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How PlayStation Network Works

Connecting to PlayStation Network
No console required: The PlayStation Network is available via Sony's handheld gaming systems as well as the PS3.
No console required: The PlayStation Network is available via Sony's handheld gaming systems as well as the PS3.
Image courtesy of Sony Entertainment

Two different systems can connect to the PlayStation Network: Sony's home console, the PlayStation 3, and its handheld system, the PlayStation Portable. In 2012, that list will expand to include the PSP's follow-up, the PS Vita. When Sony launches a successor to the PlayStation 3 (PS3), it will be able to connect to PSN as well -- but for right now, the PS3 home console is the primary gateway to Sony's online service. The PS3 hardware includes a built-in 802.11b/g wireless adapter for connecting to a WiFi network and an Ethernet port for accepting a hardline broadband connection.

Connecting to the PlayStation Network on a PS3 is simple: The XrossMediaBar (XMB), the console's dashboard navigation system, provides access to network settings necessary for getting the system online. That process is as simple as connecting an Ethernet cord from a router to the PS3, or configuring the console to connect to a WiFi network. With Internet connectivity enabled, the second step is to navigate to the PSN section of the XMB and create a free account. This requires a valid e-mail address and a unique online ID of the user's choosing [source: PlayStation]. Once registered and logged into the PlayStation Network, users have access to everything we'll cover in the remainder of this topic: online gaming, friends lists, the PlayStation Store and PlayStation Home.

Connecting to PSN with a PlayStation Portable (PSP) follows a similar procedure, but the handheld system can only get online via a WiFi connection. Once connected to a wireless hotspot, the registration/login process works the same as it does on the home console. PSP users connected to PSN can play games wirelessly with friends and access the PlayStation Store, but not all content available for one platform is available on the other -- demos of PS3 games aren't playable on the PSP, for example [source: PlayStation].

Of course, not all PSP users have access to a WiFi connection, so Sony created a way for gamers to download content to a computer and move it over to the PlayStation Portable. Sony's Media Go program for Windows is an organizational tool for music, movies, game downloads and other media gamers may wish to move from their computers to their PSPs. And the PlayStation Network is accessible via the Web, too, at Sony's Website. PlayStation owners who prefer to shop online -- or don't want to go through the registration process using a game controller -- can register online and go shopping on the PlayStation Store on the Web. This makes the PlayStation Store convenient to access, but it's no substitute for PSN's most important feature on the PS3: playing games online.