Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) Slim console

Sony's PlayStation 3 hadn't quite enjoyed the success it deserved, thanks to lofty launch prices for the original version and strong competition on the gaming front from the Xbox 360. Both consoles have evolved over time, with the PS3 Slim following Sony's trend of trimming down.

The PS3 Slim now measures 290 x 65 x 290mm, so it is more compact overall, especially in height. The overall design is still instantly recognizable as a PlayStation 3, but it is leaner and meaner. The construction materials have changed too: gone is the elegant glossy, to a matte black finish. It is perhaps less showy than the previous edition, but you don't have to spend your time polishing it either.

The redesign brings with it a new price point, which some will credit with its success: a 120GB PS3 Slim retails at £249, a new entry point for the console. Considering what the PlayStation 3 offers you, it is something of a bargain in its new guise. Those wanting more storage can opt for a 250GB version, currently available for around £285.

Those who jumped in for the original console will find changes: the lift-up flap housing and array of memory card readers is gone, as are the four USB connections, the PS2 emulation and the ability to install a different OS. These niceties are perhaps not worth premium prices that the older PS3 model asked: whatever you are trying to do, the two USBs on offer will pretty much handle it.

Internally the big guns are still here. You have a Blu-ray disc drive and you have Wi-Fi built-in, something that the Xbox 360 cannot boast. Perhaps this accounts for the current price contrast: the Xbox 360 120GB version comes in at under £200, but you don't get the benefit of a Blu-ray player, and you'd have to fork out for the Wi-Fi adapter too.

This is one area that makes the PlayStation 3 look like a tempting offer. Now you have your high-definition TV wall-mounted in your lounge, it deserves to be fed a diet of HD content. Blu-ray looks fantastic on the PS3 and it is widely regarded as one of the best Blu-ray players out there, thanks to the easy updatability and connectivity that the rest of the box offers. If nothing else, the PS3 Slim saves you buying a standalone Blu-ray player, which might be £100 alone.

Before you even approach gaming, the PS3 slim is screaming in with media from all corners. Connect it to your home network, either by Wi-Fi or through the Ethernet connection on the back and it opens a world of media possibilities. It not only lets you take advantage of BD-Live functionality on Blu-ray discs, but it will also find media servers (or other DNLA devices) on your network so you can stream media into your TV. We hooked it up and it instantly found our Cisco Media Hub to stream video, music or photo content into the TV, or you could stream direct from a PC or Mac.

It's blissfully simple, and again, it saves you forking out for some sort of media bridge. File format support isn't fully comprehensive with MPEG4/H.264, MPEG2, AVI (MJPEG), AVCHD, DivX and WMV video support. If you have a diverse collection of video you'll find that there are holes in codec support for some of these file types, but some sort of conversion software will cure those evils and save you repeated "This file is corrupted" messages. Music support gives you WMA, AAC and MP3. The PS3 now offers BBC iPlayer access direct from the XMB too.

In terms of connectivity, besides the networking features we have mentioned, around the back you get an HDMI connection, which will satisfy most users, an optical out, for connecting into your AV receiver to take advantage of the PS3's Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding. Finally you have Sony's AV Multi connection which, with the cable bundled in the box, will allow you to hook up to TVs which don't have HDMI.

All that, and we haven't yet mentioned games. For many people gaming is the PlayStation 3's primary calling, but it stands its ground as a home media hub in a way that the Xbox 360 really can't compete with. The PS3 is a hulking great power house of a gaming machine and now is a better time than ever for PlayStation 3 gaming, with the likes of Uncharted 2 receiving rave reviews.

The PS3 admittedly beats the Xbox 360 on raw power, but we've seen over the last few years that this hasn't manifested itself in a mass of better gaming titles. Graphically, there is little to separate the two once you get into big name titles and there is little difference between loading times or response either: both offer a sublime gaming experience.

Exclusive gaming titles will always be a consideration the aforementioned Uncharted 2 being an example. With many big titles coming out cross-platform, exclusives are the exception rather than the rule in many cases, but the toughest decision you might have to make is which camp to set yourself in. There are some great exclusives on both sides and ultimately, if you are going to dive into online multiplayer, the decision might come down to what consoles your friends have.

Control of the PlayStation 3 now comes in the form of the DualShock 3 controller, which adds a little extra oomph over previous versions. The controller is, ironically, one of the points that divides the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; when it comes to the crunch, we prefer how the Xbox 360 controller feels. This is common among those who have both consoles and if you are lucky enough to be in this position, you'll probably find yourself doing most of your gaming on the Xbox and almost everything else on the PS3. As we've just said, this has nothing to do with how the games look or play, it simply comes down to choice of controller.

Sony's XrossMediaBar lies at the centre of the PS3 and offers an easy to navigate interface. We like the Xbox interface, but the PS3 is more accessible overall. It also gives you access to the PlayStation Network, which isn't as slick as Microsoft's Xbox Live, but at least you don't have to fork out for membership to get full advantage, another cost of ownership that needs to be considered.

One of the biggest changes you'll notice with the PS3 Slim is volume. Not in terms of audio output, but purely in terms of fan noise. This is one area that the PS3 and the Xbox 360 both struggled in the past. The Xbox hasn't improved dramatically, but the PS3 Slim has overcome the heat and noise problem. It is perhaps a little louder than your average Blu-ray player, but it is no longer a distraction. You don't feel like it is pumping out heat into your room like a fan heater either, which makes it much better suited to slipping under the TV. It is more energy efficient too.

 

Verdict

The PS3 Slim makes a number of changes over its forebear, making this the best PlayStation to date. Being more compact and quieter makes it more appealing as a home media hub, reinforcing the solid performance that it delivers.

The new price, though, is really the killer blow. It is more affordable than ever and with stores pushing out game bundles with the new PS3 Slim, if you have been holding off, now is the time to step out and buy one.

The PlayStation 3 Slim is an accomplished piece of home entertainment hardware, with something for everyone from streaming media, to high-definition movies, to adrenaline fuelled gaming, and we love it.