Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3)

This section focusses on the PlayStation 3 (PS3) games console and it's role as a media streamer/player in a typical home entertainments environment. We have spent some time looking and playing it as a games console but, that's not the real objective in this section.

The first thing you notice with this PS3 is just how big the original version is. The newer slim version is a must have. Connecting to our Panasonic 37" HD Plasma TV is very easy with an HDMI lead. The picture quality is very good, as is expected. The PS3 does use some very small fonts on bits of the user interface though. A nice feature is that the PS3 can also downscale HDMI audio for playback through a stereo TV. The PS3 features optical audio out and this is what we have used on our Home Cinema amp. The audio and video quality coming out of the unit is really very good.

We had to go through a couple of software update cycles to get this older PS3 up to the latest firmware. Being new to the PS3, it was noticeable how much better the later user interface is. Out of the box, there is quite a lot of media support.

BBC iPlayer

The BBC have updated the PS3 iPlayer which is now an embedded app in the Xross Media Bar (XMB). This was enabled by the V3.0 firmware update including hardware acceleration in full-screen mode, allowing for an improved playback experience. The BBC have also done a lot of tuning and enhancements in the iPlayer video encoding, including adding a new 1500Kbps 'SD quality' format. This results in the best quality iPlayer picture that we have seen, short of downloading content and playing it on your PC. The picture quality really is pretty close to terrestrial Freeview in terms of quality.

CD Player

We like the way the PS3 uses CDDB to get album info for CDs. Some nice visual effects on screen can be chosen whilst playing too. When coupled to our AV amplifier using the an optical fibre link, the quality of audio was very good.

DVD Playback

PS3 has average DVD play back. Our upscaling dedicated DVD player does a much better job. Navigation takes some getting used to as the wireless control is not exactly intuitive when it comes to selecting and playback of media. At least the green triangle button brings up a list of options on screen, with text to describe the icons.

Blu-ray

The PS3 is known for its Blu-ray disc playback capability and it doesn't disappoint. It provides a noticeable improved over standard DVD and that's before you include all the interactive features that Blu-ray supports. The are dedicated remote controls for the PS3 but you can also get adaptors that allow programmable infra-red remotes to drive the PS3 via Bluetooth. The Logitech Harmony range is a good example.

Media Player

We started off with the most basic method of playing back media on the PS3, by inserting a USB pen-drive into one of the front USB ports. The PS3 is quite fussy about the required folder structure and it needs to be correct in order for the PS3 to see the media. The pen-drive needs to be formatted as a FAT32 drive and this might cause problems if you want to plug in large USB external drives. It also expects to see folders a the root level called:

  • Picture
  • Video
  • Music
  • Game - though we don't know how this folder can be used.

The PS3 will only recognise the folder hierarchy down to one level below this one, which is a slight flaw in our view.

The PS3 plays MP3 tracks off USB drive well, including sub-folders. It won't play .wmv or .mov video file formats. The full list of supported video formats is fairly extensive though.

Playstation Store

PS3 store is pretty good. There are some good free trial games and full HD films to download to the local hard disk. The whole experience is easy to use and works well. Even the prices are not too bad.

UPnP & DLNA

We are currently checking out PS3's UPnP and DLNA capabilities. Our initial experiments have been with the Java PS3 Media Server. This is an impressive bit of software and allowed us to play content stored on a really old mini-ITX server. This server is mainly used as a NAS device and it is simply not powerful enough to transcode content, so we tried another PC server. My main Pentium 1.86Ghz laptop running Wondows XP made a much better job of the transcoding on the fly and could even render full 1080p HD content for seamless playback on the PS3. It has to said that this did struggle on a lot of content though.

We are currently testing out the PS3 with a NAS device. Results of this testing will appear here soon.

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