Sony unveils details of PS3 online services

San Francisco (CA) - Late Thursday, during a Playstation 3 event in San Francisco, Sony unveiled details about several features for the PS3 previously kept under-wraps, including online services and available accessories, in addition to the official launch line-up.

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With the 17 November launch for the PS3 less than four weeks away, Sony has finally come forward with official plans for the online aspect of the console. Dubbed the "Playstation Network," it will allow users to download supplemental in-game content for specific titles, purchase and listen to music, and of course compete against and talk with other PS3 owners.

Tapping into the online network will be free to all users, Sony however intends to generate revenues from the service in digital transactions : In addition to purchasing music tracks from the PlayStation Network, users will also be able to connect to the online Playstation store and purchase games and accessories directly from their box. Moreover, following the success of Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Nintendo’s announced virtual console, Sony will offer game downloads through the Playstation Network that will cost $15 each and be downloaded directly to the PS3 hard drive, says Sony.

These downloads, like the Xbox Live Arcade, appear to be mainly focused on casual games, like Lemmings 2 and Go ! Sudoku. GameSpot reports that original Playstation games will also be available for purchase. The price is notable higher than that of similar games on Xbox Live Arcade. XBL Arcade titles are priced around $5 - $10, which is also approximately what Wii virtual console titles will cost in Japan.

The online service is a huge jump from what the PS2 offered. Instead of a universal, community-driven experience, online functionality for the PS2 was limited to individual games. The Playstation Network is much more of a nod to the pioneering Xbox Live service, an immersive online network for Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360 consoles that has been accessed by 60% of Xbox 360 owners, according to Microsoft.

The Wii, which launches in the US on 19 November, will also have online connectivity supported by Nintendo, marking the company’s first home console with a strong focus on online functionality, and thus the first time for three competing consoles to each have dedicated online services.

The Wii will also have a community-driven online platform, with a robust messaging system promised by Nintendo, as well as the "friend code" system that was introduced on the DS, which only allows users to communicate with users they have added to their friends list. Through an online connection, users will be able to purchase and download games from Nintendo’s entire 15+ year console game history, from the NES to the Nintendo 64.

In addition to the new online details, Sony also announced the first batch of PS3 accessories. There are no real surprises here, but for the first time, official prices have been revealed. A PS3-specific high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cable, which allows up to full 1080p resolution on HDTVs, will sell for $50. An HDMI cable is packaged with the premium $600 PS3 units, but it will not be included in the basic, $500 PS3 package.

Also to be available at launch is the PS3 Memory Card Adapter, to retail for $15, which will allow gamers to access game saves from PlayStation and PS2 memory cards. PS3 game saves will be stored on the console hard drive. Sony says the PS3 will be backwards compatible with every officially licensed PlayStation and PS2 game, which is well over 1000 titles. Some reports suggest that the PS3 console has the entire PS2 chipset built into it.

Official Sony brand PS3 Sixaxis controllers will sell for $50, making it twice the price of the current PS2 controllers. Finally, Sony also introduced the official PS3 Blu-ray remote control, which will retail for $30. Sony says it will also be able to control imported and downloaded media files on the PS3 hard drive.

The Sixaxis controller, which received criticism as stealing the key feature from the Wii controller, will have motion sensitive controls, but Sony has been quiet about the specifics. At the San Francisco event yesterday, several games were confirmed to include the controller tilting functionality.

Madden NFL 07, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, Blazing Angels, and multiple games from 2K Sports will all incorporate motion sensing in some way. It’s unknown how crucial this feature will be to these games, which may affect the third-party controller market. For examle, Logitech’s ChillStream PS3 controller, which was announced earlier this month, does not have the tilting functionality in it.

Also, Sony announced the official "launch" line-up, the list of games that will be available from the 17 November release of the PS3 through the end of the year. Sony’s first-party studios will bring out Resistance : Fall of Man, NBA 07, and Genji : Days of the Blade during the console’s first month. Third-party titles include Call of Duty 3, Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion, F.E.A.R., Madden NFL 07, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Untold Legends : Dark Kingdom. Sony did not announce pricing of PS3 games.

Finally, as an incentive to the lucky few who will get their hands on one of the launch consoles, which Sony announced was cut to 400,000 in the US last month, initial shipments of the PS3 will include the Blu-ray disc movie Talladega Nights, as Sony tries to get consumers to become interested in the next-generation format in which they have a high personal stake.

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