The big one’s out now.  Firmware Update 2.4 can be found waiting for you on your Playstation 3.  At last you can now access the Cross Media Bar (XMB) in-game and message your friends! Follow the link for the full changelog and find out why I’m slightly bemused.

The Update weighs in at 130mb and with everyone hammering the network it might take you a while to download.  To save some time you could grab it from this direct link and gift it to your PS3 via a USB thumb-drive.

Now you can access the XMB in-game, though note, you cannot do so while watching Blu-Rays/DVDs, or while playing PS1/PS2 games.  A new mini music player brings the ability to play custom soundtracks in-game, though games will need to be patched to support it.

Trophies and player profiles now gives birth to new PS3 competitive features, also putting it into direct competition with the Xbox 360′s Achievements. You can watch a walk-through of the new functionality here.

Note: Games will need to be patched to support Trophies, and they will not be awarded retroactively, as this would allow exploitations via swapping game saves.  At this moment in time only Super Stardust HD supports Trophies, which will prompt a 255mb update.  The following Trophies can now be won:

Bronze Trophies

* Hero of Lave – Complete planet Lave
* Hero of Coventina – Complete planet Coventina
* Hero of Nemain – Complete planet Nemain
* Hero of Taranis – Complete planet Taranis
* Hero of Segomo – Complete planet Segomo
* The Tokenizer – Collect 5 tokens with a single boost in Arcade
* Scrooge MacBoom – Get 10 bombs in Arcade
* Extra Ships Optional – Survive 7 minutes without dying in Endless*
* Close Encounters – Survive 45 seconds without shooting or using bombs in Survival*

Silver Trophies

* Token Hoarder – Collect 15 tokens with a single boost in Arcade
* Well Prepared – Get 20 bombs in Arcade
* Shield Blaster – Collect 5 shield tokens while already having a shield
* Scenic Route – Complete a planet without using boost
* Late Boomer – Get 15 bombs in Bomber*
* Shock and Awe – Destroy 10 nukes in Endless*

Gold Trophies

* Multiplier Hero – Get 10x multiplier
* Split screen Co-op – Get 3 minutes of continuous Co-Op weapon boost on Segomo*”

Other 2.4 features include being able to launch other games while playing a different game, view the date and time from the XMB, and internet search straight from the XMB.

The XMB is fully displayed with all features in-game, but understandably not all features can be accessed.  You’ll be able to look through your photo thumbnails, but won’t be able to start a slideshow, nor can you watch videos. Instead, when you select these options you’ll be asked to exit.  Upon exiting the option you selected will be automatically launched.

Why am I slightly bemused?  Last year I ranted that PS3 users didn’t need an ingame XMB, but instead more desperately needed in-game messaging and cross-game voice-chat:

You don’t need or want to look at photos while you’re playing a game. You don’t want or need to watch videos/movies on your system while you’re playing a game. You don’t want or need to surf the Internet while you’re playing a game. You don’t want to go onto the Playstation Store while you’re playing a game. You don’t even particularly want to change your systems settings while you’re playing a game.

I’m glad Sony has taken my line of action; only supporting what is essential and even providing a quick and easy method for accessing these other features.  The new in-game XMB is certainly slick and runs smoothly – which is what we all hoped.

Sadly cross-game voice-chat is currently not supported, but Playstation Network Director of Operations, Eric Lempel, tells Next-Gen.Biz that update 2.4 isn’t the end of their efforts:

There are a lot of features that are still part of our roadmap. When we release new features we want to make sure that we have a baseline set of features to put out there and that they work properly. We feel that these new features are ready and that they offer consumers a great advantage over what they have today.

However, we’re not going to stop enhancing the features. Every time we do a firmware update we enhance old features as well as providing new features, so we’re taking a lot of the feedback very seriously. Going into this we knew there were some things that wouldn’t make it but there’s always time to fix those and get them in, but in the meantime this should keep consumers satisfied for some time.

I’m certainly satisfied, since with Firmware 2.4′s addition of an in-game XMB and Trophies I can now buy my cake and enjoy eating it too.  Here’s the full changelog, but remember there are a number of hidden features for you to discover:

Overall

*  Displaying the XMB™ screen during gameplay
You can now access the XMB™ screen while playing PLAYSTATION®3 format software.
* Searching the Internet from the XMB™ screen
You can now perform an Internet search directly from the XMB™ screen.
* You can now see the system clock on the XMB™ screen. The date and time that were set under [Settings] > [Date and Time] are displayed.
* When using a keyboard, you can now clear the entire text entry field at once.
* The Users icon is now displayed when you press the PS button for an operation that cannot be performed.

Users

* You can now turn off the PS3™ system from the XMB™ screen using the [Turn Off System] option.

Settings

* You can now set the PS3™ system to turn off automatically after updating the system software.
* [Reassign Controllers] and [Controller Vibration Function] have been added as options under [Accessory Settings].

Photo

* You can now print images from a playlist.
* You can now sort items that are grouped in a folder by month or year using the [Film Date date down] or [Film Date date up] options.

Music

* You can now use a mini-size control panel while playing music.
* You can now play music content encoded in MP3 Surround format.*
* MP3 Surround can only be used when playing music content in Linear PCM format.

Video

* You can now use the [Frame Noise Reduction] and [Block Noise Reduction] settings for video content that is saved on the hard disk or storage media.
* You can now play upscaled video content that is saved on the hard disk or storage media. When the video content is played, it is upscaled automatically to match the screen size.
* Upscaling of Blu-ray Disc (BDAV) video content is now supported.
* For DTS playback on DVD-Video and Blu-ray Disc media, DTS-ES and DTS 96/24 for DVD-Video and DTS-ES Matrix for Blu-ray Discs are now supported.

Game

* The procedure for quitting PLAYSTATION®3 format software has been changed.
* You can now collect trophies in games that support the trophy feature.

Network

* [Search] has been added as an option in the browse mode menu of the Internet browser.

Friends

* The number of Friends who can be added to a Friends list has been increased from 50 to 100.
* The [Information] screen has been redesigned and renamed as [Profile].

Happy Updating.

*Update* -  Sony has temporarily removed Firmware Update 2.4 due to reported problems.  Read more about this here.