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Sony PlayStation 3 Slim 120GB - Sony PlayStation 3 Slim 120GB
Two other factors will make quite a difference in the average living room. First, the combination of the new 45nm Cell processor, a smaller nVidia RSX GPU and a range of efficiency enhancements means that the PS3 Slim consumes approximately 50 per cent of the power of the old model in any given situation (under 100W when playing games and under 1W in standby, as opposed to over 200W and nearly 2W on the old PS3). This actually makes it a less juice-thirsty console than the Xbox 360 Elite (around 120W in gameplay, under 2W in standby). Over the course of the console's life-cycle, that's going to shave a reasonable amount off your electricity bill, and it's presumably one reason why the new console uses a smaller 'tape-deck' style power cable over the larger 'kettle' leads used by its predecessor and (in modified form) the Xbox 360.
The other benefit of the new Cell and RSX processors is that the PS3 Slim runs cooler than the old PS3. This, inevitably, makes it quieter. If you thought the existing PS3 was quiet, prepare for a shock: the new model is eerily lacking in noise. It's not quiet silent, but I'd put it on the same level as, say, a basic laptop running idle or a quiet PVR. Even while accessing a game or Blu-ray disc the volume stays low, meaning the PS3 Slim doesn't have the Wii's irritating levels of disc noise. Whether I've been playing Flower, Killzone 2, Resident Evil 5 or the multiplayer beta of Uncharted 2, I've been unable to push the volume up to the levels of my old PS3, let alone that windy young hooligan, the Falcon-powered Xbox 360 Elite. Now, I might just have a particularly quiet model, but if you're planning to buy a console to double as a media player, then this is a real point in the PS3's favour.
The other, of course, is Blu-ray playback. These days there are many cheaper Blu-ray players on the market, and a range of networked media players that you can have for well under £100. However, the PS3 still serves well in both respects. While I can't say I've seen a huge range of Blu-ray players to compare the PS3 against, it's reasonably speedy at loading discs and playback quality is at least up there with other budget decks I've looked at. What's more, the Slim now streams Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bitstreams out to a receiver over HDMI, which is good news if you have the relevant home cinema kit - although the old PS3 still supports both standards, but instead does the decoding in the console and outputs multi-channel PCM.
Meanwhile, the PS3 itself has become a more and more capable media player with each firmware upgrade, and naturally that follows on with the PS3 Slim. Much as I love the Xbox 360's NXE interface, I'd have to say that Sony's XMB remains a better UI for browsing and viewing different kinds of media, and I was surprised how quickly, seamlessly and without any intervention the PS3 Slim picked up the media waiting on my Windows 7 PC (and the same should apply with any DNLA compliant server). Format support is a little conservative, but H.264, MPEG-2, AVCHD, DivX and WMV video are all handled without fuss, along with MP3 and WMA audio. Nor has the PS3 struggled to stream unprotected iTunes Plus files direct from my PC.
Video and audio playback quality is excellent, with the Cell processor upscaling and enhancing low resolution files. Best of all, the recent version 3.0 of the firmware has added native BBC iPlayer support to the PS3; you can stream programmes direct from the BBC at something very near SD broadcast quality - and even the Nintendo Wii can't say that!