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In Kids & Family Reviews

OK, so the PS3 isn't free ... but it's pretty close.

The new dad's guide to a "free" Playstation 3


Like every expecting dad, I received tons of unsolicited advice this spring while my wife was pregnant with our first child. Two tips jumped out at me: get comfortable with spending much more time at home, and make sure to photograph your baby as much as possible.

So, through a strange twist of events, beginning with my DVD player pooping out, I earned myself a "free" Playstation 3. OK, it wasn't exactly free, but read on, and you'll see what I mean.

And new dads, you may choose to use a different angle with your wives to score your free PS3 -- but this racket is so cool, I just had to share it with you.

First, look at that old DVD player you own and determine its remaining useful life. Mine crapped out at an especially opportune moment, which is when I considered the advice that, as new parents, we could forget going to movies and instead look forward to renting them.

"Lo-def" DVD players are already obsolete, and if you have a good TV (like I do), you already know that. However, the cheapest name-brand Blu-Ray players start at around $300, and a PS3 system -- which plays Blu-Ray discs -- costs $400. In other words, it will really only cost you an extra $100 to get yourself a kick-ass video game system, since you're gonna need a DVD player that will last. Buying a $100 lo-def DVD is really just throwing your money away.

But here's where it gets good. Taking still photos of that newborn is great, and I have more than 1,000 accumulated from her first three months. But I also wanted to capture her on video, and I recently looked at some of the home movies my dad shot on VHS in the early '80s. Even though they were cutting edge at the time, they are barely watchable now. I also looked at some footage I shot on my mini-DV camera just a few years ago, and on my hi-def TV, they don't look good. I imagine that when my daughter watches her video in 20 or 30 years, it will look as bad as those old home movies from my childhood look now.

So, just to see what's out there, I checked into HD camcorders, and most of them are really cost-prohibitive. But the newest models don't record to DVD or hard drive, they actually use the SD memory cards that your digital camera uses, and that technology is driving down prices fast.

And that's when I scored my coup. The Panasonic HDC-SD5, which just got discontinued, now sells for $400 on Amazon.com. It's a full-resolution 3CCD AVCHD camera, which means it shoots in the highest resolution out there. Because it has very few moving parts, it's tiny and light. It's not loaded with crazy features, but in decent light it performs very well. Two months ago, this camera sold for about $1,000.

The best part, however, is that Sony and Panasonic have worked together on this AVCHD format, and the PS3 plays the format natively. In other words, I hook up a cheap USB card reader to the PS3 and play the footage in crystal-clear HD, right through my Playstation. I don't have to use a DVD burner or even plug the camera into the TV, though both are possible.

It gets even better. Memory cards are cheaper than ever -- I bought an 8GB card for $17 on dealram.com, and that size stores about 80 minutes of video at its maximum quality. But it's not necessary to buy new cards every time you fill them; instead you can treat your PS3's internal hard drive as a media library, dumping movies there for later viewing and eventual archiving when Blu-Ray DVD burners down in price.

Of course, there are a few caveats that are worth mentioning. First, the AVCHD format is quite new, and it doesn't play nicely with Macs. Though I can import the footage into iMovie or Final Cut Pro, the files are gigantic when decompressed for editing, and my Macbook laptop doesn't have nearly the processing power to do anything with them. Aspiring filmmakers may have to wait until computers catch up, though I can't speak for PC users.

Second, the PS3 isn't quite where it needs to be in terms of file management. Each clip shot on the camcorder becomes its own file, much like individual photos shot on a digital camera. So while you can watch video off a card through your PS3, you can't exactly copy an entire sequence of shots. You can copy individual clips, but since you can't create folders on the PS3 (yet), copying a bunch of shots is mostly useless. Oddly, you can mount an external hard drive to the PS3, but you can't watch the AVCHD video from it, either. I'm settling for a work-around until Sony gets its act together: I have a cheap and huge external USB hard drive, and when I fill up a memory card, I just dump its contents onto the drive. When I want to watch the video, I copy the contents back on to the SD card and plug it into the PS3. It's a little clumsy, but not too bad, and eventually I'm sure the PS3 will work with video as advertised.

Anyway, back to my original point: $800 gets you a high-def DVD player, camcorder and a system that can play it back. It will capture the best video of your baby that money can buy, and while it will be well-outdated by the time your kid graduates from high school, it's as good as it can be right now.

And oh yeah, dad gets a video game system, too. Don't fool yourself: you won't have a ton of time in the early months to use it. But while baby sleeps, you just might squeeze in a game of Madden -- and you'll feel guilt-free while playing it.

Talkbacks

fockel | Nov. 25, 2008 at 11:21 a.m. (report)

that cam is now $588 at amazon.

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longveu | Nov. 24, 2008 at 9:28 a.m. (report)

I think you're frugality may have overcome your nerdality...there is a studious avoidance of actuality naming a scanning resolution of this camera. They point out the pixel count (1920 x 1080) but neglect to mention if that's 1080i or 1080p. Most people agree 720p is better to watch than 1080i as the progressive scanning method tends to produce a much more accurate, sharper image than interlace. Of course, this could also be nothing more than sour grapes from a guy who owns neither an HD camcorder nor a PS3 and is sitting on and being taunted by an unopened Wii (trying to sell it for cash-money after Thanksgiving). I demand you take me to a karaoke bar! Verdant!

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FunkyBrewster | Nov. 23, 2008 at 10:30 a.m. (report)

the best tech article i've read lately good job... i just need the cam and the card... what deals! I bought the Eye Of Judgement PS3 video game for 29.99 at walmart and it came with the PS3 Eye Camera which normally sells for that much(Great Family Gift because you get a game and the camera can be used with a free download called Eye Create to make home movies there in your living room edit them and store them) I just can't find a keyboard for the PS3 that does everything it needs to. I haven't been able to find one that lets you zoom in and out so I end up having to use the controler AND the keyboard when i surf the net on ps3. Anybody know a keyboard that lets you zoom and in and out on ps3 so i can put down the controller?

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LouManske | Nov. 21, 2008 at 11:46 a.m. (report)

Time to play Madden while the baby sleeps? I assume you meant "while the baby mama sleeps."

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viewfromnyave | Nov. 21, 2008 at 11:05 a.m. (report)

Well, if I sell one of the kids and the other one decides not to eat this month, I should be able to afford the $800. Oh wait, I need to get a HD TV on top of it. Looks like the other kid and the wife have to go too.

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