Sony Pumps Up PS3’s Picture, PSP’s Portability

Starting Thursday, PlayStation 3 (PS3) owners in North America will be able to add some new capabilities to their gaming console with the release of the latest PS3 firmware update. The regular system update from Sony bumps up the appearance of standard definition PlayStation (PS) and PlayStation 2 (PS2) games as well as DVDs to HD-quality. It also extends the PlayStation Portable’s (PSP) Remote Play functionality.

“As adoption of HDTVs continues to surge, we know that consumers are hungry for content, and this latest firmware update leverages the PS3’s technology to deliver an HD-quality experience using the entertainment media already in your collection,” Peter Dille, senior vice president of marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), said.

“In addition, we continue to enhance the PS3’s capabilities as an entertainment hub, giving consumers the option to bring their content with them on-the-go, or to stream photos, videos and music stored on their PC to the PS3 in their living room. That’s often where the largest TV monitor and sound system is located, giving consumers the best possible entertainment experience,” he continued.

Getting a Makeover

For industry watchers, the software upgrade gets a thumbs up. “This looks like a fairly significant upgrade to me,” Brian O’Rourke, principal analyst at In-Stat, told TechNewsWorld. “It allows for upscaling PS, PS2 and standard-definition DVD movies up to 1080p, the video format that the PS3 renders its graphics in.

“If it’s done well, it has the potential to make these games and movies look a lot better. I think this update is an attempt to draw PS and PS2 owners to the PS3 by offering them the chance to not only play their old games and movies on the PS3, but to see them in HD quality,” he added.

The update is available suing the PS3’s System Update feature when it is connected to the Internet. Conversely, owners can also download the update to a PC and transfer it to the PS3 using a storage media or USB mass storage device, or it can be installed using update data included on an upcoming game disc.

Going Upscale

Firmware version 1.80 for the PS3 boosts the resolution for PS and PS2 games, upscaling them to HD resolutions of up to 1080p. For lovers of classic games as well as recently released titles, the result is an enhanced viewing experience. DVDs played via the gaming console will also receive the same treatment, a feature typically only available on top-of-the-line DVD players, according to Sony.

“It will make the games and DVDs appear nicer,” Joshua Martin, an analyst at Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld. “Its not true HD, but it looks better than standard DVDs.

“There are noticeable differences, but the fact of the matter is its not true HD. It’s a significant improvement and even though it’s not true HD it is something that would be appealing to consumers, especially in light of the format war and consumers unwillingness to adopt next-generation DVD technology,” he continued.

The new resolution capabilities are significant, but the console already displays Blu-ray movies and certain PS3 games at 1080p, according to David Hodgson, an author of gaming guides. “What this does is effectively remove any need for a PS2 or DVD player under your TV,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Your standard DVD movies and previous software for the PS2 and PS are all upscaled to this resolution.”

For it to work, owners will need a TV capable of displaying 1080p content — not 1080i, Hodgson explained. However, he added, if consumers have already shelled out US$600 on this console, chances are good that they have also splashed out cash for a big-screen plasma or LDC with these properties.

Want to Go Big?

Consumers who have not moved up to an HDTV should demo a TV playing PS3 content under different resolutions to see if they can perceive a difference, Hodgson suggested, then decide whether a new TV is worth it.

“As long as you know, and can tell, the difference between 720p, 1080i and 1080p, you’ll be fine — and upscaled content to lower resolutions still looks great, and this firmware update takes advantage of these lower resolutions, too,” he said.

To take advantage of the new functionality, PS3 owners need to have an HDMI or component AV cable for games. To upscale DVDs, an HDMI cable and HDMI compatible TV set are necessary. Hodgson noted, however, that in addition to necessary cables, upscaling DVD footage is only part of the entertainment experience.

“Your picture will be improved, but there are other factors, — [such as] other PS3 settings, eagle-eyes, a good home theater system, etc. — needed to truly appreciate these tweaks.”

Media Portability

As of last November, PS3 owners had the ability to stream photos, videos and music stored on the PS3 hard drive to their PSP. The update takes that functionality and kicks it up a notch so that users can access their media content using a wireless Internet access point. After updating their PSP system’s firmware to version 3.50, set for release next week, users can pull up their favorite pix, tracks and other content using a wireless Internet connection wherever and whenever they like. To facilitate the functionality, Sony has hooked up with T-Mobile, which has some 7,000 HotSpots scattered around the country.

Home network users can also stream media content stored on a DLNA-enabled device to their PS3. DLNA technology makes it possible for digital devices including PCs, DVRs and TVs to connect to a network and share data with other devices on the network.

“This is an excellent feature, but with limits — you can’t move out of the WiFi hotspot for example,” said Hodgson “And yes, your PS3 will need to be activated and online for this to happen. It’s great for travelers who stay in one, WiFi-enabled place.”

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