Firmware 2.40: Is Playstation 3 finally the finished product?

By Mike, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 10:27 GMT

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After around 19 months since its launch in Japan, tomorrow will see the release of PlayStation 3’s Firmware 2.40. The update’s a major software upgrade adding many features the community’s been demanding for years. So. Can we finally consider the PlayStation 3 to be the finished article?

The features added by 2.40 have been met with open arms by the Sony fan-base, whereas if we’re being honest, we all expected these things to have been included “out of the box” in 2006. Of course, it’s a positive sign that Sony has listened to users and invested time and money into making these changes, but the elephant refuses to move from the room: why did the company think PlayStation 3 was suitable for release without these functions all those months ago?

While many rejoice at being able to access friends lists in-game and gasp at fact that you can now play music stored on your console’s HDD – very welcome features, obviously – it seems the most integral fact of console multiplayer gaming has been overlooked: cross-game invites.

Receiving a game invite, pressing a button and being instantly transported to a lobby where your mates are all waiting, has been a Xbox 360 standard since launch, and was actually first realised on the original Xbox with Halo 2. However, with the official Sony word on this matter being, “Cross-game invites are not available in this system software update,” and, “We are evaluating opportunities to expand on the new features delivered in 2.40,” we wonder just how much longer we’ll have to wait.

Another omission is the ability to talk to people while playing other games, as is an in-game private chat facility. Console gamers have had access to these features for almost three years with Xbox 360: surely Sony needs to implement them sooner rather than later? Yet again however we are told, “We are evaluating the opportunity to offer voice chat.”

And it’s not just the games

Games aside, there are still gaps left by 2.40 in PS3’s multimedia functionality. Kaz Hirai remains unbending on the fact that PlayStation 3 is “just a games machine”, and yet update after update adds features such as DivX support and super-mega-Dolby Digital Blu-ray playback.

With that in mind, then, it must be asked why the Playstation 3 is the only high definition console on the market to not include an onboard scaler. The problem was highlighted just a few weeks after launch, and although there’s an 86-page thread on the subject on dedicated Playstation forums, by dedicated PlayStation fans, Sony so far has left it to individual developers to implement 1080i support instead including it in the machine’s software. Why?

Another fundamental feature for a high tech device is simultaneous output of Dolby Digital and stereo sound. When the kids are in bed and daddy can enjoy his games in true surround, he shouldn’t have to quit a game, access around six different menu functions and then finally reload the game. No. Daddy should be able to simply turn on his surround amp, turn down the television and away he goes. This currently isn’t possible. Fortunately, 2.40 has now made it possible to pause the game, access the XMB, and manually change it without having to quit out, which is a vast improvement, but it’s still far from perfect design.

Even the added feature of custom soundtracks has been tarnished, as the recent FAQ reveals that only specific games will support the feature, thus leaving yet another thing for developers to sort out themselves.

As PlayStation 3 owners, we have a lot took look forward in terms of games. We’ve recently been treated to the excellent Metal Gear Solid 4 and the mouth-watering prospect that is LittleBigPlanet is now only months away. However, we remain suitably nonplussed as to why these exclusions to the machine’s infrastructure continue.

While everyone – including us – is looking forward to 2.40 tomorrow, it’s hard to take the new features as anything other than a belated apology from a company who continues to make such basic, glaring omissions to PlayStation 3’s funtionality.

How long will we have to wait? Who knows. As to whether the machine can be classed as finished with 2.40, for the reasons stated above, we certainly hope not. Roll on 2.50.

By Mike Bowden

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