(The following is not intended as a tutorial)
Sony’s PlayStation 3, the once touted ‘unhackable’ console.
So unhackable, it is, that softmodding at present requires little more than a USB flash drive and active internet connection. While the PlayStation Store’s foiled retirement plans are still making press headlines, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the world of CFW (custom firmware).
I argue why I still find a jailbroken PS3 to be a relevant platform, worthy of occupying space on your shelf.
I only recently acquired my PS3 to rediscover some old exclusives. I wanted a cost effective way to play the likes of Persona 5 and the original, still yet to be ported Crash Bandicoot games. I’d never owned a PS3 prior to this. I was only familiar with some of its library after playing a handful of remasters on my brother’s PS4. Like many, I opted for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 during its rein throughout the seventh gen. Despite this misfortune, a PS3 would still find its way into my home years later.
Installing a custom firmware was high on my agenda upon getting my system, and so I was punctual about finding a fully exploitable model:
All ‘fat’ models, both NORD and NAND, regardless of PS2 BWC, can be exploited to run a fully modified firmware. The Slim is somewhat of a mixed bag, although all hope isn’t lost. With some exceptions for launch 3000 models, 3000 series Slim models, as well as their more compact sibling, the Super Slim cannot be fully exploited with CFW (see PS3 HEN). All 2000.x models are fully exploitable, however.
You may view my appendix here.
That being said, I opted for the Slim 2501A model and embarked on my jailbreaking journey. My observations are outlined below:
- PS2 Classics Emulator
The nearly perfect backwards compatible… slim?
A Cobra-enabled CFW (see Rebug) enables you to run PS2 ROMs, loosely supporting the greater majority of the PS2 library, albeit with some caveats. This is thanks in part to Sony’s own PS2 Classics Emulator: a software-based emulator which emulates the PS2’s hardware using the PS3’s own Cell/RSX. This mode is not enabled on unmodified OFW, as it was primarily geared towards developers in effort to port games for resale on the PlayStation Network. CFW will unlock this mode for both CEX and DEX modes.
As can be expected with all software emulation, ROMs played in this mode vary wildly in accuracy and performance. Some games will play flawlessly without error, while others may contain minor rendering inaccuracies or audio synchronization issues. There are some games, however, that just won’t work at all. Fortunately enough, the latter is seldom the case. You can view a compatibility index here.
Do bear in mind that the software emulator lacks access to the disc drive, so you won’t be able to start PS2 game discs directly as you ordinarily would. Instead, you’ll need to rip your discs to ISO format or download an ISO ROM from the internet. I won’t source those for legal reasons, but a quick search can lead you to just about any ROM you can hope to find. File browsers, such as ManaGunZ, will allow you to mount NTFS-formatted USB2.0 drives and copy the ROMs directly to system storage. You can then launch your dumped game from ManaGunZ, or directly from the XMB using by using webMAN-mod.
The quality is quite good. You have the added benefit of 720p software upscaling thanks in part to the PS3’s HDMI connection. Moreover, you can enable screen filtering to smooth out rough edges, just like on a native BWC PS3. Note, however, this does come at the cost of slight reduction in detail. See example below:
One notable perk about booting ROMs over discs is the ability to install mods. For example, you can patch many games to take advantage of a native 16:9 FOV. The same also holds true for original BWC models, provided you are on a custom firmware.
- Multi-region Blu-ray Player
Another untapped area of a modified PS3 is its increased multimedia capabilities. Through multiMAN, you can change your console’s region on a whim. You can switch from Region 1 to Region 2 or vice versa, essentially giving you a mult-region Blu-ray player. Even more cunning is Movian. More specifically, a PS3-specific build of Movian: a multimedia playback program primarily geared toward low power Android TV boxes and Linux devices.
By using this player, you can play video streams from various sources, access local network streams (with limitations), and play most common media formats from NTFS-formatted USB storage devices. Local video files are decoded in software by the CELL, supporting bitrates up to 12 mb/s for h.264/x.264-encoded content. I have 2 PS3’s now dedicated solely for multimedia. Snazzy.
You can expect most of your torrented library to play here.
Like its desktop PC counterpart, PS3 builds of RetroArch provide a single interface in which you can download individual emulator ‘cores’ to play various retro console ROMs. The application starts with a familiar XMB interface, akin to the PS3’s own style of navigation. Emulation for classic 2-D consoles, such as SNES and Genesis is fantastic. However, heftier systems such as the PSX and N64 are often too taxing for the CELL to emulate.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to touch on XrossMediaBar (XMB) styling. Having a jailbroken system grants you the ability to tweak your system’s appearance. You can change the animated waves that show in the background, style the icons, change sounds, even switch out the startup logo at boot.
- Health & Performance
While nothing beats a fresh re-paste of thermal compound, setting a custom fancurve goes a long way in ensuring your system doesn’t go the way of the KFConsole and roast itself in the absence of chicken to prepare.
My unmodified Slim peaked around 85° C during an Uncharted 1 session, which is less than ideal for device longevity. Ideally, the CELL/RSX shouldn’t exceed far beyond 60° C. Setting a fairly aggressive fancurve helps me to stay closer to that range, even running with the stock thermal paste in-tact. This too, can be accomplished using webMAN-mod.
I recommend setting a curve of somewhere between 30-40%, depending on your unit.
Other benefits worth noting:
- Convert between CEX and DEX modes
- RIP and play from backups
- Extensions for Vita Remote Play (stream entire XMB and play PS2 Classics remotely)
- Connect Xbox 360 and PS4 controllers
Crack games with PSNPatch or similar
- Circumvent console ID bans
- Access the system storage remotely via FTP
- Save both XMB and in-game screenshots (some caveats)
- Honorable Mention: The DualShock 3
While often criticized for its form factor and slippery analogue triggers, this remains to be one of my favorite controllers of all time, second only to the GameCube controller. It truly just the original DualShock on steroids. Its D-pad is accurate, it features convex control sticks, analogue press, and all the buttons you’d otherwise expect from a modern gamepad. Compared to the 360 controller at the time, this controller could be used either wirelessly or wired thanks to the mini-USB connector on top. The 360 controller at the time required you have an adapter pack, or non-bluetooth wired controller kept as spare. Granted internal batteries are subject to degradation though, so I will give the edge to Microsoft in opting for a battery pack to this day. Call it a draw there.
Nevertheless, this is the final PlayStation controller I’ll daily. Its build quality is impeccable, unlike its successors, despite their strides toward improving the original design. I regularly use my PS3 controller on PC via SCP Toolkit driver.
To sum it all up, the PlayStation 3 is an impressive platform with its expansive game library and multimedia functionality. Modified firmwares (CFWs) build upon these strengths, and extend the console to do a great deal more than it was intended to. These sort of quality of life amenities can most certainly be felt as the platform nears its inevitable end-of-life, particularly ROM loading once PSN is winded down and physical games consequently become more sparse. Personally, I’ve found alternate use for the PS3 as an all-purpose media center thanks in part to Movian and the system’s own Blu-ray player. It’s a system worthy of boasting, modified or unmodified. I think it safe to say I’ve found my new favorite console, right beside the GameCube.
To think, it all started with me wanting a means to revisit Persona 5.