How PlayStation Network Works

PlayStation Store

Sony and Microsoft have greatly expanded the online marketplaces of their respective consoles since 2006, adding in everything from movie and TV rentals to full game downloads and support for popular services like Netflix and Facebook. But don't let all those additions fool you: The PlayStation Store is still firmly focused on gaming. The store is accessible via the XMB -- logging in simply requires a PSN username and password. Sony divided the store into two primary categories: games and video. The games section is home to playable demos of upcoming or already released titles, add-ons that provide additional content for full retail releases, and smaller downloadable games available only through the PlayStation Store. That catalog of games also includes PSOne Classics, which date back to the original PlayStation console of the 1990s. These games can be purchased on PSN and transferred to a PSP system to be played on-the-go.

The store's game category does include some content that's merely game related, like themes for the PlayStation console and game videos and trailers. The rest of the non-gaming content lives in the videos section, which offers movies and TV shows in purchasable and rental form. PSN rentals work much like the rental services of Amazon Video on Demand and iTunes: A rental can be initiated for one month after purchase and is available for 24 hours once activated [source: PlayStation]. That gives renters 24 hours to finish a movie or TV episode (or watch it over and over again for an entire day, if they prefer). Content pricing varies based on several factors: video quality (SD or HD), whether it's recent release or back catalog item, and whether the content is a rental or a purchase. Movie rentals start at $2.99, while purchases can cost up to $20 for HD videos [source: PS3News]. Words of warning: Videos purchased on a PS3 cannot be re-downloaded. Accidentally delete a movie or swap out hard drives without backing up data, and you're out of luck [source: PlayStation]. Finally, due to the complications of licensing agreements, the same content may not be available in all regions.

Obviously the PlayStation Store offers a whole lot of content for purchase. So how do you buy it? With Xbox Live, Microsoft opted to turn money into "Microsoft points" at the rate of 80 points per U.S. dollar. Sony opted for a simpler system. The PlayStation Network Wallet uses real dollar amounts, and funds can be added from a credit card. Sony also offers an Automatic Funding feature to draft money from a credit card if there aren't enough funds available in the Wallet. For gamers who don't own credit cards, Sony sells PSN cards in $10, $20 and $50 denominations in brick-and-mortar retail stores. These cards include voucher codes that credit an account with the corresponding amount of money [source: PlayStation].

That covers all the gaming goodness and multimedia available in the PlayStation Store, but it's not quite all of what Sony has to offer with the PlayStation Network. Up next are two specialty features: Sony's stab at a subscription service and a little virtual world called PlayStation Home.