What Is PlayStation 3 (PS3): History and Specs

How Sony's PlayStation 3 took home video gaming to a whole new level

PlayStation 3 (PS3) is a home video game console created by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It was released in Japan and North America in November, 2006, and in Europe and Australia in March, 2007. When released, it was the world's most sophisticated video game console to date due to superior graphics, motion-sensing controller, network capabilities, and stellar lineup of games.

The successor of the most popular gaming system ever, the PlayStation 2, the PS3 quickly became the system to beat.

Sony decided to market two versions of the PS3. One had a 60GB hard drive, WiFi wireless internet, and the ability to read various flash ram cards. The lower cost version features a 20GB drive, and does not have the aforementioned options. Both systems were otherwise the same and both cost significantly more than prior competition.

PS3 Console with Sixaxis
PS3 Console with Sixaxis. © SCEA

History of PlayStation 3 Console

PlayStation 1 was released in December, 1994. It used CD ROM-based 3-D graphics, making it an exciting new way to experience arcade-style video games at home. The successful original was followed by three related products: the PSone (a smaller version), the Net Yaroze (a unique black version), and the PocketStation (handheld). By the time all of these versions had been released (in 2003), PlayStation had become an even bigger seller than Sega or Nintendo. 

While these versioned editions of the original PlayStation were hitting the market, Sony developed and released the PlayStation 2. Hitting the market in July, 2000, PS2 quickly became the most popular home video game console in the world. A new "slimline" version of PS2 was released in 2004. Even in 2015, long after it had gone out of production, PS2 remained the best-selling home console ever.

The PS3 console, which competed at its release with Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii, represented a major leap in technology. With its Cell Processor, HD resolution, motion sensors, a wireless controller, and a hard drive that eventually grew to 500 GB, it was wildly popular. More than 80 million units were sold around the world.

PlayStation 3's Cell Processor

When it was released, PS3 was the most powerful videogame system ever designed. The heart of the PS3 is the Cell Processor. The PS3's Cell is essentially seven microprocessors on one chip, allowing it to perform several operations at once. In order to provide the sharpest graphics of any game system, Sony turned to Nvidia to build its graphics card.

The Cell Processor, for all its sophistication, had its pluses and minuses. It was designed to support complex programming — and, at the same time, to resist hacking. Unfortunately, the complexity of the system made it so different from typical CPU's that developers became frustrated and, eventually, stopped trying to create PS3 games.

The game developers' frustration is not terribly surprising, given the extraordinary details of the processor's design. According to the HowStuffWorks website

The "Processing Element" of the Cell is a 3.2-GHz PowerPC core equipped with 512 KB of L2 cache. The PowerPC core is a type of microprocessor similar to the one you would find running the Apple G5.
It's a powerful processor on its own and could easily run a computer by itself; but in the Cell, the PowerPC core is not the sole processor. Instead, it's more of a managing processor. It delegates processing to the eight other processors on the chip, the Synergistic Processing Elements.

Additional Unique Elements

  • PlayStation 3 HD-TV: One of the major selling points of the PS3 was its built-in Blu-ray High-Definition disc player. The PS3 can play new HD Blu-ray movies, PS3 games, CDs, and DVDs. It can even "upscale" the DVD movies you already own to look better on a HDTV. In order to take advantage of the PS3's HD abilities, you need to buy an HDMI cable. Both versions fully support HDTV.
  • PlayStation 3 Network: The PlayStation 3 was the first home console to offer the ability to go online and interact with others during play. This was provided via the PlayStation Network. The PS3 enables you to play games online, download game and entertainment content, purchase music and games, as well as transfer downloaded games to the PSP.

The PS3's network is completely free to use; today, the PlayStation Network offers a wide range of services from streaming video to game rentals. The PS3 also supports chat and web-surfing using the Sixaxis or any USB keyboard.

PlayStation 3 Hardware and Accessories

The PS3 is not only a powerful system, but a beautiful one. The designers over at Sony wanted to create a gaming system that looked more like a piece of high-end electronics than a toy. As these images show, the PS3 looks more like a sound system designed by Bose than a videogame system. When first released, the 60GB PS3 came in shiny black with a silver accent plate protecting the Blu-ray drive. The 20GB PS3 came in 'clear black' and has no silver plate.

One of the biggest surprises the PS3 gave us was its totally redesigned boomerang-shaped controller. The new Sixaxis looked a lot like the PS2's Dualshock controller, but that's where the similarities ended. Instead of rumble (vibration in the controller), the Sixaxis featured motion sensing. The Sixaxis wasn't the only new accessory.

There was a memory card adaptor, Blu-ray remote control, and HDMI AV cable available, as well, along with a laundry list of PS3 accessories that went well beyond existing home video game technology at the time.

PS3 Games 

Game console manufacturers, such as Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, love to spout off about which system is more powerful (really, it's the PS3). But what makes any console worth having are its games.

The PS3 had one of the most impressive lists of games lined up for its November 17th launch. From family friendly, multiplatform games like Sonic the Hedgehog to PS3 exclusive titles designed with the hardcore gamer in mind, Resistance: Fall of Man, the PS3 had a stellar batch of games available from day one.

A Few of the Playstation 3 Launch Titles

  • Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom is one the PlayStation 3's launch titles. This action role playing game allows players to develop one of several characters as they adventure through a fantasy realm. Based on the popular PSP franchise, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom looks to bring stunning visuals and deep gameplay to the PS3 on day one.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Crossfire is one of Japan's most iconic animated series. While gundam games, cartoons, and toys have been huge hits overseas, they have yet to gain widespread popularity in the west. Mobile Suit Gundam: CROSSFIRE hopes to change that by bringing mecha (giant robot) combat to a wider audience. The game revolves around epic mecha combat in which gamers pilot giant robots, smashing trees and firing missiles at each other. CROSSFIRE was a surprise hit of the PS3's launch.

More PlayStation 3 Information

PlayStation 3 was replaced by PlayStation 4 in 2013. PlayStation 4 includes an app version, making it more appropriate for a world in which smartphones are ubiquitous. Unlike PS3, it does not use the complex Cellular Processor. As a result, it is easier for developers to create new games for the system. 

  • Is the PlayStation 3 discontinued?

    Yes. Sony stopped producing PlayStation 3 consoles for the U.S. and European markets in 2016, and discontinued it in Japan in 2017.

  • How much does a PlayStation 3 cost?

    Since Sony is no longer producing new PS3s, the best way to get one is via a third-party seller offering used and refurbished consoles. But this means the prices can vary. Generally, you can find a PlayStation 3 console for less than $300 from sellers like Amazon, Newegg, and eBay.

  • How do you open a PlayStation 3?

    First, disconnect all of the cables and anything plugged into the USB ports. Remove the blue screw with a small flathead screwdriver, remove the sticker (this voids your warranty), and remove the hard drive. Then unscrew the Torx screw and the four smaller star screws. Slide the top lid off of the console and unscrew the seven screws underneath it, then pull upward to remove the top shell.

  • How do you use a PlayStation 3 controller on PC?

    Plug the controller into your PC, then download and run ScpToolkit. Install the DualShock 3 driver and, if you're using Bluetooth, the Bluetooth driver. Make sure the DualShock 4 driver is unchecked. Check out Lifewire's guide to using a PlayStation 3 controller on a PC for more detailed instructions.

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