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?