As we come to the one-week anniversary of the PlayStation 3 launch, we have now had sufficient time to examine, analyze, and break things down, so here is our final word on the issue: the PlayStation 3 Report Card. It encompasses the launch, obviously, but it also looks down the road as we grade the console’s potential, which is certainly the most important factor when determining the success of a new system. Some of this is well-documented, but here, we also offer our own thoughts and opinions regarding both the current and future PlayStation 3 situation.

We’ll start with the basics; no detail goes uncovered!

Packaging And Aesthetic Appeal

Well, despite how trivial it may seem (oh heck, we know it is), there’s something to be said for the cosmetic design of electronic hardware. In fact, it’s something many large companies spend a ton of money on every year, and no doubt Sony spent a great deal of time devising the look of their new console. So first off, let’s just say this machine looks a damn sight better than either the PS1 or the PS2. The former wasn’t anything special and the latter was – let’s be honest – truly ugly. The PS3, on the other hand, is sleek and refined, and sports a very clean look. Sure, it’s a beast, but it remains quite pleasing to the eye.

As for the packaging, many people have made a big deal out of the lack of HDMI cables. One of the biggest selling points of the PS3 was supposed to be its high-definition capabilities, and some consider the omission of any HD cables in the box a big mistake on Sony’s part. And while it certainly would’ve been nice, Sony was already set to lose money on every console sold, and they were already including the necessities that couldn’t be replaced: power cord, AV cable, Ethernet cable, Sixaxis controller and USB hook-up, instruction and user manuals, and for the first half-million PS3s, the Blu-Ray movie of "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."

In short, the PlayStation 3’s packaging was nothing more than standard, and probably expected. And as far as aesthetic appeal goes, the PS3 is easily the prettiest Sony console to date.

Grade: B</b

Ease And Accessibility Of Start-Up

Rumors went wild a few days before launch, as some unconfirmed sources began reporting outlandish claims that the PS3 took more than a few minutes to turn on, thereby exponentially increasing the length of time from power-on to actual play time. There were also supplemental reports of a longer-than-anticipated registration and overall start-up process with the PS3, so we were apprehensive when we first hit the power button. Come to find out, there’s a reason why the aforementioned claims were “unconfirmed,” and why Sony never bothered with direct responses just before launch.

It takes only about 7 seconds to go from power-on to the menu screen, and maneuvering through the menu is both straightforward and very quick. Everything is laid out as expected, and most gamers wouldn’t have any trouble fiddling with the myriad of setup options for audio and video. However, it did take us longer than we wanted to register for the Store, as we were forced to scroll down through massive user agreements that would take around 45 seconds, and fumble with the controller to input our e-mail address. The system also froze when doing this the first time, and although it succeeded the second time after a quick restart, it wasn’t a fun experience.

But that’s all one-time stuff; the PS3 starts up pretty darn fast . Once you have everything set, the amount of time you spend from power-up to game-on is very short, and easily comparable to the Xbox 360 or Wii (and faster than the PS2). Everything you need to do is right at your fingertips, and despite a little extra new-user time, we are quite pleased with this category.

Grade: A-

PlayStation Store

It was a necessary addition to this PlayStation installment, due to the ever-increasing number of gamers online and their demand for extra content. And of course, with the Xbox Live Marketplace doing so well, Sony couldn’t very well afford to lag behind in this category. And speaking of the Marketplace, all early indications for the Store are easily explained: it’s essentially identical to the Marketplace, only without that bizarre Points system used for purchase (everything is in dollars and cents, thank God). Another bit of good news is that this wasn’t a "just-you-wait-and-see" feature straight out of the box like PSP connectivity; the Store was up and running on November 16.

They included two full arcade titles for launch day ( Blast Factor , pictured here, and Cash Carnage Chaos ), a bunch of trailers ( Lair , Warhawk , Calling All Cars! , etc.), and several playable demos, including a solid stint from Resistance: Fall of Man .

It’s easy to get into the Store and move about, the prices for those little arcade games are reasonable, and the free trailers and demos are most satisfactory. We just hope to see some additional downloadable content to support upcoming PS3 titles fairly soon. One significant downfall- you’re forced to sit there and wait while the often lengthy downloads run; the PS3 doesn’t offer the ability to do anything else when downloading, like the 360. This could be annoying at times.

Further, we would’ve liked to see a little more content, but all in all, things are certainly off on the right foot.

Grade: B+

PlayStation Network

While we’re on the subject of online functionality and options , let’s examine the current state of the Network. So far, it appears to function just fine, as we had a blast playing both Resistance: Fall of Man and Ridge Racer 7 online. It doesn’t take long to get going, although if you’re an avid player and would like to keep track of your gaming buddies, the PS3 doesn’t offer a unified friends list to help you out. Supposedly, this will be fixed with a later system update, but for now, it’s simply a negative that must be mentioned. Beyond that, there isn’t much to complain about, but nothing to really get excited about, either. Those of you familiar with Xbox Live would probably find the Network to be quite similar, albeit without a few added extras you’re currently used to. At the same time, the Network is free, which may or may not become a major factor in the years to come (we’re not sure if Microsoft will drop that one-time Live fee, but it’s doubtful).

We had no difficulty in our hours of online play; the speed was always optimum, the lag was just about nil (save one instance at the very tail end of a 22-player Deathmatch), and despite a few added minutes when searching for a "matched skill level" room, everything seemed right as rain. It’s simple, really- the Network, for now, does what it’s supposed to do; no more, no less.

Grade: B-

DVD/Blu-Ray Playback And HD Resolution

Obviously, high-definition makes everything come to life, and for the PS3, that means both movies and games. We examined games and movies (both DVD and Blu-Ray) on a standard 480p set and a full HD 1080p set, and if there’s one thing we quickly came to understand, it’s that HD is the future of gaming . However, because many consumers don’t yet have the option, we had to be realistic and attempt to notice differences between HD and Blu-Ray on both sets. We won’t get into specifics because there’s still some argument there regarding details, but either way, we don’t really have a preference between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray at this point.

One thing we really dislike is the fact that the PS3 actually downscales games that aren’t supported on the TV you’re playing on; in other words, if you have 1080i and the game only supports either 480p and 1080p, the game will be displayed in 480p. It’s just the way of electronics, but it’s guaranteed to be frustrating for owners of slightly older HD sets. Furthermore, we’re hoping many future games support a variety of resolutions, unlike Resistance , which only supports 720p.

Overall, it’s difficult to say if Blu-Ray will give the PS3 the edge in games; it’s just too early. But as for the Blu-Ray/DVD player in the PS3, it’s certainly fantastic, and clearly a better option than those uber-expensive Blu-Ray players. Finally, if there’s one thing the PS3 will excel at down the road, it’s producing sweet-looking games in high-def. That much, we know for sure.

Grade: B+</b

PSP Connectivity

Everyone was all excited about that Remote Play feature, the option that allows PS3 and PSP owners to transfer all kinds of streaming media – videos, photos, music files, etc. – between the two consoles. It got even more press when we found out we’d be able to download classic PS1 games for play on our PS3 (a future update should allow us to play those PS1 games on the PS3 itself). Lastly, they announced the Version 3.00 update for the PSP that would finally enable the Remote Play feature and give us a chance to see if everything lives up to the hype. Unfortunately, while we definitely were able to see those pretty new icons and do a few interesting things here and there, PSP connectivity is still in its infancy stages.

Unlike the Store, Sony clearly wasn’t quite ready to provide the full capacity of this feature for the PS3 launch. There still aren’t any PS1 games to purchase and download, and even if there were, the system lacks the ability to make the transfer to the PSP at this point. Also, because the PSP can’t access the PlayStation Store on its own, there isn’t much you can do without a PS3. It’s got a hell of a lot of potential and it’s a darn good idea, but that’s about it for now.

Grade: C

Backwards Compatibility

One of the most appealing factors of the PS2 was its backwards compatibility, an unexplored feature for any other game console at the time. Therefore, it’s another major point for the PS3, which allows us to play both PS1 and PS2 titles; offering an instant combined library of around 2,500 titles. We’ve all heard the reports of those 200 PS2 games that don’t work on the PS3, but after our game testing , we couldn’t locate an incompatible title. As of now, we’ve taken a look at more than 20 PS1 and 30 PS2 games, and every one of them has performed almost flawlessly.

And in comparison to the competition, the PS3’s b/c program is certainly superior. The Wii does offer b/c for GameCube games and the capability to download NES, SNES, Genesis, and N64 titles, but as of now, that only includes some 20-odd titles. Besides, they’re going to cost you a bit of cash, and this doesn’t change the fact that you can’t exactly jam old cartridges into the Wii. The Xbox 360’s b/c program is downright terrible, offering compatibility with only certain Xbox games, and even then, you’re forced to download a patch online. Furthermore, that patch may or may not allow the game to function optimally.

We’ll get a better idea of just how functional the PS3’s b/c is when we get our hands on a memory card adapter; we’ve heard that some old game data is "un-transferrable," but like the rate of incompatible titles, it’s supposed to be rare. All in all, it’s a fantastic feature, and as of right now, possibly our favorite. The PS3’s backwards compatibility is indeed a great thing to have.

Grade: A

Launch Titles

We really haven’t seen a stellar launch in quite a long time, and the PS3 is – unfortunately – no exception to that rule. It suffered through some early delays, pushing hot titles like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and F.E.A.R. to 2007, which sounds very similar to last year’s Xbox 360 launch that lost Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Oblivion . But even beyond those delays, the PS3 only managed to provide one super must-play title, and everything else was just kinda uninspired and unexciting. It’s just too bad, because it’s such a major drawback for any new console launch.

In comparison, the PS2 had a much better assortment of launch titles. SSX and Madden NFL 2001 landed some of the highest scores in gaming history, and Tekken Tag Tournament , TimeSplitters , Summoner , Ridge Racer V , Shadow of Destiny , and Summoner were all solid and diverse games. All we really have from the PS3, beyond the glory that is Resistance: Fall of Man is a good Ridge Racer 7 game, several very mediocre exclusive titles, and a bunch of multiplats, which are all essentially identical to their Xbox 360 counterparts.

No RPGs (unless you count Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom , and I don’t wanna), no fighting games, no cool little adventure-like or unique games like Kameo or Shadow of Destiny , and no top-notch action title. If it weren’t for Resistance , it would’ve been a borderline failure. But thankfully, if you don’t have a 360, there are plenty of good games worth buying, and RR7 is quite fun. So it’s not a total loss.

Grade: C-

Launch Console Availability

There’s always some shortages when it comes to new system launches, but this was a little ridiculous. First, we find out that GameStop/EB will only be taking an extremely limited number of preorders, which resulted in some very unhappy consumers who were blindsided by the sudden news. Next, the shipments are sliced down to a paltry 100,000 for Japan and a meager 400,000 for North America, which hardly inspired confidence for holiday availability. Then, the capper- less than half the U.S. shipments would arrive for November 17, meaning that even those lucky enough to land a preorder might not receive their PS3 on launch day.

It just wasn’t a good situation, no matter how you look at it. We suppose that if Sony sticks to their claim of shipping "1-1.2 million units by year’s end," there should be plenty of PS3s around, simply because none of those million systems would be preordered. And they were able to fill the second half of those preorders this past week (we think). But even so, the availability of PlayStation 3s on launch day was, of course, deplorable.

Grade: D

System Reliability

Obviously, this is going to be a work in progress, but as it’s always an issue concerning any launch, it should be addressed. Last year, the 360 suffered from a horrendous defective ratio, as the “red lights of death” assaulted many a frustrated gamer. The situation only worsened when Microsoft didn’t have nearly enough replacement systems available, thus forcing those with busted systems to wait many weeks before making good on the warranty. And given the problems the PS2 faced in 2000, we were very worried about our PS3. After all, if it went down in flames, we’d be in a bad spot, and you wouldn’t have gotten all this great coverage.

But clearly, you did get that coverage, which means our PS3 is still working fine. There was that one system freeze during the Store registration process, and we did experience the dreaded Disc Read Error a few days ago, but it’s been operating perfectly ever since. And if you hadn’t noticed, reports of defective PS3s haven’t been steamrolling the Internet. So far, and surprisingly enough, things seem to be going along just fine. Who’d a thunk it?

Grade: A- (pending)

Graphical Performance

What with all the hype surrounding the powerful Cell processor, the PS3 certainly had a lot to prove. But we believe this is a five or six-year process, so we’re reluctant to actually grade this category at launch. When we examine the history of the PlayStation consoles, we see a very large visual difference in first-year and fifth-year games; the likes of Smugglers Run , X-Squad , and Evergrace hardly compare to Gran Turismo 4 , Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater , and Final Fantasy XII . Therefore, we have to take a look at the beginning, and then see where there is to go.

With the complex PS3 architecture, it’s a no-brainer that developers are once again going to need some time to get familiar with this machine. On the flip side, these same developers are much more comfortable with the Xbox 360 hardware, which has also been out for over a year already. Therefore, if we consider that PlayStations have always experienced significant growth over their life spans, we can imagine where games will be in a few years. Right now, there’s nothing on the PS3 that is graphically superior to the best examples on Xbox 360 or PC, but games like Resistance are excellent starting points.

Bottom line? If PS3 and Xbox 360 games look almost identical now, and PlayStations historically grow a great deal in terms of visuals, we believe the PS3 will have the easy graphical edge in a few years time. The potential is there, without a shadow of a doubt.

Grade: B

Sixaxis Controller

It’s light as a feather, and we don’t really miss the rumble at all. The analogs can take some getting used to, and don’t feel quite as stable as the 360 controller’s analog, but the design is great. We do consider the Dual Shock to be one of the best – if not the best – controller design of all time, so a repeat of that style isn’t exactly a bad thing. However, we’re not the biggest fan of those new R2/L2 buttons/triggers, and that’s just because we don’t quite understand their purpose. What would’ve been the harm in either choosing trigger or button? How exactly does this bizarre blend benefit the gamer?

But all in all, we like it a lot. The motion sensitivity, tested several times by now, works quite well, and the typical smoothness and ease of control we all remember from the DS is evident. It may not be the absolute best controller for all genres, but it’s great for just about any game you might want to play. We just wish they could’ve picked their poison when it comes to R2/L2.

Grade: B+

PlayStation 3 Overall

For the most part, we are pleased with Sony’s new machine. Clearly, some aspects of the system and its launch were woefully lackluster, like the launch title assortment, console availability on launch day, and the very unrealized PSP connectivity. But there’s a whole lot of good sprinkled throughout: the backwards compatibility is wonderful, the Network is working well, there are a ton of cool options and multimedia features to mess around with, HD and Blu-Ray is pretty as pretty can be, and Resistance: Fall of Man really is that good.

We think there’s a lot of fun to be had in the future with the PS3, and despite not having a whole lot of games to play right now, we’re very aware of the coming soon list. With names like Devil May Cry , Gran Turismo , Final Fantasy and Virtua Fighter on the horizon, we can’t help but be psyched. We have to consider both the launch and the future when we look at the PS3, so remember that when viewing the following overall grade. Also, we’re grading its potential, which is the more important score, anyway. What we have now certainly matters, but with a brand new console, it’s mostly about one thing- tomorrow.

Grade: B

Potential Grade: A-

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