PS3 3D Blu-ray hands-on: no high resolution audio support

Sing hosanna. The PS3 was finally upgraded to play 3D Blu-ray movies with the 3.50 update arriving on Tuesday 21 September. However, before home cinema fans and AV-holics start to whoop and holler, it seems that some compromises have been made in order to offer compatibility.

To be honest, we were sceptical at Pocket-lint before the update was released. For starters, the PlayStation 3 has only got a HDMI v1.3 output, and yet full 3D Blu-ray specification calls for HDMI v1.4. Indeed, AV amplifier manufacturers have been falling over each other to include a full board of v1.4 sockets on their latest kit, and only then are happy to exclaim that they are "3D-ready".

So, how could the PS3 afford the extra bandwidth required for a full 3D movie experience, through its older HDMI v1.3 socketry?

The short answer is, it doesn't!

Pictures are fine, with Full HD 3D images being sent to each eye, at a quality on a par with a general low- to mid-range 3D Blu-ray deck. They are bright, sharp and perfectly detailed. Obviously, it depends on the rendering of the content itself as to whether the 3D effect is properly defined, but our test disc, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, is an excellent example of 3D Blu-ray. Which is just as well really, it's the only disc you can currently buy in the UK - all the rest are exclusives to one kit manufacturer or another.

Content grumbles aside, when played on a Samsung UE55C8000 (a mighty fine 3DTV, it must be said) and viewed through the company's compatible specs (tested with both rechargeable and battery-operated versions), the imagery of Cloudy... is crisp and bright. It could even be said that the experience is a touch better than in the cinema, due to 3D projection technology lacking the sheer brightness of a television or 2D equivalent.

So, the PS3's 3D Blu-ray video performance is spot on. Unfortunately, the compromise for bandwidth comes on the audio front.

According to the 3.50 update description published on a Sony Japan website (and, poorly, translated through Google) neither DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD are playable when viewing 3D content. They are both down-mixed to their standard DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 equivalents. And, while this will be fine for a majority of the PlayStation 3-owning public, it's a kick in the nether regions for audiophiles.

Of course, some would argue that audio- and video-philes would favour standalone kit anyway; considering the PS3 as a games console (which it is) and, possibly, a bedroom machine. But, there are many, like us, that use it as a media hub in the living room, and are a touch disappointed that we're not getting the full 3D Blu-ray experience.

Sony's Japanese website also forewarns of another potential problem: "The content, such as menus and subtitles and 3D playback equipment may differ from other representations", it says. And, while it may lose something in translation, the gist is that menu systems and subtitles may not always appear as intended. Again, thanks to the restriction of bandwidth.

Thankfully, this isn't an issue with our test disc; it plays just fine, albeit with plain DTS audio. Obviously, we'll have to wait for more 3D Blu-ray releases (than the, er, one) to discover if they suffer from interactivity issues.

At least, now that the PS3 is compatible, of sorts, studios might be more inclined to support the format, and we'll see more discs hit the market. It may not offer a perfect full-on experience, but thanks to the consoles already massive user base, it may be the shot in the arm that 3D Blu-ray needed. And, for that, Sony should be commended.

UPDATE: There are some PS3 owners who are also complaining that they can't get the 3D functionality to work at all. And we too had problems initially thanks to a lack of instructions. However, by doing the following, we managed to set everything up eventually.

Once the the firmware has been installed on the machine, you need to access the Settings/Display Settings on the Xross Media Bar. Then, select Video Output Settings. Choose the HDMI connection, and run the "Automatic" method. It should discover that you have a 3D TV in the loop and add 3D to its compatibility list. Reboot the PS3 and it should switch to 3D whenever such content is played.

If you plug the PS3 into an AV receiver or amplifier, the steps above may not work even if the amp is "3D-ready" - it didn't in our case, as it wouldn't recognise the TV as 3D-compatible. To fix this, unplug the HDMI lead and plug it directly into the TV. Run the setup process again, and it should recognise it as 3D this time. Plug the lead back into the amplifier and Bob's your builder.

Do also be aware that some American sites are reporting that older PS3s, such as the original, fat 60GB version with memory card slots, won't play some of the films that are available over there. Having not tested this ourselves (as we don't have the same discs in the UK), we don't know if that's region-specific, but suspect there'll be a further patch from Sony sooner rather than later.

What do you think? Will you consider upgrading to a 3DTV now that the PS3 is compatible? Let us know in the comments below...