Opinion: To buy or not to buy a PS3

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

For some reason, Playstation 3s have been popping up around the country here and there. You still need to have some luck to come across a console, but there's a good chance that you'll run into available units on your last shopping day before Christmas. And question will be: Should you buy it?

What it is all about: The PS3 in detail ...

Waiting for the PS3: Tent cities forming in front of stores ...

Well, here is a situation few of us had expected: The Playstation 3 is actually in reach, without a need to shell out a big premium to an Ebay seller. I admit, I was among those who wanted to buy a PS3 initially and I really did not want to deal with a lower resolution Wii and a one-year-old Xbox 360.

But who camps out seven days in front of a Best Buy to get a game console? Certainly not me and when I saw that PS3s were going for $4000+ on Ebay I planned on getting the console sometime in Spring, when I believed supply would be able to catch up with demand. Turns out supply is already easing: A few days ago, my wife and I were grocery shopping, and while we were picking out green beans, the store manager announced over the speaker that PS3s would be available. Of course, we rushed over to the electronics apartment and got in line (it's always a good thing to have a spouse who understands your needs.)

So, there we were, third in line and guaranteed a 60 GB console. But then, reality kicks in and questions your excitement for HD gaming: This thing is expensive! $600 plus another $60 and taxes add more than $700 to your credit card balance. Don't forget, we are talking about a toy here.

Anyway, we decided to get it - sooner or later I would have to get one anyway to write about games and to keep up with my colleague Mark Raby, who keeps telling me how great his Wii is. The PS3 has now been under our TV for two days and the old PS2 has begun collecting dust, but the excitement for the shiny PS3 has somewhat faded, because the PS3 didn't meet quite my expectations.

If you end up in a similar scenario and come across a suddenly available PS3 right before or after Christmas, here's what you should keep in mind and don't buy the console if you ...

(1) ... aren't absolutely sure that you can afford a $600 toy

I mentioned it above and you've heard it before. The price tag is $600 (the 20 GB and $500 version is rather rare) and, of course, that's not all. You'll have to consider at least one game, and in many cases a $50 HDMI cable. Down the road, you'll be buying more games - in the end, you don't want to waste your $600 investment. So, its likely that you'll it'll cost you close to $1000 to enjoy your PS3.

While standing in line for the PS3, I overheard a discussion from a couple in front of, which was not really about the PS3, but more about some possibilities how they could tell their landlord that they couldn't afford their next rent payment because of the purchase of the PS3. I don't have to be Suze Orman to tell you that its plain stupid to buy a PS3 if that means you can't buy food or rent anymore.

(2) ... don't have the appropriate HD equipment to go along with it

We have an HDTV, at least that is what they told us almost four years ago when we bought it. But of course, there's no HDMI interface and without HDMI, you won't see much of the PS3's HD capability. So, my recommendation is that if buy buy a PS3, you better make sure that you have the whole package - at least a 720p HDTV with HDMI interface and since we are at it, a decent surround sound system. Anything below that, the PS2 is not only the more economical, but clearly the smarter choice.

(3) ... don't know exactly what you want to do with it

The choice of games for the PS3 is rather limited right now. But in the end, games and your passion for gaming that will lead you to justify the purchase of this expensive toy. So, if there is a game you definitely are looking for and if it is a game you can't have on the PS2, you have a point. But if you aren't sure and just speculate that there may be great games or base your buying decision on the screenshots on the game cover, there's a good chance that you will be disappointed. As for me, I could care less about first person shooters, but I love racing games on the PS2. I expected a fun experience from Ridge Racer 7 and was terribly disappointed. Yes, there are more shadows, more voices, more background detail and you hear the birds singing, but I expected more from a PS3. I was glad to hear that current PS3 games only exploit about 50% of the console's capabilities. Which means, however, that I could have waited a few more months to buy the console.

Let me be clear, I still think the PS3 is a great machine - even if it is overpriced for what you can get out of it today. There are a number of cool features - for example, I love the flawless integration of Wi-Fi and the fact that the device was able to connect to online games without hiccups. Loading times of (current) games have clearly decreased: Some PS2 titles that took 30 seconds or so to load are available almost instantly on the PS3. And then there is the fact that you have a BD-ROM (Blu-ray) player, which is a nice add-on. But I doubt the PS3 will serve as the main HD movie player in future homes.

So, if you aren't in Paris Hilton's tax bracket, there are a few things to consider when purchasing a PS3. Don't be fooled by the sparkle of the latest and greatest on the market. Game consoles are supposed to entertain us and give us a few hours fun. I doubt that the PS3 is capable of providing more fun than a $130 PS2, a $400 Xbox 360 or a $250 Nintendo Wii - at least during Christmas 2006.