PS3: First impressions

2006-12-29 04:38

I have a PS3 now. It’s for work.

Thus, a few first impressions:

1. It is loud. I have a dual G5 system (2.0GHz, a year or so old), an Athlon 4000+, and an intel-based Mac mini all sitting at my desk. The PS3 is louder than the other three systems put together.

2. It is not exceptionally efficient at some tasks. I asked it to format the disk, splitting it into 10GB for PS3 stuff and 50GB for Linux. This took 215 minutes. Yes, that’s a tad over three and a half hours. To put it in perspective, if it wrote every single byte on that disk at the speed of a slowish drive, it would take about three hours. Given that there’s no need to do anything for the part of the drive being assigned to Linux (it was, after all, a factory-blank disk), it shouldn’t even have needed to do that. I assume the intent is that zeroing out the whole disk prevents people from filling the disk with PS3 stuff, then repartitioning and getting access to TOP SECRET FILES. Which they could get by putting the disk in another machine anyway. DUMB!

3. The basic UI is sorta mediocre. Having both this and a Wii, the Wii’s menu is IMHO more pleasant to interact with — of course, some of that is because the Wii has a pointer, and can give rumble feedback when the mouse goes over a button. The PS3 just has to have huge and complicated scrolling menus. Also, the very austere black and white motif just plain doesn’t look that nice; I’d rather see a bit more use of color.

4. The HDMI to DVI thing is good, but not perfect. My monitor is 1050 pixels tall; the PS3 identifies it as supporting 1080p (that is, 1080 rows per frame), and can even drive it like that — except that it gets occasional frames of pure static. Setting it to 1080i (540 rows per frame) seems to work just fine.

5. There is not a single game for this machine I want or care about.

6. I have no interest at all in Blu-ray movies. Why should I want a special way of making movies marginally better that limits me to a single expensive player, when I can buy regular DVDs and see them on anything I want?

7. The PS3 won’t drive my regular monitor, because that monitor doesn’t support the special copy-protection feature they require.

And here’s the thing: Everywhere you go on this box, you are reminded that Sony is in charge, and this hardware is not really yours to use, but theirs to let you use as they think best. Region coding back and forth, special limited access to the hardware for Linux (you don’t even get real access to the disk, you get filtered access that prevents your system from even SEEING the part of the disk used by the PS3), mandatory copy protection on the video output, etcetera.

This system is, fundamentally, built to keep you from using it. The system’s capacity is artificially reduced by the fact that parts of it are full-time dedicated to protecting it from possible unintended uses. The desire to provide “copy protection” trumps any question of “how can we make the best gaming experience possible” or “what would make this hardware useful”. The disc format used is designed first and foremost to increase the level of control given over movie-watching, making it as hard as possible for people to do things like “not watch all of these previews again” or “watch a movie that they picked up while on vacation in another country”. Well, that, and to give Sony royalty shares of the new technology, instead of one of their competitors. Nevermind that many of us would rather just have plain old DVDs which we can play in everything we own.

It’s gonna be an interesting project, and honestly, I expect to enjoy having it around and using it for some software development, but I think Sony has not yet learned anything from all their other fiascos. This is the company that installed an actual rootkit (software to gain control of a Windows machine and hide the fact from other software) on untold numbers of computers to try to reduce the frequency with which people copy songs from audio CDs they have legitimately purchased to iPods they use only for their own use.

They have not learned anything from this. More’s the pity; if it weren’t for that, I think the hardware would be incredibly attractive.

Maybe they’ll suddenly develop a clue and a future firmware update will open the machine up for third-party development on the whole machine, not just on a carefully-selected subset that’s supposed to prevent people from developing anything that Sony doesn’t want developed.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. (What I originally typed here had a URL in. Any chance of putting the "no URLs" warning on the preview page and not only when it's too late?)

    O brave new world...

    Peter Gutman has a nice analysis of the same sort of dementedly user-hostile copy-prevention paranoia in Windows Vista; I can't link to it here (hmm, that's nicely ironic in this context), but you'll find it if you put "gutman suicide ati" into Google.

    — g · 2006-12-29 05:51 · #

  2. I've never heard my PS3 make a sound, the UI is extremely simple to use if your IQ is anywhere above 100, and just as you have no interest in watching bluray movies, I really have no interest in watching DVDs on my 1080p TV. It's cool that you don't think bluray is useful but after you drop a few grand on a TV you kind of want something to play on it. Also, any 1080p source will generally require HDCP so don't blame the system for that one. I'm not sure what the complaint about not being able to access the PS3 half of the drive from linux is based on, considering it probably uses a non-standard file-system and is in no way related to any copy protection. It seems as though you need to read a little bit more about new and upcoming technologies before complaining about their implementation by one company.

    — Roy Quader · 2006-12-31 03:54 · #

  3. Dude, read more, talk less.

    The PS3 runs Linux in a sandbox where the "disk" that Linux sees has only the part of the disk that was allocated to it; it is physically impossible to even look at the data on the PS3 part of the disk. It's annoying, and the extra layer slows it down. Has nothing to do with the filesystem; you simply aren't allowed access to the hardware at all.

    If you haven't heard your PS3 make a sound, I recommend you try turning it on. It will beep. After that, there will be a fan. If you can't hear the fan, you must have a white noise generator.

    I know everyone does HDCP. It's stupid and annoying, like most copy protection schemes; it shouldn't have been implemented at all, and any system implementing it gets a thumbs down for it.

    If you have no interest in watching DVDs, I am sad for you, because there's a lot of really brilliant art out there that will probably never be re-released again, which is available only in DVD, and much of it frankly hasn't got the picture data to justify an HD transfer anyway. If being a video snob means ignoring great art because it's not high enough resolution, count me out.

    — Peter Seebach · 2006-12-31 06:54 · #

 
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