When Sony released the PS3 in 2006 it truly was a game changer. For the first time they created something they you would want to proudly display in your living, rather than banish to the basement...
Huge catalog of games. Backwards compatible, opening up an even larger catalog of PS2 and PS1 games. Excellent media capabilities, including Blu Ray.
Can run loud. Lack of IR sensor makes universal remote integration difficult.
When Sony released the PS3 in 2006 it truly was a game changer. For the first time they created something they you would want to proudly display in your living, rather than banish to the basement or game room. Starting with the sexy piano black and chrome casing, it was obvious this was meant to belong in the living room right next to your Sony TV. Gone was the grey of the PS1 and the matte black and sharp edges of the PS2. The curved top, slot load Blu Ray drive, and touch buttons made it look like a high end designer piece of A/V equipment. It is, and much more.
When you turn on the console, you're greeted with Sony's award winning Cross Media Bar (XMB). The XMB gives you access to the array of features offered by the PS3 grouped by category. Its very intuitive and efficient. You can also start to see just how much this console can really do. For the first time, Sony brought content storage, streaming, online services, social services and gaming together.
I'll start with the media capabilities. For starters, there's 4 USB 2.0 ports on the front, media card readers for SD, MMC, XD, MemoryStick and CF, and a 60GB hard drive available. Any of which can be used to store and view music, videos, and pictures. There's also an Ethernet port on the back and an 802.11 b/g wireless card for connecting to your network and accessing media sources and streaming services. You have your choice of HDMI, component or composite for video and HDMI, Optical Toslink, or stereo audio. HDMI supports the HDTV standards 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p. You can get all of those except 1080p over component as well. Its a very competent media streamer playing a variety of formats, but it won't play everything. Be sure to check compatibility before encoding your media for streaming to the PS3. A number of 3rd party services are available as well such as Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon VOD with more being added regularly. You can also buy and rent movies directly from Sony through PSN. And if you find that the included 60GB hard drive is too small, its easily upgradeable with a standard 2.5" SATA drive. This is fully supported by Sony, they even have detailed directions in the manual.
The PS3 also has a Blu Ray drive and will play Blu Ray and DVD movies. As a Blu Ray player, it is excellent. The video quality is top notch and it loads Blu Ray discs quickly. It indirectly supports the newer HD audio codecs as well, but it will not bitstream them out to a compatible receiver. It will output DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD at full quality, but only as a multi channel Linear PCM stream. Basically, you'll get the same quality audio but you won't get the pretty light on your receiver. Later hardware revisions will bitstream these codecs. Getting used to using the game controller as a remote for your Blu Ray player takes some getting used to. Due to a lack of IR sensor you can't use your trusty Harmony or other universal remote control. There are options out there that either plug into one of the USB ports or Sony has a Bluetooth remote for the PS3, but none of these are included in the box. If you're using this in your HT setup, its worth noting that the fans can get quite loud when spun up to full speed. I don't so much notice it (or care) when gaming, but when I'm trying to enjoy a movie it can be a distraction.
You can also access Sony's online service, called the PlayStation Network (PSN) directly from the console. Here you have access to a vast catalog of games available for purchase and digital download, as well as demos, add-on content, themes, online avatars, and video rentals and purchases directly from the PlayStation Store. PSN also allows you to see what your friends are up to online, compare game trophies, chat, and invite people to online gaming sessions.
Which brings to why most people buy a PS3 to begin with. The games! And there are many. I'm not going to go into the catalog of games, as they should be rated individually, but the gaming capabilities of this console are amazing. It supports up to 4 wireless controllers at a time. Battery life on the controllers is very good. I can get well over 12 hours of gameplay per charge, and they just need a readily available mini USB cable and a port. The console comes with one cable, and some controllers have one packed in, but they're very short. Seemingly not meant for charging during play, at least not from console. Although oddly, the USB ports on the console are inactive when its turned off leaving you find another source or sit very close while charging and playing. I just use the USB port on my cable box and/or GoogleTV box for charging while the console's turned off to get around that limitation. You can also use an aftermarket long cable or USB extension cable, but neither of those are included. There's also remote play capability if you own a PSP or PS Vita handheld console, though the list of games that support it is very limited.
Most games look spectacular. Disc based games are on Blu Ray discs rather than DVD's giving developers unheard of amounts of space for whatever they want. Rich full HD, full motion video with surround sound and no more trying to cram it all into a 8.5GB package. Load times vary from one game to the next, but most seem to be quick. And those that do take a while to load usually mask it with a video of some sort so you're not watching a progress bar crawl by. The controllers are much the same as the PS1 and PS2 pads. There's a 4 button directional pad on the left with 2 analog directional sticks on the bottom of the controller. On the right you find the familiar arrangement of X, square, circle and triangle buttons with 4 analog triggers on the front. The bottom facing side of the controller has a reset button. The front also has 4 led lights and the mini USB charging port. The 4 led's tell you which player that controller is assigned to. They also flash when the battery starts getting low and flash slowly while charging. They're also equipped with accelerometers for motion control in supported games.
The PS3 is a solid machine even after all these years. There's a very good reason they've sold millions of them worldwide. And they continue to add features and services with regular software updates. Even at nearly 8 years old, the old dog is still learning new tricks. And even the 1st generation hardware reaps the benefits of those updates. The new generation machines are smaller, lighter, and will bitstream the new HD audio codecs, but in my opinion the 1st generation 60GB machine is the best. It looks the best and has the backwards compatibility the newer machines lack.