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The Incredible Shrinking PS3?

February 23, 2009 By Dennis Burger



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Incredible Shrinking PS3?

A few months ago, the unthinkable happened: my PlayStation 3 went on the fritz.

My first reaction, of course, was denial. PS3s don’t break, do they? Who ever heard of such a thing? And mine gets plenty of open airflow. Maybe it’s just a glitch—some bug in the new firmware.

A few days and a whole lot of spontaneous shutdowns later, it became obvious that I had on my hands the rarest of all birds—a Norwegian Blue PlayStation 3—so I hesitantly sent it in for repairs, all the while pleading with the techs at Sony to fix my precious machine. I didn’t want a new one. I had one of the original 60GB models with all the bells and whistles. I wanted it back, patched up as good as new.

But no amount of begging or bargaining worked. My chassis was fried. And the friendly folks at SCEA couldn’t quite figure out why I wasn’t happy with my 80GB replacement. I wouldn’t say I was angry, but I’ll admit to being a little miffed that this shiny new PS3 wouldn’t do half the things my old one would: no SACD playback (yes, I still listen to SACDs); no backward compatibility (yes, I still play the heck out of Gran Turismo 4, and the wife's all-time favorite console game is The Adventures of Cookie & Cream); two fewer USB ports (yeah, we used ‘em all); and a distinct lack of media card readers.

So I called John Koller, hardware marketing director for SCEA, to ask him why I don’t seem to have as much PlayStation 3 as I used to. “As we went through the first year to two years of the life cycle of the PS3, we started to look at what we needed to focus on for the expected ten-year life cycle of the PS3. From a cost-down perspective, we really wanted to make sure that consumers could get their hands on the PS3, and I know there’s a lot of discussion about this in the media and among consumers, but removing backward compatibility was one area we could utilize to bring costs down,” he says. “I think over the ten-year life cycle of the PS3, we’re going to be able to sell consumers a lot more PlayStation 3 titles, and as we go along in the life cycle, we’re going to see more consumers utilizing PlayStation 3 titles than they would PlayStation 2 titles. That was one area that was highlighted and chosen for cost reduction.

“We fully understand the issue of backwards compatibility is important, and it was a difficult decision on our part to remove that. We highly value the loyalty of the PlayStation 2 consumer. If you look at it, that’s a base of 49 million in North America that’s as loyal and rich a source for bringing up the PS3 curve as anything. So we don’t want to be ignorant of that. But it was part and parcel of our effort to bring the cost down on the system. And we’ve been effective in getting it down to the $399 price point for the 80GB system.

“And Super Audio CD isn’t a hugely popular area within the core demographic of the PlayStation 3, so that was another area that we utilized as a cost-down, and the media slots were, as well. The chassis that you originally had was different from the current one, although the current one obviously has a larger hard drive, and we were able to effect a few other changes, in terms of firmware updates and whatnot to the current model. So, there’s been a little bit of give and take, but in general we were really trying to go after the first goal, which is profitability, and we had to have some cost-downs to get there,” Koller says.

Incredible Shrinking PS3?

And I can understand all of that. The PS3 is still one of my all-time favorite consumer electronics devices, even in its current form. But what about those consumers who paid for a certain level of functionality, sent in a unit in for repair, and got back a PS3 that simply didn’t do as much. How often is this happening? “We haven’t had [to deal with that] a lot,” Koller says. “I can tell you that the PlayStation 3 is one of the best, if not the best product we’ve ever launched in terms of failure rate. QA is fantastic. So we don’t get a lot of the hardware failures that maybe our competitors do.”

Touché.

But we’ve already lost some functionality; is there anything to say we aren’t in danger of losing any more, in an attempt to even further cut prices? “We look to expand, actually, through firmware updates. We recently added full-screen Flash 9 support, and things like that will continually be added to enhance the experience,” Koller says.

As for adding PS2 backward compatibility back in through emulation, though, Koller isn’t hopeful.

So I guess it’s time for me to accept that my new PS3 is what it is. To be honest, it does run a lot quieter and a heck of a lot cooler than my old one. Not to mention the fact that it consumes less energy. And sure, I can stream videos and photos over my home network easily, so I’m not missing the media card slots too much.

So if I were in the market for my first PS3 right now, I have to admit that I’d find today’s $399 chassis a better value than the $599 model from launch. Backward compatibility and SACD playback really aren’t worth the extra two honey.

But if you own one of those original 60GB models and it starts to look a little peaked, just know that if you send it in for repair and it’s too far gone, there’s a chance you might end up with a bit less PlayStation 3 than you started with.

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