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Sony PlayStation 3 Slim 120GB - Sony PlayStation 3 Slim 120GB
Of course, there is one area here where Sony is lagging behind Microsoft: movie downloads. While Microsoft already offers HD and SD rentals on the Xbox Live Marketplace and has done for a couple of years, PS3 owners in the UK are still waiting for Sony's European movie download service to launch. Luckily, the wait should be over in November. Whether we then get the 12,000 TV episodes and 2,200 movies our American cousins can enjoy is doubtless a licensing issue, but if so, this might not be an advantage that Microsoft enjoys for long.
In terms of usability and built-in functionality, the PS3 Slim scores high. There are some remaining niggles - I'd still say that the Dual Shock 3 is behind the 360 controller for comfort and accuracy, while its motion-sensitive properties are grossly under-used - but it's genuinely a great piece of hardware. Sadly, hardware has never been the PS3's problem - it's problem was always cost and games. On the latter side, the PS3 still has yet to live up to its promise. Thinking of exclusive titles on either machine, I can only think of a handful on the PS3 - Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, Infamous, Killzone 2 - that stand up to the best on Microsoft's platform. I still can't see any real long-term draw in the PS3's much-hyped Home virtual world, and we still have a situation where most cross-platform games look and run better on the theoretically inferior machine (though most of us now accept that the strengths of the 360's GPU against the PS3's RSX balance out any difference in CPU horsepower).
But this picture might be changing. This is the first year when the run up to Christmas sees the two consoles evenly balanced, with Uncharted 2 and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time on the PS3 holding up against Forza 3 and Left 4 Dead 2 on the 360. What's more, Sony has MAG, Gran Turismo 5 and God of War III early next year to go up against Mass Effect 2, Crackdown 2 and Alan Wake on the competition. After that, things get more interesting with Sony's motion controller and Microsoft's more ambitious Project Natal, but there's a real feeling that Sony has finally rediscovered the plot it lost around E3 2006. I think its high time that we retired the idea that the PS3 is going to give us better, more technically advanced games in the long-term while Microsoft abandons the 360 - both companies are committed to maintaining a long life-cycle this generation - but I definitely think that it will give us our share of great ones. That's enough.
Cost is still an issue. We all cheered when Sony announced a sensible £249 price point for the PS3 Slim, but Microsoft's drop of the Elite to £199 has been a very effective spoiler. Yet, as Hugo mentioned, it's well worth remembering the long term costs of ownership. You're getting 802.11g Wi-Fi in the box (though media streamers would have preferred Sony to match Microsoft's forthcoming 802.11n adaptor), and you're also not paying out for Xbox Live Gold membership. I don't think anyone outside of Sony is under the illusion that PSN is as good a service, but it works well enough and the revamped PSN Store is improving all the time. It's also worth mentioning that many retailers are already bundling the £249 PS3 Slim with a free game, and you can expect more deals in the run-up to Christmas.
Overall, the PS3 Slim feels like the console Sony needed to put out at this time. I suspect that most gamers who are simply in it for the games will still opt for the cheaper, more hardcore-focused 360, but with its quiet-running, Blu-ray playback and media-savvy interface, the Slim is a great choice for the mainstream user. When making car analogies, I used to talk about the PS3 as a BMW to the Xbox 360's Ford Focus. The PS3 Slim is more of a VW Golf and, at this stage of the game, that's exactly what Sony needs, and a more realistic choice for the majority.
A more focussed, more affordable, surprisingly quiet PS3. This is the hardware Sony needs to win mainstream hearts and minds. All it needs now is the software.