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Originally published Monday, November 13, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Brier Dudley

PS3 is nifty, but it's a bit too pricey

After spending time with Sony's new PlayStation 3 game console last week, I understand why Micro- soft's Xbox team has been strutting lately...

Seattle Times staff columnist

After spending time with Sony's new PlayStation 3 game console last week, I understand why Microsoft's Xbox team has been strutting lately.

Don't get me wrong. The PS3 is an amazing machine. I'd love to have one sitting beneath my TV. But not for $500 or $600. That's just too expensive for a game console, even one that incorporates a bleeding-edge Blu-ray disc player.

It might be worthwhile if the PS3 were the greatest device ever for the living room. But its controls are a little quirky for people who aren't PlayStation fans, and it's not clear whether the PS3 will be as good for downloading movies and TV shows as the Xbox and Apple's upcoming set-top box.

Those limitations, combined with the high price, could scare away most of the mainstream consumers building out their high-definition TV setups.

Microsoft — and shareholders meeting Tuesday in Bellevue — should be thrilled. Xbox is on a roll. It helped Microsoft beat sales estimates last quarter, and now the $400 console looks like a bargain next to the PS3.

If you can get past the price and want the latest video technology, the PS3 seems great for movies and games. Some things about it are amazing. When you scroll over the on-screen movie icon, it plays high-def thumbnails of movies stored on the hard drive. But its PS2-like interface seems dated and a little awkward.

The PS3 is great for viewing digital photos on a TV. Its slide-show feature makes pictures appear like 3-by-5 prints floating on a white surface that glides by as more pictures appear. It even displays a 35 mm "negative."

What's really special about the PS3 is its graphics processing power. An NBA game had incredible details — pebbles on the ball and beads of sweat that shimmer and drip down players. But the game play didn't seem much different from an Xbox.

The shooting game called "Resistance: Fall of Man" is supposed to be a hot launch title. It was great but seemed derivative, a blend of the top Xbox franchises, "Halo" and "Call of Duty."

You play a World War II-era soldier fighting alien invaders in Europe. The graphics are impressive but it doesn't take advantage of the PS3's motion-sensitive controllers, a feature Xbox doesn't have.

I played the console at a suite in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Surprisingly, Sony did the demonstration with test units that had some glitches. The screen went blank a few times, apparently because of fingerprints on the discs.

One thing that's nice about the PS3 is Sony's more open approach. You can expand it with PC accessories and even run Linux.

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When the PS3 goes on sale Friday, it'll probably sell out within hours. The $500 version has a 20 gigabyte drive and the $600 one has a 60 gig drive, Wi-Fi and a Flash-card reader.

With the Xbox, you want the $400 model and not the stripped-down $300 "core" system.

Given the PS3's flexibility, its basic model seems fine. If you want Wi-Fi, get a cheap USB adapter. For more storage, add an external PC drive.

Both PS3s have Blu-ray drives, which delayed the console, upped its price and limited its supply. Sony's pushing the format, but I wonder if it's worth the effort.

Sony should sell one for $400 without a Blu-ray drive, if it wants to scare the folks in Redmond.

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at bdudley@seattletimes.com.

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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