Yesterday, Sony opened up it’s much vaunted social platform called home to the public.

If you were one of the lucky ones who actually managed to connect last night, the beta gives you a glimpse into what the platform can do and what we can expect. Expectations are still running somewhat high despite the delays to the service as it promises to do far more than what the rival systems can do.

Unfortunately, in that respect, it underperforms. The main problem is that it’s very much unfinished and it shows. Sony did harp on about how it’s only an open Beta but even so, the lack of pretty much anything takes a lot from the experience.

Currently, you have 5 sections to home, your personal space, a social hub to gather, shopping center, cinema and bowling alley. All 5 are solid and the foundations are all there but they all lack content.
Character customisation is deep compared to the miis and, uh, miis, I mean avatars, but home lacks the cartoonish charm of the other 2 and strives for realism.
The wardrobe is also severely limited and controlled by sony so your customisation is no better than with the other 2 rivals.

The cinema allows you to watch movie trailers and the like. When I got on, they were showing the latest trailer for the watchmen (gotta see that film next year!) and a few others. It worked pretty well, but the screen size was on the pretty damn small side.

The hub has a few tables littered around which allows you to play chess or draughts and the shopping center has… nothing really! (sorry, I didn’t check out the bowling alley)

Overall, while technically impressive, there were 3 major faults I found during my limited time there.

1) lack of  features: With very little to buy and see, you will get bored of Home pretty quickly. It also lacks game sections and the ability to start up games in a group.
So all you are left with are little minigames and chatting, but chatting needs work. Without a keyboard, you are limited to a few preset phrases and the onscreen keyboard, not a great way to keep things flowing, though I guess the same thing could be said about xbox live. But at least live gives you a headset for chatting!!!
One thing which is sorely lacking (and what the NXE does very well) is the ability to create parties as well as pop in and out of them easily. Home allows you to form groups, but it’s a far cry from the NXE at this point.

2)  Not integrated with the PSN: As stated above, you cannot start a game while in home for now. You also don’t have access to your trophies and cannot form parties for multiplayer. At the moment, Home is very much stand alone from the rest of the PS3 experience and that may not be exactly a bad thing. It means that you are not forced to use it like you are forced to use the NXE and can ignore it and stick to the XMB if you want. It also means that problems you encounter in home won’t affect the rest of the system, unlike the NXE, which caused my system to crash when I first upgraded and has done so again several times since!!! But overall, the lack of integration severely limits the use of Home.

3) You have to pay for everything: And we’re talking real money here! Want new clothes? fork out 60p. Furniture, more cash, a new pad even more cash (in fact £4).
That was exceptionally annoying. The initial selection of items is pretty damn poor to begin with but being forced to pay for everything is too much. It may not have been so bad if you were able to purchase novelty items but remember, home is geared towards realism so you can only buy hoodies, jeans and other regular pedestrian clothes. I don’t know about you but I don’t feel like forking out real money to clothe my virtual avatar!! And you even have to pay for the privilege of starting a club for like minded individuals, with some talk of there being a monthly subscription fee as well!!

Coupled with the connection issues last night and you can imagine that it was a less that thrilling experience.

I won’t go as far as saying it’s a disappointment though. Just massively unfinished. I remember one of the heads of sony (probably Kaz) saying that home was complete but he didn’t want to release it until there was actually some content in there. I wish he stuck to that.

but at least the loading is fast and it didn’t have any mechanical problems once you got in, unlike the NXE but the experience still leaves you somewhat hollow.

But the foundations are all there and you can see that the platform will grow into something very impressive. It is a whole different experience from the other 2 consoles and I’m certain that the home later down the PS3 and beyond will be unrecognisable compared to what we have been shown now, but the question is “how long will it take to get there?”

For now, I’m more than happy with my XMB