Friday, March 6, 2009

Media playing frustrations, part 2: PS3

A couple years after my HDMI frustration, I also got myself a PS3, in part because of the games, but also with the (silly) intention of having it as a media center in addition to a gaming console. It sounded way better than buying a PVR which didn't have any games, connectivity or photo handling. I got a nice 320GB SATA drive for it to hold my MP3s an movies, and all was going well until I actually tried to use it for that.

My first attempt was to copy my ~140GB of MP3s into its hard drive. It copied without any problem, but then I found out it lacked a fundamental feature - a decent player. You can play music from its home screen (the XMB) but it will only organize the media in a few ways, such as everything by each artist, all algum names from all artists together, all 140GB of MP3s in the same listing, or by year. All that added to the fact that it uses ID3 for the top-level organization, but the song name it displays is actually the file name instead, so I had to make scripts to sync all my MP3s ensuring the filename matched the ID3, which alone took me a couple of days. I finally settled for organizing by artist and having hte album and track name in the filename, which still sucks - I cannot shuffle songs of the same genre for instance, and creating a playlist is really painful.

After giving up on the MP3s, I thought maybe at least I could use its web browser to play, since it supports flash - or does it? Of course it doesn't work :) A shoutcast client, maybe? Nope, since Sony doesn't allow anyone but the "chosen few" (and I've been among those in the past) to develop any apps for their system, nobody can develop a decent app to replace Sony's crappy ones.

Likewhise, I started copying some movies into its hard drive, only to find out that it doesn't really play all variations of DivX, so most of my movies simply don't play there. Also, when downloading episodes in highres, MKV seems now to be the preferred container format, and even though the contents of the MKV are often plain MPEG, it won't open the container, so I have to manually convert those to plain MPEG (and of course my mac doesn't open MKV files out of the box either, so I had to download additional software for that). Is it really that hard to support the most common file formats like MKV, Ogg vorbis, Xvid, etc.? No, it's pretty damn easy, except Sony is too lazy to do it (yes, lazy, or dumb - a lot of people would buy their console for using as media centers if they had such support, so it's financially worth it). You cannot even argue that it's a licensing problem, since all these formats are free and open.

Looking at my alternatives, I realized that the PS3 allows me to install linux in it, so I could just install linux and play everything I wanted, right? Wrong. I downloaded Yellow Dog Linux (a derivative of RedHat, which I used since version 5.0 and through the Fedora Core editions), and my first disappointment was that you cannot just partition the PS3's hard drive any way I want - it gives me two choices: leave 10GB for linux or leave 10GB for the PS3. WHY, Sony, why??? It's not like there's any trick in partitioning a hard drive, and it's not like anyone can leave with only 10GB for their games. Of course the PS3's file system is also totally proprietary (and likely encrypted) so it's impossible to read the media files from it. I thought of accessing them over the network, only to realize that Yellow Dog doesn't support PS3's wifi (and I have absolutely no intention of running a network cable across my entire house for this).

Is there anything open that this damn thing supports, then? Well, yes, there's one thing, which is finally what I turned my attention to - UPnP.More on the next post...

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