Using a PlayStation 3 as a media centre

Media Centre PCs have failed to invade the living room because other gear does the job better, is easier to use and cheaper. Just look at the PS3.

When the PlayStation 2 was released way back in November 2000, many a conversation between partners went along the lines of: “But baby, it also plays DVDs!” I know mine did. The extra functionality of the games console was used to win over the sceptical non-gamers who had control of the purse-strings.

But the PS2’s DVD playback was rudimentary at best, and many users who expected the device to be the backbone of their home entertainment system were disappointed. The PS2 was relegated to its day job: playing games.

Now with Sony’s third console, the PS3, things are very different. Far from being a games console with a bit of AV functionality shoehorned in, the PlayStation 3 offers much to those who want a device that does far more than just play games.

We knew this was going to happen, of course, because the PlayStation 3 receives regular Network Updates to its firmware, which add new functionality. Out of the box, the PS3 is a decent Blu-ray player with HDMI, which plays DVDs too and – unlike some BD players – also plays audio CD. It was the first BD 2.0 compatible player on the market and thanks to gamers subsidising the hardware via software purchases, the PS3 is also the cheapest.

Constant upgrades

Today though, a fully updated PS3 is actually a fairly serious bit of HD kit. As of writing, the system software has been updated to version 2.41, and if you buy a PS3 any time soon, you should hook it to your home network and have it do a Network Update as soon as you get it out of the box.

From its basic beginnings, the PS3 now supports the interactive BD-Live Profile 2.0 for movies with such content (which sadly amounts to only a few, bad ones, at this stage).

There’s support for DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, and as of late July, Sony added DTS-ES, DTS 96/24 for DVD and DTS-ES Matrix for Blu-ray.

Naturally, all video can now be upsampled to the maximum output the device can handle: 1080p. And if you own a 720p TV, you can also downscale Blu-ray discs to this resolution.

There’s also the option to ensure BDs are played in 1080p24, though if your TV supports this the PS3 should detect it automatically via HDMI and adjust itself accordingly.

It’s not just about commercial video and audio formats either. Geeks rejoiced when Sony added support for DivX files bigger than 2GB and almost completely exhaustive support for the myriad different iterations of XviD.

Home movie enthusiasts will appreciate the ability to play high definition AVCHD-format video by plugging the camcorder’s Memory Stick or connecting its hard drive directly to the PS3 via USB. The system will also accept and play 8cm DVDs encoded with AVCHD, and the slot-loading drive is smart enough to position the disc properly and eject it too.

The bottom line? The PlayStation 3 is a fully-specc’d BD and media player, which also happens to have a built-in hard drive (either 20, 40, 60 or 80GB depending which model you bought), a built-in Wi-Fi adaptor, web browsing… oh yes, and it also plays games.