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PS3: Networking the Nation

Feature: Get the most out of PS3 online

Let's face it while PS2 did offer a few decent online games and the ability to connect to the internet (albeit via a hack) it always seemed like a half-baked afterthought. But Sony's approach with PlayStation 3 is refreshingly comprehensive and everything we've seen so far suggests it's smooth, accessible and a major competitor to Microsoft's Xbox Live service.

So here's a quick guide on everything you need to know about how to get started and what PS3 online can offer you out of the box.

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Get Connected
Plugging the PS3 into the world-wide web couldn't be simpler; all you need is an account with an internet service provider, a modem and an Ethernet cable (which comes with your machine).

Of course, you can use a router if you want to connect your PS3, PC and laptop all at the same time and cable-haters can go for a wireless connection if desired. Sony has made the set-up incredibly streamlined so even a technophobic granny could get online and start trawling dating sites within twenty minutes.

The PS3 menu system is very similar to the PSPs and while it goes by the unfriendly moniker of XMB (or Xross Media Bar) is simple to navigate. There are eight main categories: Menu, Settings, Photo, Music, Video, Game, Network and Friends, which branch off into a multitude of sub-options.

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Establishing an ID
When you connect for the first time (via the Network option) you'll have to go through the tedious account registration process. This takes about ten minutes but at the end you'll be able to come up with a unique online ID for yourself. Those worried that all the best IDs will be taken can go here and sign up now before the machine officially launches in Europe on March 23.

Once accepted you will also be able to set up additional features such as parental controls and depositing cash in your Sony online account. Significantly there's no subscription fee, like Microsoft's service, and Sony likes to point this out.

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Web Browsing
The PS3 offers an excellent web browser out of the box and though there are limitations - media streaming standards like Quicktime and Real Player are not yet supported - most basic web browsing and shopping facilities, such as eBay, Amazon and YouTube, are perfectly accessible and reliable. Web chat is also available by entering the Friends menu, sending a message then connecting a webcam (the EyeToy camera works fine) and USB headset.

Although a standard USB keyboard and mouse will make browsing easier, Sixaxis controller functions have been adapted well. Entering text is done via a mobile phone-style predictive text feature, scrolling and cursor control is done on the analogue sticks and L1 and R1 move you backwards and forwards through pages. Six windows can be opened for lovers of multitasking and downloads, like MP3s, and these can be stored in folders on your PS3 harddrive.

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PlayStation Store
This is similar to Xbox Live Marketplace but in terms of presentation and ease of navigation is far superior. Essentially it's the portal where you come to get all the goodies: extra levels, weapons, costumes, demos and music. Most of this stuff does cost money but you can put cash into your Sony account (called the Wallet) by entering your credit card details.

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