Sony PlayStation 3 Gaming Console Becomes Latest Super Audio CD Playback Option [HFR]

Earlier today, Sony released the long-awaited PlayStation 3 gaming console. In addition to providing gaming fans with 1080p level video and a Blu-Ray Disc drive, the console also offers playback of both Single Layer and Hybrid Super Audio CDs in Mono, Stereo and Multichannel Audio sound. The product comes in two editions – a Basic edition selling for a list price of $499 and a Premium edition that sells for a list price of $599. (The difference between the two units is that the Premium unit features Wi-Fi, a 60GB hard disk drive and several flash memory readers while the Basic unit has a smaller 20GB hard disk drive and does not include WiFi or the flash memory readers.)

The Playstation 3 was announced in May 2005 and has been anxiously awaited in the gaming community ever since. Since it was a key product in the Sony line, the company elected to add a host of technologies to it. This includes not only earlier Playstation and Playstation 2 games but the playback of CD Audio discs, DVD Video discs and Super Audio CD discs. The final list of supported disc formats include:

Blu-Ray Disc (BD)

  • PlayStation 3 Formatted BD-ROM
  • BD-ROM
  • BD-R
  • BD-RE

    DVD Video Discs

  • PlayStation 2 Formatted DVD-ROM
  • DVD+R/RW
  • DVD-R/RW

    CD and SACD Discs

  • PlayStation 2 Formatted CD-ROM
  • PlayStation Formatted CD-ROM
  • CD-DA (Audio CD)
  • CD-R/RW
  • Super Audio CD (SACD)

    On the video side, the unit supports both Dolby and DTS formats. The many playback capabilities and features explains the product’s high price for a gaming console – and it results in a unit that is literally covered with technology logos on one side!

    Super Audio CD Playback on the PlayStation 3
    In January, a prototype of the PlayStation 3 was shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Since the prototype was literally “under glass”, it was difficult to learn much about the product. However, information at the CES show indicated that the PlayStation 3 would play both Single Layer and Hybrid Layer SACDs and the SACD logo was very visible on the PlayStation 3 prototype. Checking the information on the released PlayStation 3 product, we find that it does indeed feature Single Layer and Hybrid Layer SACD playback in Mono, Stereo and Multichannel modes.

    The next question is which connection is used to output audio from the player. At the CES 2006 show, a proprietary “Multi AV” audio connector was noted along with an HDMI connector both audio and video. I had speculated that the Multi AV connector was likely the vehicle for Multichannel Super Audio CD playback. That turns out not to be the case.

    The PlayStation 3 manual says that “Audio from Super Audio CDs cannot be output from the system’s digital out (optical) connector. Multi-channel content from Super Audio CDs can only be output from the HDMI OUT connector.” So it appears that while Mono and Stereo SACD audio may be available from the Multi AV connector, 5.1 Surround Sound SACD audio along with Mono and Stereo SACD and Mono and Stereo CD audio is only available via HDMI.

    Dual Disc Playback and the PlayStation 3
    Another interest audio question involves Dual Disc playback. When the PlayStation 3 was announced in May 2005, the Dual Disc format was riding high with support from the major record labels. At that time, Sony indicated that the PlayStation 3 would playback both the Audio and Video sides of Dual Discs, making it the first player to do so.

    Since that time, the major record labels have largely lost interest in the Dual Disc format and Dual Disc sponsor Warner Music has moved on to work on a new format named DVD Album. In terms of Dual Disc support with the PlayStation 3, things seem to have changed since that time as well.

    In the production version of the PlayStation 3, I noted that the Dual Disc was missing from the list of playable disc formats (see list above). Looking through the product’s manual, I found the following comments regarding Dual Disc playback. “A Dual Disc is a dual-sided disc that combines a DVD side and an audio side. Note that the audio side is not guaranteed to play because this type of disc does not conform to the specifications required for an audio Compact Disc (CD).”

    So it appears that Sony is choosing to handle Dual Disc playback on the PlayStation 3 the way that most DVD Video disc player makers do. That is, suggest the use of the DVD Video (aka “Video Side”) and issue a disclaimer about the CD Audio (aka “Audio Side”) on the product. In that respect, their position is closer to Sony’s earlier thoughts about Dual Disc use on their original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 devices (see link below) rather than the certified Audio Side and Video Side Dual Disc playback that was originally discussed.

    By now, I’m sure that most High Fidelity Review readers have heard that due to “component shortages” related to the Blu-Ray Disc drive, quantities of the Playstation 3 in the Japan, U.S., Canada and Asian markets will be limited for the next few months. These shortages are also have said to delayed the European and Australian release of the product until March 2007.

    In many areas, potential PlayStation 3 buyers lined up at stores at midnight to see if they could snag a unit at its list price. However, due to the shortages noted above, most stores only had tens or at best hundreds of PlayStation 3 units available. So finding a PlayStation 3 at a local store is likely to be quite challenging and it may be awhile before you can try playing some of your SACD discs on a PlayStation 3 device.

    For those not fortunate enough to grab a unit at retail, a number of PlayStation 3 consoles have appeared on eBay – at eye popping prices of $1,000 – $4,500 each. Interestingly, U.S. computer store chain CompUSA has earmarked its allocation of PlayStation 3 units as a “bonus” when one buys a Sony branded flat panel TV! So I would suggest that anyone who wants a PlayStation 3 and plans to spend big to get one might want to stop by CompUSA. At least that way, you can get a nice flat panel TV as well.