Sony launched a major offensive in the console war this week with a number of big announcements. During a presentation at the GamesCom 2009 event in Cologne, Germany they unveiled the new slim PlayStation 3 and talked about their plans for the platform. There have been suggestions that Sony are lagging behind Nintendo and Microsoft in the battle for gamers and this package of products and updates is clearly an attempt to redress the balance.
The Wii and the Xbox 360 have been outselling the much more expensive PlayStation 3 and Sony has resisted any price drop. Back in June they claimed to be happy with their price point, which even then represented a loss on every console sold. With pressure to stimulate the market amid falling sales they have finally made a move. The new version of their popular console heralds the long awaited price drop and the 120 GB machine will cost $299 in the US, ¢â€šÂ¬299 in Europe and £249 in the UK. By comparison the 120 GB Xbox 360 Elite remains priced at $399.
The new PlayStation 3 slim is 33% smaller and 36% lighter than the old PS3. The interior has undergone a complete redesign and the console will use less energy and operate more quietly than the old model. In fact power consumption has been cut to two-thirds the previous level and as a result the machine does not heat up so much so there is less need for noisy fan operation.
The console looks sleeker and more attractive than ever and the visual redesign has also seen the logo change to lower case and a matte, textured finish instead of a shiny one. It supports Wi-Fi out of the box, it has two USB ports and you can access the hard drive from the front and upgrade more easily than with the previous iteration. In fact you can now upgrade the hard drive without voiding the warranty. The old 80 GB and 160 GB models will now be phased out.
If you are looking for a downside then perhaps you could point to the lack of backwards compatibility for PlayStation 2 games, although it can run PlayStation 1 games. You also can’t store the PlayStation 3 slim vertically unless you buy a stand and they have ditched the option to install another operating system.
Sony didn’t rest there and the announcements continued with a big firmware update for the PlayStation 3 platform. PS3 Firmware 3.0 adds some useful menu updates which make navigation on the console a bit smoother with easier access to the store and a redesigned friends list. There are a few new cosmetic updates as well which allow animated themes and the option of new avatars for your profile. Most exciting for UK gamers is the support for BBC iPlayer. There is also a new video on demand movie rental service offering HD and SD movies due to launch in November.
These new developments look set to take advantage of the superior capabilities of the PS3 and technically speaking it is by far the best console of the current generation. The PS3 supports Blu-ray playback, it offers 1080p HDMI output, integrated wireless, free online support and a 120 GB upgradeable hard drive. The firmware update will combine with a big redesign of their online Home space where companies are now looking to establish an online presence.
The new offensive was not limited to the console space and Sony had news for the handheld market as well. The PSP Go was unveiled back in June. It is a smaller, slide open version of the PSP handheld. At GamesCom Sony announced that they will be launching a mini-game store for the machine and gamers will be able to download casual games which are under 100 MB in size. They also plan to launch a reader for the PSP which will allow people to read full length novels on it and the video on demand service due to launch in November will be extended to the PSP as well. To round things off it will be available in some funky colors.
There are obvious moves here to beat Microsoft on price and also to challenge Nintendo on accessibility and the casual gamer market. Sony is uniquely placed to capture hardcore and casual gamers and their PS3 console is truly an entertainment center. If consumers were to shop for a Blu-ray player with internet surfing capabilities and access to streaming video on demand they would be hard pressed to find a device cheaper than the PlayStation 3 and it offers gaming as well. Perhaps with this new design and all important price drop we’ll see the console really take off at last.