Saturday, December 20, 2008

My New Sony PlayStation 3, Part II (Installation and Setup)

As I said in My New Sony PlayStation 3, Part I, the Sony PlayStation 3 is a games machine and a Blu-ray player. I got it mostly for the latter. And, as I mentioned in Good Deal on Sony PlayStation 3, through the end of December 2008 you can get a $150 rebate on a PS3 by getting a Sony PlayStation VISA card with which you then buy the PS3.

I did that, and though actually getting the rebate turned out to be a bit harder than I had hoped, it looks like it's finally on its way (see Getting My PlayStation 3 $150 Rebate). Meanwhile, I'm really enjoying the advantages of Blu-ray high-def video when played by the PS3 through an HDMI cable into My New Samsung LN52A650 TV.

Installing my new PS3 was not hard. It replaced an existing DVD player, so as a preliminary step I removed that player and (strictly for aesthetic reasons) replaced the 6-ft.-plus HDMI cables I was originally using for it and my other video components with longer (10-ft.) HDMI cables. The shorter cables I originally used posed a problem because they were too short to sag down behind some furniture and hide themselves. Also, I was using a now-obsolete DVI to HDMI cable for the DVD player, along with a separate left-right stereo audio cable. HDMI carries audio as well as video, so it does not need a separate audio cable.

Yes, an HDMI connection is really the way to go with the PS3, but of course there are other options the PS3 offers for those whose TV lacks HDMI. You can use the PS3's AV MULTI OUT connector and:

Optionally, if you don't want to use an analog audio connection, you can hook an optical-digital audio cable between the PS3 and your TV or AV receiver, as long as the TV or receiver supports it.

You have to supply the cable(s) yourself, unless you're using the supplied AV MULTI OUT-to-composite video and stereo audio cable, which (as does S-Video) limits you to 480i video output resolution.

I don't have an AV receiver yet for the entertainment center I've built around the new Samsung HDTV in my living room, so I didn't need to include a receiver in my PS3 cabling scheme. If I did have an up-to-date, HDMI 1.3-capable AV receiver, I would have run one HDMI cable from the PS3 to the receiver to deliver the audio and video signal, and a second HDMI cable from the receiver to the TV to pass along just the video.

My PS3 is sitting in a horizontal position, à la a DVD player, but I could have chosen to stand it vertically on one of its sides. In the horizontal position it presents a minor problem, in that its top surface is humped, so you can't stack other equipment on it. Luckily, I already had a custom-made acrylic riser from JMK Displays that I could set the PS3 beneath, with a TiVo HD unit on top of the riser.

Making the physical connection was a snap. I just hooked my HDMI cable to the TV and to the PS3. That was it!

At this point, if I had wanted to connect my PS3 to the Internet using a wired Ethernet connection, I would have plugged the Ethernet cable into the back of the PS3. Actually, I am using a wireless network, so that wasn't necessary.

Next I connected the PS3's power cable from the back of the PS3 to an electrical outlet (actually, to one of those on-the-wall outlet extenders that do basically what a power strip would do). Then I toggled the master on/off switch on the back of the PS3 to its "on" position. That put the PS3 in standby mode, with a red LED lit on its front. To get it out of standby mode, I pressed the 1/0 power button on the right side of the front of the system. The red LED turned green, and the system was fully on. (Another way to turn the system on is to press the PS button in the center of the controller.)

It was time to perform the initial setup process of the PS3. For that, I would need to activate the controller that came with the system.

The PS3 comes with a handheld DUALSHOCK 3 wireless controller, an improvement on Sony's earlier SIXAXIS controller, that is ideal for game play, but it is not very easy to use as a remote control for playing Blu-ray videos. (No remote comes with the PS3; you'll have to buy that separately. Sony offers this Bluetooth-compatible remote for $25.)

The Bluetooth-capable controller is usually used wirelessly, but when you install the PS3, you'll at first have to use the included USB cable to connect the controller to the PS3's USB 2.0 port (one of two on the front of the console). That automatically "pairs" (registers) the controller with the PS3 as its controller #1 (there can be up to seven controllers in use at any one time, I believe) and begins charging it (it doesn't have replaceable batteries).

So, again, you need to connect and "pair" your supplied controller right away, as soon as you hook up the PS3. One reason you need to do that is so that you can use the controller's buttons to interact with the PS3 during its initial onscreen setup process. This setup process consists of a series of steps that (a) utilize the TV's screen and (b) require some sort of input from you. It is in this way that the PS3 asks you various questions about how you want your unit's setup to proceed.

To repeat: in order to interact with the onscreen setup options, you'll be using the controller, and it will be (temporarily) plugged into the PS3 console via the supplied USB cable. This turned out to be a bit awkward for me: short cable, bad seating position with respect to a too-close screen. Also, since I had only a passing familiarity with using game-console controllers, I had a hard time figuring out what buttons to use for what. I was able to determine that I could use either the left of the controller's two "control stick" knobs or the array of four buttons on the left side of the controller (for up, down, left, right) to "move around" on the screen and choose from various options displayed there.

The currently selected option is always highlighted on the screen. To confirm a highlighted selection, you use the X ("Enter") button in the group of four on the right side of the controller. To back out of a selection or a whole screen before confirming it, or to cancel a pending selection, you use the O ("Back"/"Cancel") button.

When the setup process begins, you will first be asked what language the PS3 should communicate with you in. I chose English.

Next, you will be asked about which type of video connector you are using for your PS3-to-TV connection, and which video output resolutions to use. I cover this topic in PlayStation 3 Video Resolutions. In my particular case, I specified an HDMI connection and told the PS3 to automatically choose which video output formats to support.

Automatic choosing of output formats is, I believe, possible only when you are using an HDMI connection, as I am, and it applies as well to the automatic choosing at setup time of the audio output format(s) the PS3 is going to use. In my case, it looks as if the PS3 and my TV mutually agreed on converting whatever the selected audio track on a Blu-ray disc is — say, DTS-HD Master Audio at up to 7.1 channels — into Linear PCM 2.0-channel sound (since the TV is limited to reproducing lowly stereo sound).

As I said before, if for some reason you don't want the automatically chosen video and/or audio format, you can elect at setup time to manually specify the format(s) you want. You may in fact (I don't know) have to do this if you aren't using an HDMI connection. Until and unless you specify a better format, though, the PS3 will default to a format that is guaranteed to be usable.

For video, for example, this means defaulting to a standard-def, 480i video signal. When the setup process begins, this is what you'll see on the TV screen. As soon as you tell the PS3 at setup time to switch to using an HD video output signal, you'll then see the result come up right away on the TV screen, which is nice. (Of course, you have the right to stick with the SD signal during setup, and then switch to HD later on, by going into the PS3's Video Options menu and making the change.)

Another thing that must be decided at setup time is what aspect ratio ("TV screen size") your TV has. If you have automatically or manually determined the TV will always be given high-def input — 720p, 1080i, or 1080p — the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio will be automatically chosen. But if you are using either 480p or "Standard (NTSC)" video output from the PS3 — the latter means 480i, by the way — you are given a chance to choose between 16:9 and 4:3.

All the above sounds terribly complicated, but I found the actual setup process to be quick and smooth ... because I am using HDMI, I just told the PS3 to work everything out with the TV and don't bother me with the details!

Once the initial setup is done, you'll get your first taste of the PS3's "home menu" on the TV screen. This "home menu" amounts to the "main screen" of the PS3's "XrossMediaBar" (or "XMB") menu system. It displays several categories across the screen. You navigate to a category using the controller, and once you do the items for that category will be seen stacked vertically around the chosen category, forming a cross.

If you navigate to the Settings category you can access all sorts of settings for your PS3, including revising the video and audio output settings chosen during initial setup. To revise the audio output settings, navigate to Settings —> Sound Settings, then press X on the controller to bring up Audio Output Settings.

To revise the video output formats, navigate to Settings —> Display Settings. Selecting that by pressing X on the controller gives you access to a list of possible settings, including Video Output Settings. Selecting that option lets you re-specify connector type, re-choose the video output formats you want to use, etc.

To find out more about not only how to use the Settings category but also how to use the PS3 in general, you'll want to visit the online PS3 User's Guide. The Settings category is documented specifically here. To see an index of all the topics covered in the guide, click here.

You can get on the Internet and look at the online User's Guide right from the PS3, right on your TV screen!

But before you do that you need to (a) set up your network settings for either a wired (Ethernet) connection or a wireless connection, and then (b) use the network to download and install the latest update to the PS3 system software, assuming your PS3 is like mine was and does not come with the latest update.

I'm assuming you have a broadband (DSL or cable modem) connection to the Internet already in place and connected to your home network. Also, if you are using an Ethernet cable from the PS3 to (say) a router on your (wired) home network, I assume it was plugged in earlier in the installation process. For Ethernet networking, just navigate to Settings —> Network Settings —> Internet Connection Settings in the PS3 home menu, select "Easy," and press the Right button on the controller (or move the left control stick rightward). The PS3 will figure out all the proper settings to get on the Internet.

If you have a wireless home network, as I do, your DSL or cable modem connects via an Ethernet cable to a wireless access point or router (mine is an Apple AirPort Extreme base station). The PS3 will be set up to "talk to" that access point/router wirelessly. This time, after you navigate to Settings —> Network Settings —> Internet Connection Settings in the home menu and select "Easy," you will select "Wireless" on the next screen that comes up, then "Scan" on the next. That brings up a list of wireless networks that your PS3 can "see." You select the network you want to use. Then you configure the usual wireless network security settings: password, encryption key, etc.

Now you can get on the Internet. For ordinary browsing, navigate to Network —> Internet Browser in the home menu. To see the User's Guide, go to Network —> Online Instruction Manuals and proceed from there.

Before you do that, though, you'd better use your Internet connection to download and install the latest PS3 system software. Go to and select Settings —> System Update —> Update via Internet in the PS3's menu system. The latest software will immediately begin downloading. An onscreen progress bar will keep you informed as to the status of the operation. Once the software is downloaded, it will immediately be installed, after which your PS3 system will automatically restart with the new software in place.

Now that you have the latest software, you are all set to look at the online User's Guide, which applies to that level of the software. However, if for some reason you do not have the latest software, you can choose to access the (earlier) User's Guide version that applies to it.

There is still one more thing you'll probably want to do during the installation of your PS3: if you have bought the optional Bluetooth-compatible remote to make it easier to work with Blu-ray discs, you'll need to register this so-called "BD remote control" with the PS3.

Once you have put the supplied pair of AA batteries in the remote, you turn on the PS3 (if it's not already on), navigate to Settings —> Accessory Settings —> Register Bluetooth Device, and press the X button. Next, select the "Register BD Remote Control" option. (Remember, you are doing this using the controller; the remote does not yet function.) Then follow the onscreen instructions, which tell you to press the Start and Enter buttons on the remote simultaneously, until the screen changes. Once the screen changes, the remote is registered and its buttons start to function.

It took me three attempts to get this to work. I have no idea why.

Another thing you'll probably want to do at this point is create a "User" identity for yourself. See this page in the online User's Guide.

The process involves navigating to Users —> Create New User in the home menu, then entering a user name. Once you do that, then while that user name is selected onscreen, you can press the Options button (the one with the triangle on it) to bring up a menu on the right side of the screen. The only item in this menu, Information, can be selected (press X), then press X again to "edit" the user. Editing consists of scrolling up or down through a list of icons to select the one you want to be used to represent the user (you) onscreen. (If you have photos stored on the PS3, you can make one of them your icon.)

Oh, and one more thing. How do you turn the PS3 off? You can press the 1/0 power button on the front of the system for about two seconds, until you hear a beep. But that's clumsy when you're several feet away from the console with a controller (or remote) in your hand. In that case, first you back out of whatever it is you're doing, usually by using the O button and then confirming that you want to stop play or whatever. Once you are back at the home menu, you select Users —> Turn Off System and confirm that you want the system turned off.

That's pretty clumsy too. It gets easier once you realize that the Users category is all the way at the left end of the cross, and then Turn Off System is all the way up. That means you can navigate to it with your eyes closed: left control stick hard left, then hard up.

Still, it would be nice if Sony would make pressing the PS button on the controller/remote turn the system off. Actually, though the printed Quick Reference Guide and the online User's Guide fail to mention this, if you press the PS button on the controller or remote for two seconds, then no matter what the system is doing, the PS3 asks you via the TV screen whether you want to turn off the system, or turn off the remote. If you select the former, it asks for confirmation that you do indeed want to turn off the system. If you give that confirmation, the system turns off!

Yes, it's still pretty clumsy. The reason it has to be clumsy is that powering the system off too readily can sometimes be done inappropriately, causing data loss or corruption or outright damage to the system. If you have to wade through a number of power-off selection/confirmation steps, it's unlikely you'll do any damage.

You'll notice that I have yet to talk about actually using the PS3 to do anything like actually watch a Blu-ray disc or play a PS3 game. Those topics will be covered starting in Part III of this series.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the info but I have a question about the points you get from buying the ps3. I assume you got around 40 thousand points; do you know what the points can be used for? Can you redeem money and rewards; or buy products from sony for a cheaper price?

eric said...

You get points at the Sony Rewards website for various things such as registering a Sony product you have already bought or participating in "program activities" like Sony Rewards Clubs, creating and updating your Wish List and doing member polls and questionnaires.

There are contests in which you can win something such as an item on your Wish List.

You can also buy points using your PlayStation Card, but that doesn't get you a cheaper price.

There is a Deal of the Week which offers cheaper pricing. But most things are at their regular prices. The way you get discounts is to participate in "program activities," get free points, and redeem those points at the time you buy something.

But you do not get points simply for buying a PS3 or something else.

Someone can check me on this, but I believe the Sony Rewards site is more or less a front end to the SonyStyle site where you can buy Sony products. The difference is that at the Sony Rewards site you can redeem points you already have built up at the time you place an order.