Last Thursday night, I spent the best part of eight hours sat at my PC watching Xbox 360 launch, continually gossiping with some of you about the various rumours doing the rounds, getting excited about leaks, scans and previously unseen details, and eventually erupting with delight as the whole picture became clear and I had J Allard marching around my desktop waving his disco fingers and telling me that everything I'd thought was true for weeks and months was, in fact, true.
I woke up the following morning very excited. I wanted an Xbox 360. A lot. But I was a little wary. It definitely wasn't a mainstream console. It felt a bit like a console gunning for a subset of a subset - effectively legalising the "chipped" Xbox's finest features, slapping in what PJ McNealy rather astutely labelled a "broadband cash register", and making the whole thing so fully featured, customisable and comprehensive for Xbox Live users that the hardcore Xbox following rightly woke up with me thinking "that's exactly what I was after".
But for all Microsoft's crowing about the "HD era" and dragging the console toward the mainstream, the company has made a pretty substantial HD error; it hasn't actually given us the next generation of gaming technology. Despite supporting virtually everything we could want, it doesn't do it all out of the box and to a high enough standard. Having sat through Sony's exhausting and meticulously detailed conference in LA's Culver City this afternoon, I can tell you with some certainty that PlayStation 3 does these things.
Microsoft was right; this next generation is about high definition, but Sony's going to be the standard bearer. PS3 is ridiculously powerful. It supports progressive scan up to 1080p - significantly better than the Xbox 360's top-end 1080 interlaced resolution - and can do it on two screens at once. It can do things graphically that PCs cannot do, let alone Xbox 360. And things that PCs won't be able to do at least until after the console launches next spring. Xbox 360 games look like high-end PC games; gorgeous, but like games. EA was standing at the PS3 conference talking about dumping status indicators in its Fight Night boxing game because you won't need to look anywhere but the other guy's face to tell what the score is. And we could see the truth of that. When games look so realistic that you don't need status bars, the average person who has no idea about them is likely to have their interest piqued.
Equally thanks to its utterly comprehensive support of every conceivable format, form of media playback and more. The new IP camera will basically let you whack up live video streams wherever you are. It's compatible with everything: PS1 games, PS2 games, EyeToy, PSP (and, as Rob suggested to me earlier, you wouldn't bet against PS3 wirelessly streaming video to the PSP as a kind of remote video handset), Memory Stick, wireless networks, and so on. Xbox 360 does things like this, but it's "ready" to do most of them, rather than doing them out of the box. The only wildcard is online gaming; Sony screwed that up with PS2 Online, which is a woeful service next to Live, and will need to make serious amends with PS3. But when everything else seems so right, it's hard to imagine them letting that slip twice.
But the real reason PlayStation 3 is now far and away the console I'm most looking forward to of these two is simply the games. I didn't wake up last Friday and think "I can't wait to play Xbox 360"; I woke up wanting to own one. Preferably with a Eurogamer faceplate on it. I will wake up tomorrow (or later today for those of you reading this in the UK) wanting to PlayStation 3. And half the stuff I want is brand new; MotorStorm is making my head spin and Eyedentity could be extraordinary. And I honestly want to play Killzone most of all, despite Killzone on PS2 being a game I find soul destroying to even watch someone else play.
Perhaps the biggest blow for Microsoft though isn't that PlayStation 3 is absurdly powerful by comparison, or that it seems to do everything Xbox 360 is talking about as its USPs without those features even making the first page of the press release, or that it seems to have the support of every major company to a far greater degree, or that it has an enormous software line-up already, or that it... Well you get the picture. A console can win through that with decent direction and software; hence PS2 winning the last round.
What's going to be a huge blow is that having spent at least the last couple of years watching its share of the multi-platform market grow and Nintendo's dwindle and Sony's erode slightly, as Xbox proved the best platform for most of those titles, PS3 is not only going to be the platform most developers pin their banner to first in the next generation; the games are actually going to look better this time too. And with that, it's hard to take seriously Microsoft's assertion that it can be number one in this generation. You know what? Frankly, going on what I've seen so far, I'm not even convinced Xbox 360 and PS3 are the same generation.
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