Part Six: Multimedia
The one major area where the PlayStation 4 comes up short is in multimedia support. It’s not that the system doesn’t have basic multimedia functionality – it does, and can serve well as a living room hub – but that in the areas of video and music, the PS4 is disappointingly stripped down from its predecessor.
Let us start with the good: the PS4 is, like the PS3 before it, an exceptional Blu-Ray player, with lighting-fast load times and robust, easily accessible functionality. It is disappointing to me that there is no media remote available for the system at launch – I wish I could use my PS3 remote, but barring that, I would have bought a new one – but Sony has clearly given thought to how the controller can double as a remote, and mapped remote controls to the DualShock 4 more effectively than any other controller ever has. Once you learn the controls, it is extremely easy to perform basic functions – pause, fast-forward, rewind, skip forward/backward, bring up an information pane, etc. – and just as simple to access more complex settings like audio, subtitles, angle, and settings on the fly. I found using the DualShock 3 a pain when I didn’t have access to my remote (and felt the same way about the Xbox controller on the 360), but with some nice tweaks, the DualShock 4 controls Blu-Ray and DVD movies quite well indeed. A remote would still be preferable, but this will do for now. The Blu-Ray/DVD interface is also quite nice, albeit slightly pared down from what the PS3 presented; I prefer the PS3 interface for Blu-Rays more at this time, but there is nothing wrong with watching movies on the PS4, and I suspect things will only improve with time.
Meanwhile, all the videostreaming apps users are familiar with from the PS3 return here, with often similar, if sometimes improved, interfaces and functionality. I sampled Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, and they all ran great. I would like to see these services integrate the DualShock 4’s touchpad into their menu navigation for quicker and easier browsing (something the PS4 UI needs to do as well, actually), but for now, they run great. No complaints here.
Things get more complicated when one starts broaching the realms of music, pictures, and non-local videos, as the PS4 unfortunately lacks the robust DLNA support that made the PS3 so valuable to many a power user. Where the PS3 was a wonderfully usable media server for the entire household, the PS4 essentially operates on the opposite end of the spectrum, and it’s not the absence of picture and video viewing that bothers me quite so much as the lack of extremely basic media functionality. In the year 2013, for a device as powerful as the PS4 to not support files as universal as MP3s is ludicrous. It is as simple as that. You should be able to put your music on the PS4 and play it, and the fact that you cannot is a tremendous oversight. I am similarly disappointed by the lack of Audio CD playback – though that one baffles more than saddens me, given that I have never seen a DVD or Blu-Ray player not support CDs – a feature I do use on my PS3 every so often.
For now, the only music-playing option supported by the PS4 is Sony’s “Music Unlimited” streaming service, for which a 30-day trial is included with the console. I cannot say I am a fan of this service, considering that trying to operate Music Unlimited has been the only instance during my time with the PS4 that the system experienced slow-down or became unresponsive (I eventually was able to retain control, but I had to listen to a lot of the bad song I accidentally started playing before that happened). Take that for what you will.
I am sure Sony will restore much if not most of this functionality in the future – they would be foolish not to, quite frankly – and that one day, the PS4 will be every bit the home media hub we all want it to be. But at launch, that is not what this system is. It is an excellent gaming platform, with multimedia on the side, and while that should not be a deal-breaker, it is, for the time being, a letdown.
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