Consoles: The Streaming Generation

I don’t know if I would have thought a console would become the center of my entertainment at the start of this generation. Oh sure, both Sony and Microsoft made big pitches for the control of all the media coming through your TV before their consoles launched but I didn’t really believe them. It just seemed liked the kind of bluster and hype you get surrounding any launch, it didn’t seem like it would ever come true.

However, now that I have my PS3 it’s pretty much all I use it for. We only have terrestrial TV in our flat (sadly Freeview doesn’t work right now), and the signal we get from our indoor aerial is terrifyingly bad. If you’re lucky you might be able to wiggle it just so and get a decent signal on one or two of the channels at any time. Getting all five with a watchable picture is almost out of the question, so I’ve increasingly retreated to DVDs and video-on-demand services like iPlayer over the two and a bit years that we’ve lived there.

Of course I had my ever faithful 360 underneath the TV but the options available there just didn’t really seem good enough. Oh I can stream stuff across my network without a problem, taking media from my PC or my laptop onto the big screen was never really an issue. However, it’s fresh, new content that I want and that’s just not sitting there on the various hard drives connected to the network.

[drop]As for the Zune marketplace? Well the films on offer over the service are absolutely fine, and in fact I’ve praised it in the past. However, I don’t believe there’s much (or anything) there in the way of TV shows. There are a few web series on offer for free but the only one that’s really any good is The Guild. It does seem peculiar that I don’t Red vs. Blue or any other of Rooster Teeth’s offerings on show, particularly as they have fairly close ties with Microsoft. The lack of a subscription for video doesn’t really suit my needs either, I don’t want to pay for everything individually just let me have as much as I want.

I’ll admit to liking the Last.fm software on offer though, and considering the general issues my laptop has with sound I do end up streaming audio through my TV. It’s not really the best use of a medium designed for displaying moving pictures, but it works well and the layout is solid.

Since getting my PS3 though it’s been a complete revolution. It can stream stuff across the network just as well as my 360 can, but the inclusion of the iPlayer app makes a huge difference to me. Watching shows from iPlayer on my TV is just better than using my laptop and the service certainly gets the lion’s share of my PS3 usage. It’s strange that I can’t say the same for the other video services that the media rich platform offers me, I’ve never used ITVPlayer and the one time I attempted to use 4OD it was broken. YouTube is handy though, even if the XL interface that their designers has seen fit to lumber us with isn’t the best choice in the world.

However, more media services came with the launch of Microsoft’s latest UI update, and now I’m torn about which console to use. I always imagined I’d spend my time debating what new disc to put in what machine, not which one had the better TV and movie streaming services. In fact it’s not even always the services themselves, sometimes it’s the apps accessing the same service. I’ve played with the 360’s version of 4OD (no technical issues there) and found it to be lovely, yet I have no idea if 4OD works at all on PS3. If Microsoft can keep all of their content providers to the metro interface I think they’ll be onto a winner, a consistent UI across services seems like a must to me.

Of course, I’m writing about this on the day that Netflix launches in the UK and I see it robbing even more gaming hours from my consoles. I’ve already been using it at work in the background to stream The Thick of It and the web interface just seems to work very well. I have a LOVEFiLM account, but the few times I’ve tried to use their streaming service I’ve found it deeply underwhelming. It wasn’t just the selection, in fact in some respects I’m willing to over look that. I know it will continue to grow and although I might not sign up to a service based on the offerings it has now, I will in future if the service itself is solid.

[drop2]LOVEFiLM sadly wasn’t. I think it was their web UI largely, it didn’t expose things well and just didn’t seem like it much love or attention had been lavished on it. It put me off so strongly that I haven’t even touched the PS3 or 360 incarnations of the service, those experiences via my browser left me with a general bad feeling about the service.

By contrast Netflix has only had a few hours to impressed me and has done so. Again, the selection isn’t amazing but there’s more than enough to start things off. It has things I’m genuinely interested and want to watch, rather than things I’ll watch just because they’re there. The overall experience is just more solid as well, it recommends things well and shows the content that’s available in an easy to understand fashion. It all just feels a lot less effort than LOVEFiLM and that’s where it will probably win out for me.

I honestly don’t know if the next generation’s consoles will be used for media consumption in the same way, many of these services are now being built into TVs themselves. When I eventually get around to buy a HDTV (a man can dream) it may well have Netflix or iPlayer built into it. It may even have a fully featured web browser running, giving me access to pretty much anything I want. The future is a mystery in pretty much every regard.

However, what I do expect from the next generation is to be surprised. Now I expect to be able to play pretty much any media I want via the box that sits under my TV. Who knows what the next generation will give us all in this regard?

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38 Comments

  1. My number one problem with streaming, which is often an issue in our house, is that it’s unreliability. If both you and I try to stream something at the same time, it’s a nightmare – it’s just not worth taking an hour to watch a twenty minute show.

    • Balls, pressed submit too soon.

      … That said, the ease of just watching something, when it works, when I want to is fantastic. Until the Internet is up 99.9999% of the time, and is fast enough to stream say four HD streams at once, it will always be a secondary option though.

    • Rock solid here on PS3 on a 8Mbit ADSL

      Anyone else find it funny, that when the Xbox360 has a piss-poor media and streaming lineup, that Microsoft pushed it as the gamers console, and that all that extra media rubbish wasn’t hardcore etc etc etc, now it’s got it, it’s suddenly the best thing since sliced bread and Microsoft are shouting from the rootops about it.

      I also recall many other total about turns Microsoft have made this generation, that the pro-Microsoft media convincingly seem to “forget” about. It seems Microsoft strategy is made up on a weekly basis and involves spinning a bottle.

      • Catchy name.

      • Just market positioning & demographic targeting, its not like there are more core gamers to sell to as they’ve all already bought one or decided not to.

        Widening the appeal to family & casual (Kinect) or people who want media services like this is a route to new sales.

        Not to mention that only offering Zune Marketplace has served MS well, think I read it’s very popular compared to PSN Video which has been crowded out by Lovefilm, iPlayer & Mubi etc

      • Looks like TSA should have a max name length…? Maybe..?

      • they’re just following the money.
        wii made a load of money so the “nobody wants motion controls, feedback is king” spiel is no longer valid.

        ms can do an about turn in a microsecond if they think that’s where the money is.

  2. Funny that consoles have just about completed all the corporate streaming agreements they possibly can, when practically 100% of TVs sold are Smart TVs making this functionality in a console on the road to becoming obsolete outside of Zune Marketplace & PSN Video Store.

    I can watch iPlayer fine on my laptop or my TV but the PS3 App buffers ever 30secs, not sure what happened when they changed from the shortcut, although it’s largely irrelevant anyway thanks to my TV doing everything & more besides.

    What the next generation could mean for the box under the TV, is no box under the TV… Looking at the games possible in Google Chrome’s Native Client & Google making a serious stab of TV with Google TV 2.0 and Apple expected to make a move before too much longer, TV’s themselves will be able to game & that’s not taking into account OnLive Apps or similar launching on TVs

    • iPlayer works fine for me.

    • Agree with cc here. My Iplayer PS3 app is awful and takes forever to load anything, even in SD. The iPad app though works excellently even using the same wireless connection. Very strange.

    • It’s easy to blame the PS3, the app or everything else.

      However your buffering problem is because you fitted a non-approved HDD to your console, it’s well documented.

      The standard PS3 HDD has a different power-save profile to that of PC HDD drives.

      • And yet again – that guy is absolutely serious.

      • That’s absolute bollocks on so many levels. There is NO reason why another HDD would matter. Why? Because that’s what is in the PS3 to start with. HDD don’t suddenly cache data or store files differently, that’s down to the OS.

      • I bet this goes wrong, so in case it does (highly likely) it’s meant to be a facepalm face:

        ……………………………………..________ ………………………………,.-‘”……………….“~., ………………………..,.-”……………………………..“-., …………………….,/………………………………………..”:, …………………,?………………………………………………\, ………………./…………………………………………………..,} ……………../………………………………………………,:`^`..} ……………/……………………………………………,:”………/…………..?…..__…………………………………..:`………../…………./__.(…..“~-,_…………………………,:`………./………../(_….”~,_……..“~,_………………..,:`…….._/……….{.._$;_……”=,_…….“-,_…….,.-~-,},.~”;/….} ………..((…..*~_…….”=-._……“;,,./`…./”…………../…,,,___.\`~,……“~.,………………..`…..}…………../…………(….`=-,,…….`……………………(……;_,,-” …………/.`~,……`-………………………….\……/\………….\`~.*-,……………………………….|,./…..\,__ ,,_……….}.>-._\……………………………..|…………..`=~-, …..`=~-,_\_……`\,……………………………\……………….`=~-,,.\,………………………….\…………………………..`:,,………………………`\…………..__ ……………………………….`=-,……………….,%`>–==“ …………………………………._\……….._,-%…….`\……………………………..,<`.._|_,-&“…………….`\

      • Rofl, I’ve no idea WHAT that now looks like. I completely butchered it!

      • @TrialByFire

        Please — stop embarassing yourself with “well documented” arguments.

      • Drives with special “AV” firmware do exist of course, but last time I checked the PS3’s drive had standard firmware :)

      • Except I haven’t changed my PS3 HDD, its something to do with the App as web shortcut works fine

      • All 2.5″ SATA Drives are approved for PS3- it says so in my PS3 manual.
        If I wanted to, I could have increased the RPM as well, but I decided not to- too much.

        Mind you, I might have a buffering problem, but I know the cause- my shitty internet connection. But for others, the brand of the HDD makes no difference. If it’s a working HDD, it’ll work.

    • @TrialByFire I have upgrade my HDD and I have no problems at all with the iPlayer app.

      • Same here. No problems streaming SD or HD content. The app does occasionally decide not to load at all, but that’s easily fixed by quitting and reloading the app.

      • Me too – half a gig in my PS3, Iplayer works fine.

    • Not just me that has the buffering problem with iPlayer on the PS3 then.
      My (Sony) Blu-Ray player is just fine with it though, if Sony can manage to make a simple Java app on that work properly why not on the PS3?

      • I get buffering woes with iPlayer too, strangely it seems worse the shorter a program is. Using the browser and watching BBC live is never a problem though.

  3. Kris, 40D stopped working a few weeks back. Was fine until then.

    • 4OD has been a bit problematic for me since it was added, it played okay but the picture would freeze when an advert came on even though the audio would keep streaming. The last few weeks it has been strange, I’m wondering if it’s a certificate problem with the browser as anytime I try to watch a program it tells me there has been an SSL handshake error.

  4. They only accept Visa to sign up :(

  5. We don’t have video-on-demand and TV services other than Mubi (and it’s not very good with a weird range of offerings that continue to shrink) for the Playstation here in Norway.

    • Same as us here in Ireland, im hoping the netflix app will be quite good looking forward to checking it out.

  6. shame ms have apparently gimped all non zune video playback on the 360 to a maximum resolution of 720p since the last update though.

    • Yep, so I read & have seen evidence of.
      Even you’re own (from a camcorder or ripped from elsewhere) content is gimped

  7. I used my PS3 for ‘catch-up TV’ quite often until I got an internet enabled TV. No point using two devices that use that exotic stuff called electricity when one will do.

  8. Just got on to the US Netflix, and WOW, what a difference. I don’t think we’ll ever get to that stage though, due to Sky

    • Can you stream from the US Netflix? if so is it a matter of just setting up an american account on your PS3?

  9. Just on a note, my ps3 is my entire TV usage now. I’m at uni, and I don’t have, or want, a TV license, I either play games, or use the services on the PS3, or use my computer. Freeview might be nice, but at the moment it’s an unnecessary extra. Ignored.

  10. I would love to do some streaming with my PS3, but I can’t/don’t need to – I use the PC sat next to it. And whilst I live in central Europe, I have most major UK and USA TV channels, both live and otherwise, leaving the console to be solely used for games and nothing more.

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