The current generation of gaming consoles have gone above and beyond being just devices to play video games. They have become entertainment systems in their own right, that can play DVDs (and blu-rays in the case of the PPS3), stream content online, and even act as media servers.
So if you were among the lucky few that Santa left a shiny new PS3 for under the tree, but you’re still trying to get the hang of it, we cobbled together a few tips to transform your console from a gaming system into so much more.
Below we’ve provided a few suggestions for how to get the most out of your Sony PS3.
(We’d also like to note that you if you have an HDTV we recommend using an HDMI cable to connect to your TV, which is sold separately. You can use the composite hook-up but it won’t have the same picture quality.)
To get the most out of your PS3, the best place to start is at the PlayStation Store (PSN). So the first thing you’ll need to do is to set up a PSN account so that you can access the store online.
For the most part, all you need is an e-mail address to access the basic package. Purchases can be made using a credit card or pre-paid PSN cards that are available in brick-and-mortar stores, and the content includes full-length games, movies, TV shows, and much more, including original content.
Unlike Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, the PlayStation Network is free to use. The friends list and features within aren’t as robust, but it is serviceable, and you can enjoy online gaming at no additional cost. There is, however, the PlayStation Plus premium service, which will run you a reasonable $49.99 per year.
Included with that, you gain access to services that those using the free service can’t get. From time to time, Plus will feature a game at an extremely discounted price, or even for free. Game demos will be available for free, as will some additional game content. Certain other services become available, like the ability to save game data to a cloud service, and early access to select beta testing opportunities for upcoming games. Included with each Plus service is a free subscription to the online magazine, Qore, which focuses on the gaming industry in general, and Sony products specifically. For those that plan to use the system often, the Plus service is worth your consideration.
As mentioned there are tons of gaming options in the store. Get fun mini-games like Pixel Junk’s Monsters or Stardust HD. There’s also DLC for purchase, like map packs for current games like Battlefield 3.
Sony has also been putting full PS3 games intp the store. Not all of them are new releases, but older titles like the original Assassin’s Creed, inFamous, and BioShock are available for purchase. For long time gamers that are looking to delve into nostalgia, or gamers on a budget looking to expand their personal gaming history, Sony also offers dozens of PlayStation One and PlayStation Two games at respectable prices.
Personalize your PS3
Using the store, players can download new themes and wallpapers that add your own unique touch to the system. Themes change the background image and icons on the XMB bar and offer your system a bit of aesthetic personalization. If you’re a little more on the creative side, you can create your own theme and upload it to the system. You will need the PS3 custom theme toolbox first though, which is available on the PlayStation website.
Movies and more
Using the store you can rent movies and TV shows that are produced under the Sony label along with any other companies that they have deals with, mostly though its Sony movies. You can also buy them outright in SD or HD quality at varying prices. The selection is huge, and the playback is top notch.
The PS Home both is and isn’t part of the store. What it is, is a virtual world that you can play in with an avatar. The avatar gets his or her own digital apartment that players can use to store game props, posters, and furniture to customize your avatar’s look and lifestyle. Inside of Home, there are tons of areas to explore that relate to games or companies like the EA Sports Bar, the Uncharted room, or the inFamous city streets. Playable games are scattered throughout Home, and Sony does big events that let users win avatar items or even early access to demos and games.
We should note that Home does take up a significant amount of memory on the PS3, and it does slow-down from time to time, so an Ethernet connection instead of the built-in wi-fi may be worth considering.
Find your friends
Of course, the PlayStation also allows for online gaming, both with and without the Plus subscription. A friend’s list will come in handy for this. If you know you’re friends’ PSN screen names, make sure to add them to your list, which can be found on the far right of the XMB menu. Once you’ve added your friends, you can chat with them, or join in any game like Little Big Planet 2 or Modern Warfare 3 that features online play.
Movies and TV
To get the most entertainment out of your PS3, we recommend downloading the Netflix and Hulu Plus apps. Yes, you do need to have paid accounts (assuming you don’t already have an existing account) with these companies for the the services to work, but it’s worth it to get the latest movies and TV shows streamed right to your console. Plus, once you have an account the service will work on any computer you log in to.
Even if going online isn’t your thing, the PS3 is an ideal device for a home entertainment system, thanks to the built in blu-ray player. The most recent update to the player allows for 3D blu-ray playback (as long as your TV is compatible), so that alone makes the PS3 a good purchase for home theater fans.
Sports fans will love the options available to them with the PS3. MLB.tv, NFL Sunday Ticket, and NHL Gamecenter are all available on the system. All three apps stream live games (from a list you can choose from), show highlights, and have archives of past games. They also provide the latest scores, stats and schedules. While the apps are free to download, the services are not free—prices vary based on service. Still, if you’re a fan and were considering purchasing these packs on your cable service, these are must haves.
Briefly, we’ll note that music can be put on to the PS3 in a variety of ways, including directly loading songs on to the system, using the Music Unlimited app (paid subscription required), or setting up the PS3 as a media center.
If you didn’t get a PlayStation Move with your system, you can always go grab a bundle for about $100 that ccomes with a PlayStation Eye and the Move controller. The Move adds motion gaming that is similar to the Nintendo Wii. Some of the better games on the system for the Move include Dead Space: Extraction and the Time Crisis games. It’s up to you if motion gaming is something that you want or not.
One really nice feature about the PlayStation 3 is that you can turn it into a media server. This means that you can stream movies, music, TV shows, and other similar files from your home PC (or Mac) to the console (see the link above for details on how to set it up).
You’ll need to do some set-up on the computer side of things as well as the PS3 to get this working, but once it’s done you can play almost any movie or music file that you have on your PC on your PS3. It’s great for home movies, photos, and any other digital content that you want to see on your TV.
For tips on how to set up the PS3 as a media center check out our advice for PC and Mac.
We do want to mention that while you can access tons of great content with the various apps and store options, you might not want everyone in your family accessing some of that content.
The PS3 comes with parental controls that you can set up from the system options menu – this is on the far left of the XMB menu. You can rate what types of content that you children can access. For some this system is a bit confusing because Sony used a number system. You can find what the numbers mean in the manual, but as a brief guide here’s what they mean for games:
0 – ESRB RP – Rating Pending
2 – ESRB EC – Early Childhood
3 – ESRB E – Everyone
4 – ESRB 10 – Everyone 10+
5 – ESRB T – Teen
9 – ESRB M – Mature
10 – ESRB AO – Adults Only
If, however, this seems to confusing you can always set up separate accounts that are password protected with specific parental controls for the youth account.