in my double drywalled ceiling. Do you know if the PS3 controller signal can be picked up by the console even when pointed at the proj screen during gaming? I see alot of home theaters on the internet that have the components behind the seating area or even in another room. And some of them mentioned that they use a PS3 for their BD playback. In short, do I have to have the PS3 in the front of the room for gaming?

    Thanks in advance

  • Blaine

    Mr. Greenway or anyone else,
    I am building a home theater and was planning on using the PS3 for gaming for my kids, a CD player for music and, mainly, as a Blu-ray player. I am planning on building into the back wall of the theater, a component rack and the projector box so I don’t have to cut any holes in my double drywalled ceiling. Do you know if the PS3 controller signal can be picked up by the console even when pointed at the proj screen during gaming? I see alot of home theaters on the internet that have the components behind the seating area or even in another room. And some of them mentioned that they use a PS3 for their BD playback. In short, do I have to have the PS3 in the front of the room for gaming?

    Thanks in advance

  • Mark

    Hi, can someone help please. Ive just purchased a PS3 and some dvd’s. I can play games all ok and when i play a dvd i can get good pictures BUT i only get background noise from a movie. When the people talk there is no VOICE coming through. This is a weird one. CAN ANYONE HELP or sugest something.(im in Australia if that helps)
    I have tried a different HDMI cable as this is what im using to connect to the TV and still no change but the PS3 games work fine!!!!
    Any help would be greatly appreciated
    Mark

  • Mark

    Hi, can someone help please. Ive just purchased a PS3 and some dvd’s. I can play games all ok and when i play a dvd i can get good pictures BUT i only get background noise from a movie. When the people talk there is no VOICE coming through. This is a weird one. CAN ANYONE HELP or sugest something.(im in Australia if that helps)
    I have tried a different HDMI cable as this is what im using to connect to the TV and still no change but the PS3 games work fine!!!!
    Any help would be greatly appreciated
    Mark

  • john

    Re: the prior post on sound output with mp3 files. I have found that w/ HDMI output to recv’r the signal is always stereo, however, I can connect w/ optical cable and am able to use my recvr’s PL IIx processing to get multi channel but unfortunately loose the video signal.

    john

  • john

    Re: the prior post on sound output with mp3 files. I have found that w/ HDMI output to recv’r the signal is always stereo, however, I can connect w/ optical cable and am able to use my recvr’s PL IIx processing to get multi channel but unfortunately loose the video signal.

    john

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Matt, no I sure haven’t, our distributor still hasn’t received the BDP-HD1, they mentioned a design revision in the works as the cause of the delay.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Matt, no I sure haven’t, our distributor still hasn’t received the BDP-HD1, they mentioned a design revision in the works as the cause of the delay.

  • Matthew

    Mr Greenway,

    I was just wondering if you were able to compair both the Playstation 3 and the Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1?? I am very interested in hearing about the results because I am not sure if I should spend the extra $900 and get the Pioneer. Please let us know if you were able to compare them – thanks!

    -Matt

  • Matthew

    Mr Greenway,

    I was just wondering if you were able to compair both the Playstation 3 and the Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1?? I am very interested in hearing about the results because I am not sure if I should spend the extra $900 and get the Pioneer. Please let us know if you were able to compare them – thanks!

    -Matt

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Robert, the 60GB model also has Wi-Fi and card reader slots; I nearly went that route but gave in to the larger hard drive at the last minute. If you don’t think you need Wi-Fi (i.e. have a Ethernet connection nearby) and doubt you’ll ever use the storage card slots, then it really comes down to hard drive space.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Robert, the 60GB model also has Wi-Fi and card reader slots; I nearly went that route but gave in to the larger hard drive at the last minute. If you don’t think you need Wi-Fi (i.e. have a Ethernet connection nearby) and doubt you’ll ever use the storage card slots, then it really comes down to hard drive space.

  • Robert Carbone

    I was wondering if the sony PS3 20g is backwards compatible like the 60g, if so what is the benefit to getting a 60g versus a 20g if i am only going to use it for playing games.

  • Robert Carbone

    I was wondering if the sony PS3 20g is backwards compatible like the 60g, if so what is the benefit to getting a 60g versus a 20g if i am only going to use it for playing games.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi John, I just applied PL IIx to the stereo signal.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi John, I just applied PL IIx to the stereo signal.

  • john

    I was wondering how you were able to get multichannel output w/ imported audio discs? Mine plays stereo only which is a problem w/ bookshelf surrounds and now sub woofer output.

  • john

    I was wondering how you were able to get multichannel output w/ imported audio discs? Mine plays stereo only which is a problem w/ bookshelf surrounds and now sub woofer output.

  • clark

    If you want to be disappointed by the PS3’s ability to play BD just get a copy of House of Flying Daggers…….the video fluctuates from light to dark so badly when the PS3 is in 1080p mode on my Mitsubishi hdtv (1080p capable) that I have to change the settings on my PS3 to 1080i. Quite sucky if you ask me.

  • clark

    If you want to be disappointed by the PS3’s ability to play BD just get a copy of House of Flying Daggers…….the video fluctuates from light to dark so badly when the PS3 is in 1080p mode on my Mitsubishi hdtv (1080p capable) that I have to change the settings on my PS3 to 1080i. Quite sucky if you ask me.

  • B.Greenway

    Westcott, Yep I did a double-take on that when I saw it. Full HQV processing in the HD-XA2 could make it the player to beat in 07. I had already resigned myself to holding onto my XA1 until third or even fourth generation players were out, but if this really does offer full HQV processing for both HD and SD discs, I might find myself too tempted to pass it up.

  • B.Greenway

    Westcott, Yep I did a double-take on that when I saw it. Full HQV processing in the HD-XA2 could make it the player to beat in 07. I had already resigned myself to holding onto my XA1 until third or even fourth generation players were out, but if this really does offer full HQV processing for both HD and SD discs, I might find myself too tempted to pass it up.

  • westcott

    Well, it seems the Reon-VX HQV video processor will be featured in Toshiba’s new top-of-the-line HD DVD player, the HD-XA2.

    This should really take HD to the next level and I can not wait to read a review of this product and what the competition will do to match this advancement in video processing.

    Happy Holidays to everyone!

  • westcott

    Well, it seems the Reon-VX HQV video processor will be featured in Toshiba’s new top-of-the-line HD DVD player, the HD-XA2.

    This should really take HD to the next level and I can not wait to read a review of this product and what the competition will do to match this advancement in video processing.

    Happy Holidays to everyone!

  • B.Greenway

    Armen, you’re absolutely right, thanks for the tip! Unfortunately that only solves half my problem though. As you’ve correctly stated you can indeed use the browser and the rest of the XMB, but you (apparently) can’t enter the store without music playback stopping. I’ve found that I’m spending a good chunk of my XMB time going into the store; checking for new downloads 🙂 thanks again for the tip.

    An RSS feed with store updates would be a handy thing…

  • B.Greenway

    Armen, you’re absolutely right, thanks for the tip! Unfortunately that only solves half my problem though. As you’ve correctly stated you can indeed use the browser and the rest of the XMB, but you (apparently) can’t enter the store without music playback stopping. I’ve found that I’m spending a good chunk of my XMB time going into the store; checking for new downloads 🙂 thanks again for the tip.

    An RSS feed with store updates would be a handy thing…

  • Armen

    “Once you leave the music tab, you guessed it, the music stops.” That is not entirely true; you are able to push the PS button which then lets you play with the XMB in a multi-task environment. I am able to listen to my imported Dark Side of the Moon album and browse the PS3 Web browser 🙂 The only limitation is when playing media (like a CD/SACD/DVD), as the system rudely asks if you would like to leave playback.

  • Armen

    “Once you leave the music tab, you guessed it, the music stops.” That is not entirely true; you are able to push the PS button which then lets you play with the XMB in a multi-task environment. I am able to listen to my imported Dark Side of the Moon album and browse the PS3 Web browser 🙂 The only limitation is when playing media (like a CD/SACD/DVD), as the system rudely asks if you would like to leave playback.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Grover, that’s a good question but one I suppose only the studios themselves could fully answer. The majority of the HD DVD releases in Japan have used MPEG-4/AVC encodes, while all but one of the major theatrical HD DVD releases here in the States have used VC-1. That lone MPEG-4 title is ‘The Interpreter’.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Grover, that’s a good question but one I suppose only the studios themselves could fully answer. The majority of the HD DVD releases in Japan have used MPEG-4/AVC encodes, while all but one of the major theatrical HD DVD releases here in the States have used VC-1. That lone MPEG-4 title is ‘The Interpreter’.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Leo, I have Black Hawk Down on the way; I can’t wait to see it (again), at least from an image quality stand-point.

    It’s a shame Talladega Knights, X-Men 3 and Kung Fu Hustle don’t fall under that reference category, although as I said in the review I did enjoy Kung Fu Hustle very much.

    The bass level wasn’t a huge concern as I mentioned trying out the PS3 in another system I was also familiar with and found it to be on par with what I remembered with other sources. And yes I did experiment with uncompressed PCM and the lossy tracks.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Leo, I have Black Hawk Down on the way; I can’t wait to see it (again), at least from an image quality stand-point.

    It’s a shame Talladega Knights, X-Men 3 and Kung Fu Hustle don’t fall under that reference category, although as I said in the review I did enjoy Kung Fu Hustle very much.

    The bass level wasn’t a huge concern as I mentioned trying out the PS3 in another system I was also familiar with and found it to be on par with what I remembered with other sources. And yes I did experiment with uncompressed PCM and the lossy tracks.

  • Grover

    What makes VC-1 HD-DVDs favored choice?

  • Grover

    What makes VC-1 HD-DVDs favored choice?

  • Leo the 3rd

    It would be interesting if you were able to view some of the titles considered to be reference on BD Disc such as Kingdom of Heaven, The Descent or Black Hawkdown. Also were be sure to try the lossless audio tracks to see if bass is still an issue.

  • Leo the 3rd

    It would be interesting if you were able to view some of the titles considered to be reference on BD Disc such as Kingdom of Heaven, The Descent or Black Hawkdown. Also were be sure to try the lossless audio tracks to see if bass is still an issue.