Monday, August 20, 2007

Console Post of the Week: The Homebrew Comparison

I can now comment on the PS3 user experience, since I have one.

What the?

I wrote several months ago that I'd get a PS3 when I felt the price was reasonable. Well, that $365 price (including $15 shipping) in conjunction with applying for the Sony Style card (see here) was too good to pass up. I don't expect the PS3 to be $349 before next Christmas, so I'm basically getting a sixteen month jump.

So I have a PS3 and a 360 that came back from repair just a few weeks ago. And I also had a friend bring over his new Premium 360 (with the new heatsink and HDMI port) for a few hours.

Comparison time.

I bought an SPL meter a few months ago because I figured it would come in handy someday (I know, that's incredibly stupid, but as things turned it, it did come in handy). So here are some measurements, and please remember, I'm not Extreme Tech or Maximum PC.

Please note that the base sound level in my office is .5-1 dB lower for the PS3 measurements than the 360 measurements, because the PS3 is about two feet farther away from my computer (which is the only source of sound in the room for the "base" measurement).

If you're wondering why I didn't just turn off my computer, I tried that, but the base reading was then so low that it didn't even register on the SPL meter.

The readings were taken 29" inches away from each console. Why 29"? I picked what looked like a good spot (close enough to get a good idea of the differences) and didn't measure it until AFTER I'd taken the readings. Good grief.

None of the systems were inside a stereo cabinet. They were all out in the open, on the floor. I did the testing process twice with each system, and the numbers matched each time.

Here we go:
base sound level in room: 36.5-37.5 dB
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 37.5-38.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 41.5 dB-43 dB

A few notes. It's been widely reported that the PS3 is "quiet," but it's also important to note that the sound it does make has a pleasing timbre--it's low-pitched and there's no "whine."

Premium Xbox 360 (repaired unit which I've had for a couple of months after my launch system croaked):
base sound level in room: 37-38.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 39.5-40.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 47.5-49 dB

My refurbed 360 is both much louder and more annoying, because the sound is higher-pitched in general and has a little whine to it. Plus I've got the Samsung DVD drive (see which drive you have here), and it's high-pitched, chattery seek is quite aggravating.

Here's where it gets interesting, though. Take a look at the numbers for the new Premium 360 with HDMI (this is the $349 unit, not the Elite):
Premium 360 with HDMI:
base sound level in room: 37-38.5
console steady-state (no disc in drive): 39.5-40.5 dB
console after 15 minutes (game disc looping): 45.5-46.5 dB

It was easy to hear the difference in the new 360 and my refurbed unit, and the new console (this one, anyway) had a Benq drive which was remarkably quiet--to my ears, barely louder than the PS3 Blu-Ray drive, which spins at a lower speed. It's a huge difference compared to the Samsung drive, and again, pitch is important, because what noise the Benq does make is much lower in pitch than the whiny Samsung drive.

Subjectively, here's what I thought overall. First, I could have picked out any of the three units with my eyes closed after hearing them once. My refurbed 360 (unfortunately) is loud enough to be annoying, particularly with the "whiny" factor. The new 360 was pretty pleasing in comparison, and the Benq drive is truly impressive. The steady-state noise of the console is still higher in pitch than the PS3, though, and accoustically, the PS3 is least offensive of all.

I didn't get a chance to check out the HDMI visuals on the new 360 (or the PS3) because I don't have the HDMI blade for the plasma (older Panasonic models have slots where you can insert cards with various connections, instead of having dedicated ports).

Here's one more interesting note: I picked up the controller that came with the new 360 and immediately disliked it. For one, it somehow felt lighter than my launch controller, and the D-pad also felt flimsier and less precise.

So I, um, went to Fry's and weighed them. Don't even ask how, and if you have to ask why, you're reading the wrong blog.

Results? The new 360 controller (with 2 AA batteries) weighs 273 grams. My "old" launch controller (with 2 AA batteries) weighs 281 grams. And yes, I felt the difference.

I also found a cosmetic difference in the two controllers. My launch controller has a very dark grey, almost metallic stripe running along the front of the controller (when you're holding it, that is). The stripe on the "new" controller is a much lighter gray, and the gray is flat, not slightly metallic.

I don't know how long the controller has been different, but I far prefer the old one.

Okay, here are some notes on the new 360's. None of the units you're seeing for sale right now are using the 65nm CPU, to the best of my knowledge. The "new" Premium units have the new heatsink design and also have an HDMI port (which is noted on the box).

When will the 65nm unit start shipping? No one knows at this point.

Circling back around (good grief-what a crap transition), what do I think of the PS3 so far? I think it's very nice for $350, and I'm quite pleased. At $499, I wouldn't have been interested, due both to the price and the game selection at present.

--console is very quiet, and so is the Blu-Ray drive
--did I mention that it's quiet?

--the controller feels like a flimsy piece of crap, at least to me. And the L2 and R2 buttons have some kind of funky thing going on with them where they feel like they're bending when you press them (it's very hard to describe what it feels like, but it's not good).
--the system menu is tremendously convoluted and seems very clunky compared to the 360's system menu.

In a nutshell, the noise level is significantly better than the 360's (and quite impressive), but I far prefer the 360's controller and system menus.

The 360 is getting price cuts in Europe this week, and here's an excerpt from the press release (thanks Kotaku):
From Friday, 24th August 2007, new estimated retail pricing will come into effect for Xbox 360 in the UK. The Xbox 360, which includes a 20GB hard drive and one wireless controller, will be reduced by £30 to carry an estimated retail price of £249.99. The entry-level Xbox 360 Core console, perfect for those wishing to make their first foray into the gaming and entertainment world of Xbox, will be reduced by £20 to carry an estimated retail price of £179.99.

Information on how this translates to the rest of Europe should be announced shortly.

One last note this week. Julian Dasgupta submitted information for recent sales in Europe, and it's quite interesting. The first link is from a Eurogamer article, and here's an excerpt:
Currently the console [Wii] is outselling the 360 in the UK by over four to one, and the PS3 by more than six to one each week. If it keeps it up, it should pass the GameCube's lifetime UK sales figure of just over a million by the end of September.

Naturally, then, its next milestone will be to overhaul Microsoft's lead in the UK - which, if the current trend continues, could be before the end of October. Although with Halo 3 due out at the end of September and rumours of a possible price-cut to coincide with it, Nintendo will have its work cut out to claim the number one spot that early.

You can also extrapolate from those numbers that the 360's unit sales are currently 50% higher than the PS3 in the UK.

Julian also sent in some numbers for Germany (source here, in German). Here's his translation:
By the end of July...

Wii surpassed the Xbox 360 with 291,000 vs. 281,000 units sold so far altogether since the respective launches of the systems (also shows that the console market still in Germany is still rather small since the there are more Wiis sold in the US per *month*). PS3, which launched on March 23rd over here, sold 99,500 units so far.

Also, sales in Germany for July (source here, again in German):

The Wii marches onward.

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