Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Still Stinging Over Betamax (Why Sony Still Can’t Help But Suck Sometimes)

There’s a fabulous gadget called the Playstation Portable (PSP). It’s a great product, especially for one that’s already at least a couple of years old with no hardware updates. The thing plays games, it hooks up to the internet via wifi (where you can play games with other people or surf the web), you can watch video on it and you can play games head to head vs. other people who have a PSP. It’s a cool gadget.

Streaming video to this gadget over the internet is problematic though, in fact, until very recently the only way to do this was by purchasing one of Sony’s Location Free players (which I did). I don’t love the Location Free Player but my primary issue with that is that most of my “media” is managed via 2 Microsoft Media Center PC’s which the Location Free Player will not integrate with. Fortunately I had a couple of old tivo series 2 lying around that it worked just fine with and I could more or less access my media center through tivo’s networking remotely just fine. Kind of klunky but it worked.

There’s also a fabulous free software service from Orb Networks called Orb. Orb is effectively a software solution to do what things like Slingbox and Location Free Player do.

With the Orb software installed on your media center PC you have complete access to all your media files (video, pictures, music, and even RSS feeds) remotely. You can access with a laptop, a cell phone, any device that can stream video from the Internet and watch remotely. You can even watch live TV remotely though given buffering, you will be shifted by at least a few seconds,

My dream that the ORB would work with the PSP has come true. Kind of. Sony has a good web browser built into the PSP, but accessing the ORB that way works – I can see all my stuff just fine. I can even look at pictures, but video streaming does not work. Sony recently launched an upgraded version of “Remote Play” allowing me to assign a PSP to my PS3 (that’s right, the $600 game console). Because I actually have one of these I can do the following:

- Use my PSP remotely to access my PS3 over the internet.
- Bring up the browser from my PS3 remotely on the Internet.
- Connect to the ORB from my PS3’s web browser (remotely via the PSP)
- Voila! Streaming video to the PSP.

But I already had the $199 version of the PSP (It’s down to around $169 I believe) that comes with a fine Web browser. Sony doesn’t want you to use it for streaming though – not at least without buying one of their other products.

For those of you who thought this was going to be some Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD, discussion, sorry to disappoint you. I love high definition, but I have to be honest, it just doesn’t matter to me in terms of DVDs, not yet anyway. Although I have a Blu-ray on my PS3, I never got around to buying a single Blue-ray DVD so I never got around to buying the HD-DVD upgrade for the XBOX 360 because I just don’t care that much about high definition DVDs.

Sony is plain boneheaded here. You want to encourage people to get addicted to streaming – you don’t want to create barriers that make it harder. Needing to buy a $600 add-on (the PS3) to get it to work…that seems like a barrier. Additionally, sad to say, “Remote Play” isn’t anywhere near a stable environment. The ORB itself is far more stable.

The only place the streaming really works right now is in my home because I’m constantly having to restart the remote play on the PS3 (you can’t do this via remote play, you need to physically use the PS3) to get it to work. If I were actually operating remotely, without access to my PS3, odds of it working even once are about 1 in 3, odds of it working a second time are asymptotically approaching zero.

I’m sure Sony can and will improve this but the better improvement would be allowing the PSP to work with ORB directly without needing the PS3 involved.

Total into Sony: $600 for the PS/3
$200 for Location Free
$200 for the PSP

When I look at it that way, I just expect the freaking streaming experience to be pleasant. It isn’t. Thanks, Sony!

I think Sony develops great products usually. I like their stuff and would feel comfortable shelling out the extra for a Sony sub notebook because they are so good with products. But when it comes to integration, they make a lot of dopey business decisions and always have.

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