Review: PS3 as Home Theatre Component

Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 13:26
For Christmas 2010 I decided to make some upgrades to our home theatre. I'd originally constructed the HT in the fall of 2004 and it was time for some new tech. In particular, our original projector (InFocus 4805) had packed it in, so it made sense to do a full HD upgrade - installing a new projector (Panasonic PTAE4000U), adding a Blu-Ray player and running some new HDMI cabling.

Deciding on the PS3 was easy. My research showed the PS3 was still rated as one of the best Blu-ray players and there were a few PS3 exclusive games that I'd like to play. I was especially curious to know how the PS3 would fare as a media center as well, having heard some good recommendations from friends. There's lots of reviews of the PS3 as a gaming console so I won't write about that. Besides, what else do you need to know besides God of War III? As a gamer, I'm completely agnostic regarding consoles - there's great games on all platforms - and I have no patience for fanboyism. I just hadn't got around to getting a PS3 yet.

That said, I'm disappointed with the PS3 Sixaxis controllers. They still don't feel right in my hands (just a bit too small) and aren't quite shaped right to get a solid grip. I've had the same issue with all Sony controllers since the original PlayStation, so I don't expect them to change (designed for delicate little Japanese hands?). For the PS2, I had used a wireless Logitech controller that was excellent. Also, the PS3 R2 triggers are convex instead of concave and always feel a bit slippery. Adding some silicone covers to the PS3 controllers has helped a lot.

I have the 320GB version of the PS3 with the Sony Blu-ray remote. The plan was to make it the primary media source for the new HT setup. The recent introduction of Netflix in Canada as well as a diskless implementation of Netflix for the PS3 was another compelling reason to look to the PS3 as media center as well as gaming system. Overall, I think I've "sort-of" achieved that goal, although there's a couple annoying shortcomings that are not easily solved.

First, the stuff that does work really well:

  1. The PS3 is an excellent system for playing PS3 games. If there's PS3 games you want to play, you should get one. 
  2. The PS3 works great with the projector and my Onkyo receiver. No issues with HDMI, syncing or DTS/Dolby decoding. Installation and setup was a breeze. The overall rendering and image quality from all sources is excellent. The PS3 does a great job of upscaling all video content to a 1080p output to the projector. I have no complaints at all about video image quality for gaming, Blu-ray, or other sources. As a Blu-ray player, I think it's more than "good enough". It does seem to take a long time for a BD to bring up the menu after putting the disk in but I'm not sure if that's a PS3 issue, or BD in general. 
  3. Netflix on the PS3 works and looks great, with one (recent) exception: Netflix changed the UI a couple weeks ago and significantly dumbed it down from the previous version. It's far less user friendly than before. Hopefully that changes soon. Once a movie is started however, the playback is smooth and the image quality is generally acceptable or better. I have my PS3 hardwired via switched 100Mbit ethernet to my internet router; network streaming speed and rebuffering has never been an issue. 
  4. Using the PS3 as a media renderer pulling content from a media server is working well. No problems finding, browsing, streaming from the media server / NAS box (A spare PC running OpenSUSE linux and PS3MediaServer software). PS3MediaServer handles transcoding as well as streaming, to enable the PS3 to render content from formats it can't natively handle. In my case, that's mainly my collection of favourite DVD's ripped to ISO files and stored on the media server. 

The stuff that's not so great:

  1. The big one is the remote. It works OK, but it lacks backlighting which is a huge issue in a home theatre where it's very dark. Learning the remote by "feel" is made more difficult by the fact that the buttons don't have very distinctive shapes or textures. However, the main shortcoming, and this one is huge in a HT, is that that remote is Bluetooth only. The PS3 has no IR receiver at all. That means that 1) You can't substitute a better remote, 2) You can't teach a learning remote commands from the PS3 remote, and 3) You can't integrate PS3 control with a universal remote and your existing system of macros. That last one is the major pain point. Most sophisticated HT systems (including mine) are controlled with a programmable macro-enabled remote that can control all the components in the system as well as room controls like lighting and curtains. There are a some hacky solutions for adding IR control to the PS3, but overall this is a huge gap. There are no major remote manufacturers that make BT compatible remotes. (There's probably a business opportunity for someone to create an IR to BT bridge for PS3's, but why?)
  2. Next is the limited formats that the PS3 can render and the need to use a separate transcoding media server to supply a compatible video stream. It's not an insurmountable issue, as PS3MediaServer does a decent job, but it's another task to install and configure and yet another "moving part" in the system. It took me a bit of fiddling with installing additional codecs and configuring settings on the OpenSUSE PC to get it working.  By contrast, using the XBMC media center, you can simply point it to shared network folders containing almost any video/audio format in existence and it can play them directly. 
  3. The UI / user experience browsing a media server is merely adequate. Yes, you can navigate around various folders and content types, but it's all very "plain-jane" using the PS3 XMB interface - a basic list of folder icons and names. Again in comparison to the typical XBMC UI, it's very very basic.
  4. I still haven't figured out what I'm going to use the large HDD for. There's no option to copy games from BD to the HDD. It is possible to copy audio/video content but I'm not sure why I'd want to do that when I can stream it on my network any time I want it. I guess it may be useful for games that are purchased and downloaded online. I can see the appeal of that to publishers, but so far I don't see very many games available via PSN and most aren't any cheaper than buying used anyway. If the value were there, I'd buy lots of games that way for the convenience. 

In summary: 
  • I'm happy to finally have a PS3 gaming console (despite my gripes about the controllers) and I'm enjoying that quite a bit (did I mention God of War III ?) . 
  • As a Blu-ray player, the video quality is outstanding and installation was effortless. 
  • Netflix works fine, although the UI was much better before the latest update; I'm holding out hope it returns to the previous version. 
  • As a family-friendly media center the experience is merely adequate and far too kludgy to set up. Most people wouldn't (shouldn't have to) put in the effort I did to configure a separate service just for the PS3.
  • As a key component in a fully-integrated Home Theatre System, the PS3 is a failure, due entirely to the Bluetooth remote and made worse by the fact that the only remote you can use isn't even very good. 
The bottom line? 
    I'm not disappointed with the PS3, but it's not a complete HT solution. The end result is somewhat inelegant and a bit unpolished. I think I'll be adding a PC-based system running XBMC for media center duties and using the PS3 mostly for gaming. 


    1. GTez Says:

      I hear mass effect 2 is simply amazing on the ps3

    2. Jim Whitelaw Says:

      Dude, it's totally on my list!

    3. Katty Black Says:

      Big thanks for this review, very soon I will have a vacation that I am planing to spend at home by playing games, and this is exactly what I need. Also I love to play using epsxe emulator that I fount out on this amazing service. | Powered by Blogger | Entries (RSS) | Comments (RSS) | Designed by MB Web Design | XML Coded By