Thoughts on the PS3 Media Centre (+ Apple TV) is a post on The Hickensian

It’s been 6 months now that I’ve been using the PS3 as an all-in-one media centre, and it’s going well. It’s lasted the longest so far, but there are a few small niggles:

  • Wifi streaming is too stuttery, and has to be connected via ethernet to NAS in order to get smooth playback. Not a big issue, but it would be lovely to lose the wires and hide the NAS and router somewhere (rather than being under the TV). I could install an ethernet network, but it seems like overkill, when other devices (such as Apple TV) can stream perfectly well.
  • It’s a bit too fussy on encodings, and even certain should-be-supported .mp4’s just give either ‘corrupted file’ or errors. Wider encoding support would be great.
  • No sub-folders with the internal drive. Seems like such a trivial thing to add, but to get a folder structure you need to use an external USB or NAS drive. (I went for a NAS)
  • Playing digital music isn’t the greatest experience. The only way to navigate and choose tracks is to have the TV on, where the cover art is relegated to a tiny square. The PS3 prefers annoying visualizers.

The first three could be solved by a software update, but it’s because of this last niggle that I just picked up a bargain Apple TV off ebay. It automatically grabs new music from my laptop when it’s open and gives me THE best playback interface I’ve ever used – the Remote.app for the iPhone. If I could design a perfect music system, this would be it. Due to it’s hard drive size (160gb) it’s only really suitable for our music library, and a selection of favourite movies/TV shows. The Remote.app also avoids the overly iTunes store centric menus of the TV interface.

So it’s a brilliant device for music, but I’ve not had a lot of joy with plugin hacks enabling me to play media on the NAS drive. My experience so far has been a lot of crashes and unmounted drives. Boxee works best of all, but it isn’t a system I could expect the family to use. It takes too long to get from the ATV finder to a logged-in and ready-to-go Boxee. Compared with the PS3, it easily reads media from the NAS, via Twonky server, without fuss.

So, ideally, an equivalent iPhone app for the PS3 (now that the 3.0 firmware doesn’t cripple Bluetooth, it could be possible?) that would allow music to be chosen without a TV would be the best solution. For now, it will be ATV for music, and PS3 for everything else.

(Finally, before folks start mentioning a Mac Mini, please be aware that I’ve been that route twice already, and it’s just not the solution for me. A Mac Mini is not designed to be used remotely, and in my view, requires too much ‘admin’ to be a viable option. Also, yes, yes, XMBC, Boxee, Plex etc…)

The Hickensian is the journal of Jon Hicks, one half of the creative partnership Hicksdesign. Take a look at the work we do.

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