A few weeks ago, Ryan and Janko went back and forth about whether the Boxee box would be worth purchasing. Janko said yes, Ryan said no, and I stayed out of it — because my PlayStation3 (s SNE) does a great job of handling my digital video needs.
I got the PS3 last December, and it’s the only device in my living room right now aside from my cable box. Yeah, I’m the only NewTeeVee staffer who’s not a cord-cutter — though more and more I’m thinking about shutting it off. The PS3 is a big factor in that.
First off, the disc-less version of Netflix Instant (s nflx), which became available this Monday, has thus far worked like a dream. The option to download the app appeared automatically in my menu screen, and it’s a major upgrade to the previous interface with only one notable exception: I miss having my queue be the first available option. Typically, when I sign into Netflix, it’s to watch something I’ve previously picked out.
The video below gives you a look at the new interface, which is strikingly different from the disc-less Netflix for the Wii:
The PS3 was the first console to get access to Hulu Plus, and since activating it, I’ve found it to be a solid solution for when I forget to DVR certain shows or want to enjoy classic TV series like M.A.N.T.I.S. (shut up that show was great).
I do wish more Hulu content were available on the Plus service, however, especially since getting Hulu Plus access requires upgrading one’s account to PlayStation Plus, which comes with an additional $50 a year fee.
The PlayStation Store and Third-Party Applications
I haven’t made much use of the PlayStation store. The exclusive video content available is limited pretty much to the reality series The Tester, and my one attempt to rent a movie using the service lead to multiple incomplete downloads that ended up expiring before I could finish watching Date Night. The service in general has a history of glitches and errors.
When it comes to watching other media, I do have to say that the one thing that the PS3 doesn’t do as well as I’d like is stream downloaded content from my computer to the TV; the downloadable third-party app MediaLink — in theory — provides this service, but I’ve experienced a lot of stuttering and stalling.
Medialink is very dependable when it comes to streaming music from iTunes, though, and for downloaded media, there’s an easy workaround: .avi, .mov and .mp4 files all play perfectly off a flash drive plugged into one of the front USB slots.
Medialink is the best option available for Mac (s aapl) users, but GigaOM Pro director of product (and PS3 owner) Celeste LeCompte uses the third-party app PlayOn to connect her TV to her networked PC via the console, and loves it. “It’s like Craigslist — it’s not pretty or fancy, but g-d it works great.”
I do miss the ability to watch a lot of web-native content, because while the PS3 does include a web browser, not many video sites work on it. YouTube’s (s GOOG) the big exception, with an optimized browser that’s pretty simple to use with a remote or controller. I’d love to see solutions for browsing Blip.tv or other services, though.
Why You Really Buy the PS3
The PS3, in short, does a couple of big things well, but if you were to plot its features on our Google TV/Apple TV/Roku/Boxee Box chart, it’d be missing some big stuff, like VEVO, Pandora and Twitter.
However, the delightful thing about the PS3 is that these features aren’t technically the PS3’s raison d’être; this all comes on top of its gaming capabilities and Blu-ray player. And while I’m not much of a gamer (except for the occasional Portal or Heavy Rain session), the video quality of Blu-ray has me believing in physical media to a certain extent.
Sure, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates think that the format will soon be discarded in favor of pure streaming media — and those guys aren’t exactly dumb. But watching something like J.J. Abrams’ update of Star Trek on Blu-ray makes me hope it’ll stick around for a while, because the video quality on a high-def TV is noticeably different.
Below is a video comparison between Netflix Instant and Blu-ray, using the PS3 and the first 30 seconds of Star Trek. The differences are subtle, but if you pay attention to the definition of the lens flare, you can tell which image is sharper.
The PS3 currently retails for around $299.99 (120 GB model) or $349.99 (250 GB). Apple TV and Roku, at $99 each, are a third of the price, it’s true, but for me the Blu-ray capability, Hulu Plus access and gaming are worth the additional cost.
In 2009, In-Stat found that consoles were the most popular way to pipe web video to TV sets, a trend they predicted would continue through the year 2013. That’s not shocking news — it’s a numbers game.
While Roku hopes it will sell more than a million units by the end of the year, as of June 2010, there were nearly 38 million PS3s sold worldwide since 2006. The Xbox 360? 41.7 million. The (somewhat more limited) Nintendo Wii? 73.97 million (PDF).
Even if you write those sales numbers off as just gamers who want to shoot Nazi zombies, there are approximately 160 million set-top boxes in the world, which are less and less just something you might buy to play Rock Band with friends.
Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required):