Any comments from anyone (ahem, Redeye) who can make statements on the accuracy of this?
Until recently, Sony has been remarkably quiet about the online capabilities of their long-awaited console. We are finally seeing the first concrete details of Sony's online offering for the PS3. Over the next couple days I'll be examining the pros and cons of Sony's response to Microsoft's Xbox Live service. After a lackluster showing on the PS2, Sony has vowed to match Microsoft's online service feature for feature, and offer exclusives of its own.
PS3 Online: The Good
Sony has recently unveiled the first in-depth look at the PlayStation Network. Members of the press corps were allowed to experiment with the Cross Media Bar (XMB) and the PlayStation Store. The XMB is reminiscent of the PSP interface, which comes as no surprise given expectations that the PSP and PS3 will be interoperable. You'll eventually be able to download content from your PS3 to your PSP. This includes movies, demos, and even PS1 games.
Even a cursory look at the XMB reveals that Sony has put a lot of thought into the design. The interface is sleek and simple to use. The XMB lays out all of PS3's most anticipated features the PS3 in easily accessible buttons: Videos, Music, Photos, Games, etc. The media bar also provides all the standard functionality of a friends list, allowing you to send messages, add friends, and so on. Unfortunately, the media bar cannot currently be accessed from within any game.
The PlayStation Store has been designed with the same level of care as the XMB. A consistent interface makes for easy store navigation; many would consider this is an improvement over MS's hectic Marketplace environment. It is also obvious that the site is designed to take on the iTunes Store.
Although there are no official plans for this yet, it is possible that the store will eventually be accessible on the Internet as well as the PS3. The design of the store certainly suggests that this wouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. Being able to access your account from work would allow you to download demos and videos so that they are ready for you by the time you get home.
Sony also provides a web browser at no extra cost. It remains to be seen who exactly Sony is targeting with the web browser (perhaps the WebTV demographic), but it is consistent with their goal of making the PS3 a computer. I personally can't see why you'd ever want to browse the web without a mouse or keyboard, but the PS3 also caters for that with their support of all USB standard devices. You can plug in any USB keyboard, and it'll be instantly recognized.
Sony's best new feature is their Electronic Distribution Initiative (EDI). At first, the severe shortage of information on this initiative was alarming. It came across as a hackneyed, half-thought out response to Microsoft's Live Arcade service. However, more information has slowly trickled out in the past few weeks, and the EDI could turn out to be Sony's brightest feature in the next-gen race.
EDI is not just a place for game developers to regurgitate old titles with slightly retooled graphics, nor just a dumping ground for casual games. It is a honest attempt at creating a space for indie games in the console world. EDI has been quietly working with a number of teams to come out with smaller scale games which would benefit from such an approach ("about 40" exclusive titles). One has to only look as far as David Jaffe's latest offering to contemplate the possibilities of such a system. Yes, Sony still has a long way to go to fulfill the potential of EDI, but what we've seen so far is very promising.
Finally, Sony's downloadable service in general seems very promising (EDI being just one part). Game demos and trailers will be available for free. You'll be able to download PS1 games to play on your PSP (and one day on your PS3). Players will be able to access new game content and casual games at varying costs. It wouldn't be a surprise either to eventually see downloadable movies and music available in the PlayStation Store.
All in all, Sony is making a very decent attempt at creating a competitor to the Xbox Live service. However, not everything is perfect with the PS3 online and tomorrow I will explore some of the problems surrounding Sony's strategy.