November 2, 2006

Playstation 3 : Installation of games required for better performance?

The Playstation 3 will be coming with the wonderful feature of being able to install games onto the console's hard drive, which should speed up game play. This is the next generation, so why does game play need to be sped up? To say it bluntly, Blu Ray drives are just plain slow in relation to the amount of information a Blu Ray disc can hold.
"Originally, Blu-ray Disc drives in production could only transfer approximately 36 Mbit/s (54 Mbit/s required for BD-ROM), but 2x speed drives with a 72 Mbit/s transfer rate are now available." - Wikipedia
PS3 owners will still be able to play games by just putting a disc in, but it is unknown as of this time how bad loading times will be, or if the speed of game play will be affected. Some of the various magazines that have received their PS3 already have stated load times are not a factor and comparable to the PSP. Unfortunately their PSP is different than the ones I've played. The last PSP I touched took upwards of five minutes to load a SOCOM:Fireteam Bravo map. Maybe five minutes is fast in this generation?

Breaking this down further, it means that with the downgraded version of the PS3, only coming with a 20GB hard drive, we're talking about, on average, being able to install four games at 5GB each. Even then, all the Sony talk is pointing out that games like Africa are using almost 20GB of Blu Ray disc space. A huge game may not even fit on the 20GB hard drive that the basic PS3 comes with!

On top of this we really don't know what version of Blu Ray drives are in the PS3. Does the cheaper package come with a cheaper drive? Will all PS3 drives run at the same speed?

Another good question to ask: if the game files are so much bigger on the Blu Ray discs, won't they take longer to read? The more data there is to pull, the more data there is to uncompress. This means longer load times, or Sony really has some kick ass hardware running under the hood. Even with a $600 price tag, I doubt the hardware speeds up the process that much.

It is quite funny to compare this to the PC market. PC games require an installation to run in most cases. The PC game market (pushed by Micro$oft) is moving closer to "plug and play" console style gaming. On the other side, the console market, is now being lead into the area of installing games to get better performance. How long before consoles are so PC like that they require full installs? And how long before PC games are plug and play?

Honestly there are far too many questions looming over the PS3 to make a launch day purchase justifed. Sony does nothing other than downplay concerns, and then restate how the PS2 dominates the market currently. It is that kind of arrogance (splitting from Nintendo) that won them the crown with the first and second Playstation, but it could very well be the reason they lose this round.

Update: 1 April 07 - Edited post and added labels.