Manuel - With the recent launch of Sky Player, a decision to purchase a second 360 for our household is gathering pace, as a one-box-for-all future draws closer. But do we really need all this bastardised functionality? Will the console audience ultimately benefit from having Twitter and Facebook cutting into gaming time? Do any of you use the PS3 browser for anything functional, or even purchase films from the XBLA movie marketplace? And if not, why not? Is price or quality a limiting factor, or does convenience ultimately shine through?
The roadmap marked out by Sony and Microsoft – and to a lesser extent Nintendo – is undoubtedly hybrid, with interactive and traditional media pulled from a nebulous cloud of server-based content; but which of the early pitfalls do they need to learn from? And what would you personally like to see in future revisions?
Pogo - This generation has certainly shown us the meaning of ‘multimedia centres’ in place of our little gaming boxes. I’m not really sold on the Facebook and Twitter apps; it just doesn’t seem convenient. Maybe if Twitter had a sort of ticker bar which could scroll along the bottom of the dashboard (Mapoo suggested this) it would flow a little better. It just seems to be more popular brands getting tied up as another marketing tool for the console. Some people might end up loving it, so I’ve got no reason to knock it; just not a feature I’ll be using.
BIGsheep - I think you’ve struck the crux of the problem; they’re all stand-alone apps. If I want to browse Facebook or Twitter I have to go to a dedicated portion of the 360 and set off a specific tool whereas I would prefer to have them accessible anywhere at any time from the Guide. Updating your Facebook status would ideally be as simple as sending a message to a friend over Live. This obviously can’t happen due to the demand it would place on the Xbox’s resources but Twitter especially is something that I have running in the background of my PC, updating every now and again. It’s very rare that I will sit and just stare at the Twitter homepage, especially as you can’t use any of the links that are supplied in the Tweets due to Microsoft’s closed infrastructure.
This issue is highlighted further with Last.fm, the music streaming service also available in the forthcoming Xbox dashboard update. In a perfect world this would have been built into the background so I could use Last.fm as a custom soundtrack whilst playing. Instead, it is also restricted to a standalone app and that will probably mean that the number of times I’m likely to use it is limited.
Pogo - As for the movie marketplace, I’ve only downloaded one movie in the past. I found it a little pricey, and call me old fashioned and a silly hoarder, but I can’t shake physical ownership from my mind. Every time I thought about renting a movie, it would just niggle away at me that I could pay about £4 more and buy a DVD; then I could watch it anytime. If there was some sort of digital ownership system implied, then maybe that would work better. Have you guys used it before? Also, the film we did download was the third mummy movie. I spent the entire time thinking how doing the washing up would be more entertaining; and I wouldn’t have to pay to do that either!
BIGsheep - We’ve used the download service quite a few times, but then again I only ever tend to watch movies once so it’s not a big deal to me whether I own it for a couple of pounds or rent it as they’ll probably be watched the same number of times.
For me it is the convenience factor. Ali and I aren’t members of Blockbusters, LoveFilm or any rental service and so a few times we’ve just decided that we’ll either stream something (or download the HD version overnight) that we haven’t seen before or that has piqued our interest. The range has been quite surprising and whilst it could be more wide-ranging we’ve always found something on there when the mood takes us. My fingers are personally crossed for an equivalent of the US’s Netflix deal comes to this side of the pond – a subscription based download service rather than one-off payments.
Manuel - That’s basically there with the Sky Player at the moment. I’d not used the service before so I was fairly taken aback at the amount of on-demand content available. Everything from a year’s worth of archived premiership and European football, documentaries, tv shows, and a library of hundreds of films – none of which costs anything above the normal sky subscription. To be honest, if I’d known it was that in-depth, I’d probably have not bothered getting the dish in the first place and just subscribed through the Xbox when it became available.
The subscription model is definitely the key for me. I’d much rather pay a flat fee and have access to the whole lot, whether that’s music, video, or even games. Can you imagine paying a monthly fee for access to the entire Steam, PSN or XBLA catalogue, for example? I’ll rarely purchase any video content from the XBLA marketplace for similar reasons as Pogo, but we’ve already gone through four films on the Sky Player this weekend. Video and audio quality will hopefully see improvements, but it’s perfectly watchable and the convenience is worth it.
Pogo- How does the sky player work Manny? If you’ve already got a sky subscription is the player free to use on Xbox?
Manuel- Yep. You just enter your login details for the sky website on the Xbox, it pulls down whatever subscription info you have and gives you access to the channels you regularly pay for – but in archive form (with about 20 or so live channels as well). So, all the stuff that’s been on the movie channels for the last few months is there to watch whenever you want, all the sky sports matches etc. It doesn’t cover every single channel on Sky – and to be frank, who would want it to – but all the major players are in there. It came into its own this weekend – after being away for the week and missing all the footy – and to be honest, I rarely actually turn on the TV to watch anything specific; so having a library of programmes to choose from instead of having to stick to a schedule or wait for a download is excellent. It all buffers in seconds.
However, before this turns into a running advert for the twin pillars of the evil empire, what about the other black box? How does your PS3 fit into the picture?
BIGsheep – It’s taken on a dual entertainment role. Firstly, as you’d expect, it’s the household’s Blu-ray player, and also our iPlayer player. Browsing the Internet using a joypad proves far from user friendly but with bookmarks on BBC’s iPlayer and Channel 4′s 4 On Demand has made it invaluable.
As with a lot of early adopters I think the Blu-ray was a big factor in making me choose to get a Playstation. I’d borrowed a HD DVD (was that what they were called, I forget it’s been so long) and was blown away with King Kong in hi def and so I always knew I wanted a next gen DVD format, I just had to wait to see which one won out. As soon as HD DVD threw in the towel the PS3 was sneakily added to our wedding list. All it took was also getting Ali the entire run of Harry Potter on Blu-ray and she was on board.
It’s not just films, though. For a long time I used my PC-Xbox 360 as a Media Centre, using the PC’s TV card to first record any show that took our fancy and then piping it through to the 360 so we could watch it from the comfort of the sofa. With the introduction of the PS3 and its access to iPlayer we hardly use the Media Centre. The comparative effort of running a PC and Xbox and getting them hooked up was knocked aside when all we had to do was boot up Sony’s web browser.
Manuel – And now it’s right there in the XMB menu…
BIGsheep - It’s a darn sight quieter, too. Trying to run anything on the 360 is met with a loud blast of fans that drowns out whatever you are trying to watch.
Manuel – To be honest I’ve not really noticed the noise from the 360 since I stopped playing games directly from the drive. Everything else seems pretty quiet, but maybe that’s a consequence of amplifier volume more than anything else. My 60GB launch PS3 started off that way, but it’s been puffing a little bit with Blu-Ray recently; I hope the end isn’t nigh, but then again that might be the perfect opportunity to get the slim… yes, I am a complete idiot.
BIGsheep - The other thing I like using the consoles for is photo viewing. Several times, especially with the wedding photos, we’ve loaded up either a DVD or USB stick of pictures onto one or the other and then we just sit back and then browse through them our sofa. It’s such a tiny feature but it’s probably one of my favourites due to the convenience.
Pogo- I find myself using the photo browser too. It’s just so simple and easy. I also remember when we all got in on a party chat on the 360, we then used the photo viewer and everyone was just throwing up pics for us all to see. It was pointless but one hell of a funny hour!
Manuel – Funny indeed, and quite possibly incriminating.
I agree though, the photo viewer is one area where I can’t really see any need for improvement, and it’s the only facet of any system that has genuinely become invaluable. I’ll quite often sit in the front room, stream some music and put the 360 Media Centre or PS3 on slideshow mode whilst I’m pottering around or doing housework.
I can hear my 16-year-old self becoming disgusted at that sentence, so I’ll stop.