02.The state of play
While Nintendo maintained a laser-like focus on games with the Wii, Sony and Microsoft added a range of non-gaming media functions, and brought the PS3 and Xbox 360 into the lounge rooms of millions of Australians. The PS3 in particular bridged the gap by including support for movies on Blu-ray. Digital movies and TV show catalogues have since grown extensively on the PS3 and Xbox 360 online services.
The latest consoles are looking to extend their reach into the home with additional multimedia and online capabilities, as well as games. Though the consoles have not been released at time of writing, some of their features have been publicised heavily. Microsoft has been the most vocal on the media capabilities of the Xbox One, while Sony has released a few key details about the media capabilities of the PS4. Also, some of the released information is US-specific and may not apply to Australia at time of launch.
What we know
What we do know is that for the average consumer there’s more to these consoles than just games. The multimedia features of either console could very well replace the need for a dedicated media hub, DVD or Blu-ray player.
The Xbox One has made great strides over the Xbox 360 as a media device. Unlike its predecessor, the Xbox One will play Blu-ray discs, and Microsoft has also announced a live TV feature that essentially turns the Xbox One into a TV tuner. (It will require a special HDMI device to work, and won’t be available in Australia at launch.)
Microsoft has taken this one step further by adding HDMI pass-through. This allows you to connect your other HDMI devices to, and control them via, the Xbox One console, which should let you immediately switch between media sources. For example, if you’re playing a game, then realise that your favourite show is about to start, you can pause the game and simply flick over to watch your TV with the console controller. Early adopters will be pleased to know that the Xbox One will support 4K video, but the PS4 won't launch with this feature. Sony is considering adding it in the future.
Many of the media functions available on the PS3 have transferred across to the PS4, but there are a few notable omissions. In order to watch DVDs and Blu-ray discs, consumers will need to download a day one patch for the PS4 to authenticate the console, which means the PS4 will not be able to play these discs out of the box. When you turn on your console for the first time, you will need to connect it to the internet via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.
That is, unless you store digital movies on an external hard drive, as the PS4 won't let you expand the storage by plugging in a USB drive. DLNA support is also missing, which means you cannot stream media content from other DLNA devices (such as a computer) to the PS4. Whether you can copy movies from an external drive to the PS4 is unknown.
Sony also announced that the PS4 will not support audio CDs or MP3 files, essentially leaving their subscription-based streaming service as the only option for playing music on the console. This was met with significant backlash from consumers, prompting Sony to reconsider their decision to omit this feature, which was available on the PS3.
Even if you don't intend to play games on your PS4, you will still need to authenticate it with the day one patch. For more information, go to the PS4 Ultimate FAQ. (Note that the information is applicable to North America, and may make note of features that will not be available in Australia at launch.)
Digital distribution of movies, TV shows and music is growing, but it’s too early to say which company will have the best content. Microsoft has been busy signing contracts with content suppliers, while the PS4 should have access to Sony’s massive catalogue of movies, TV shows and music - currently offering more than 150,000 titles for rent or download in the US. Sony has also announced a live events viewer, which will add pay-per-view content to the PS4.
Australian Xbox One owners will have access to the following services in the weeks just after launch:
Sony has released a list of the US-based applications, but local services had not been announced at the time of writing except for Twitch. However, those available on the PS3 are likely to carry over, although they will require accounts and possibly fees. Popular US services such as Netflix are still unavailable in Australia.