Shootout: 3 Blu-ray Disc Players Page 3

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The Short Form

Price $599 / / 877-865-7669
With its superb picture and sound quality, future-proof features, and attractive price, Sony's PS3 manages to live up to the hype.
•Excellent picture and sound •Bargain price compared to other players •Loaded with cool, useful features •Has future-ready HDMI 1.3 connection •Fast disc loading and response time
•Real remote control costs extra •Loud fan noise •No high-def upscaling for DVDs •May get shot at waiting in line to buy one
Key Features
•60-GB hard disk •802.11 b/g wireless networking •Onboard Dolby TrueHD decoding •Plays PlayStation games, Blu-ray Discs, DVDs, CDs, and Super Audio CDs •Ethernet jack •Four USB inputs •Compact Flash, Memory Stick, and SD card slots •Rips CDs to hard drive and automatically collects song metadata •Displays digital photos •Outputs: HDMI, optical digital audio, multijack with composite-video and stereo analog audio adapter (optional component- and S-video adapter) •12.8 x 10.8 x 4 in; 11 lb

PERFORMANCE The PS3 certainly performs like a serious A/V component. Compared to other high-def disc players I've tested, it was wonderfully fast and responsive, taking less than 10 seconds to put an image onscreen once I selected a Blu-ray Disc lodged in its slot. Pressing the controller's Select button during playback gives you a detailed display of geek stats such as video codec and data rate, audio format, and channel count. And the machine offers very smooth fast-motion playback for scanning through discs, including a 1.5x scan mode with audio. The only thing that rubbed me wrong was the PS3's fan noise, which made it much louder than any other gear in my system, including a DVR and Sony front projector. It was even noisier than my Toshiba HD DVD player, and that thing is LOUD!

Most Blu-ray Discs that I watched with the PS3 looked stunningly good. Black Hawk Down, a movie I don't remember being impressed with on DVD, looked exceptionally crisp, with a solidity, depth, and dimensionality that easily rivaled that of the best HD DVDs out there. The film at times has a grainy look, but in this case the grain was stable, finely rendered, and well integrated with the picture. Surfaces such as a cracked wall in the market area where soldiers stage their battle showed a wide palette of subtle hues and textures. And darker films such as Mission: Impossible III had a deep, chiaroscuro-like effect, showing exceptional picture contrast.

Regular DVDs I watched on the PS3 also looked quite good, proving the player capable of clean 480p cross-conversion (since the PS3 lacks a built-in scaler to bump standard DVD pictures up to 1080i/p or 720p resolution, the best you can get is 480p). With its Automatic Cinema Conversion mode engaged, the player failed the 2:3-pulldown test on a Silicon Optix test disc, but I didn't see any jagged edges in any of the movies I watched.

My audio experiences with the PS3 were equally powerful. Watching Black Hawk Down with the disc's uncompressed 5.1-channel PCM track selected, the beating helicopter wings in a scene where the Black Hawks take off on a mission had a palpable effect, as if they were slicing around the room with my head at center-axle. And when "Voodoo Child" (Stevie Ray Vaughan's version, not Hendrix's) faded in, the music sounded full and clear despite being layered under a heap of cinema sound effects.

The PS3 also proved to be a fine player for multichannel SACDs. On "Breathe" from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, the sound quality approached that of my Denon DVD/SACD player - silky-smooth yet detailed, with fluid, low-reaching bass.

Did I mention that the PS3 also plays games? I'm no authority there, so I invited Isaac George, an 11-year-old family friend and PlayStation enthusiast, to come check things out. Isaac wasn't that impressed with Genji: Days of the Blade - playing it, he said, wasn't all that different than doing the same thing on PS2. But he instantly warmed to NBA 07, commenting enthusiastically on its complexity, depth, and lifelike 1080p graphics. His favorite game, however, turned out to be Resistance: Fall of Man, an ultraviolent shooter (sorry, Isaac's mom) involving foul-looking creatures called Chimera. After playing the game for a few hours, it became my favorite, too. Who needs movies when you can slaughter Chimera?

BOTTOM LINE With its crisp 1080p Blu-ray Disc playback, flexible, wide-ranging audio options, and mounds of other network and gaming features, the Sony PlayStation 3 is nothing short of awesome. From my perspective, the only reason someone would buy a standalone Blu-ray player instead of a PS3 is a complete aversion to videogames - either that, or the desire for a more traditional A/V form factor (that also includes upconversion of standard-def DVDs). That said, Sony's PS3 game console is one of the most exciting, well-executed home theater products I've laid my hands on in a long time. Good luck finding one!