Recently, Sony rep Eric Lempell premiered the Playstation 3's in-game XMB system along with their answer to Xbox 360's "achievements", the PS3 trophy system. Jubilant PS3 owners can now listen to their favorite tracks during those marathon CoD4 sessions, message their friends without leaving Snake in the cold, connect Bluetooth headsets in-game and even enter a different game - all without quitting back to the XMB.
True, 360 owners have had the privilege of using these exact features for the past two and a half years, but with an ever expanding market for Blu-Ray, a wealth of excellent titles for '08 and Playstation Home on the way, Sony's now burgeoning online service can now compete directly with Microsoft's.
Both PSN and Xbox Live allow you to download arcade games, download demos, additional content for games, trailers and wallpapers for your menu. Both offer roughly the same amount of demos each Wednesday and Thursday, but the library of downloadable games is strikingly different. While both services have experienced great success in allowing new developers to flex their creative muscle, the arcade game offering of Xbox Live slightly trumps that of the PSN.
Not to be outdone, Sony has managed to tap their Playstation One library while also allowing for larger games such as Warhawk and Gran Turismo 5: Prologue to be downloaded directly from their network. With games such as SOCOM: Confrontation and WipeOut HD looming near, Sony's downloadable lineup is looking strong.
It's also worth noting that each service provides a wealth of wallpapers, themes and gamerpics, but you'll have to shell out a few bucks for them on XBL - not so on the Playstation Network. In keeping with Sony's community mentality, gamers are free to create, share and download their own custom themes for the XMB. Both stores are remarkably easy to access and navigate, and though the Live interface is for the most part aesthetically pleasing, advertisements might prove an eyesore for some. Finally, Xbox Live allows users to download Movies and TV shows, a feature to be released for the PS3 later this summer.
Speed & Downtime: Xbox Live
While download speeds have improved significantly since the launch of the Playstation 3, they have not yet reached the excellent speeds of Xbox Live. On average, a single demo download will take at most a few minutes while PSN downloads upwards of twenty minutes to a half hour depending on size. Both systems allow for background downloading, slightly easing the pain of waiting for a game/demo/trailer. Still, until Sony can further improve the download speeds from the Playstation Store, we give the nod to Xbox Live.
Firmware Updates: PSN
This is undoubtedly one of the true shining spots for Sony's PS3; their dedication to improving the system's hardware since its inception has been nothing short of stellar. While the updates have come quite frequently, the amount of features added to the console greatly outweighs the firmware's download times.
The list includes, but is not limited to, upscaling PSOne and PS2 games and DVD's, remote play, background downloading, a new storefront, Folding@home, wallpapers, video chat, and now in-game XMB and trophies - An extremely impressive amount of features to be implemented in only a year and a half. While Sony provides these updates only a rolling basis, Microsoft issues a few large updates per year.
Achievements vs. Trophies: TIE
Sony has taken achievement whoring to a whole new level with the recent addition of the trophy system, which allows gamers to track their accomplishments within the Playstation 3's XMB. Not only will you be able to earn varying levels of 2-D trophies (3-D trophies will be implemented in Home), but the leveling system adds an RPG feel to the system, something welcome to a great majority of the gaming community. All is not perfect yet, however, as gamers who have purchased and completed games in the past must complete them once more after firmware 2.4 is implemented.
Will Sony's new addition push more gamers to buy multiplatform releases on the PS3? Well, those who have dedicated years to their Xbox Live gamerscore won't exactly leap to the PS3, as the Xbox Live achievement system has long been, and still remains the leader in competitive gaming. However, in time, more and more gamers will purchase games for the PS3 for the sole purpose of earning trophies to increase their gamerscore, an incentive Sony has not been able to offer until now.
This will be the hot topic of debate amongst Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 gamers over the coming months and years. With Sony offering all the same features of the Microsoft's Xbox Live, why should gamers be required to pay $50 per year? It might not seem like a whole lot initially; however, gamers looking to game online for five to six years will end up paying $250 to $300 dollars, the price of the 360 console itself. We love XBL, but with Sony's recent additions to the PSN, we think it's time Microsoft halved the cost of entry. Until then, Sony offering their service for free makes Microsoft look like Scrooge McDuck.