Monday, 7 February 2011

Streaming films via the PS3

There are a number of different ways you can watch streaming film content using a PS3 in the UK. You can use Sony's official video store on the Playstation Network, which has a decent selection of - in the main - new releases from the major Hollywood studios. You can buy or rent titles and watch titles as they are downloaded - effectively streaming them from Sony's servers. I can't tell you how well this system works as the prices - for me at least - are prohibitive. Rental titles are around £3.50 on standard definition and £1 more for high definition. Given that the file sizes for HD movies appear to be around the 1-2Gb mark, you're obviously not getting blu-ray quality. These prices are roughly comparable with what I can get from Virgin Media cable, where I believe the bitrates will be a tad higher. So, no deal. [NB: to be fair, I think there are also some budgets titles, but I have enough junk on DVD on my shelves - see later post!]

If, like me, you would prefer the option of a subscription service, there are two official apps on the PS3's Xross Media Bar under Videos - MUBI and Lovefilm - which provide this option. MUBI is a kind of online art house cinema, sponsored by the European Union's Media programme, concentrating on 'serious' cinema from around the world. There are a number of films from directors such as Lars von Trier, Jean-Luc Goddard and Hirokazu Kore-eda, as well as classic films from Charlie Chaplin, Carl Theodor Dreyer and F. W. Murnau. MUBI's titles can be rented a la carte at £2.99 each, or you can pay £9.99 for a monthly subscription. Titles can be watched on a PC or through the app on the PS3 and the quality is very good, with a decent bit rate and no stuttering (NB: I have a 50Mb broadband connection). Somewhat confusingly, Mubi list films which are not available to stream (for example, The Godfather) - the reason they do this is that they are not just a movie-watching site, but a movie community - with a number of tools for rating, commenting-on and recommending films to friends and other users. You will need to browse under "Watch Now" to get the list of titles available; also, be sure to select "entitlements", as this gives you the list of titles for which MUBI have secured streaming site for your country. Doing this in the UK gives you 530+ titles, of which some are short features - a reasonable selection. With MUBI it's more about quality than quantity as the range of films are drawn from the cream of current film festival and international art cinema favourites.

Lovefilm, at least on the face of it, gives you greater choice - with 2700+ feature films and 1700+ television programmes available to watch as part of the subscription service. A £9.99 monthly subscription gives you unlimited access and an unlimited number of disc rentals (at a one-at-a-time basis). I'm not personally that interested in the TV offering - especially as a number of the titles are available from other online sources - so let's focus on the films. Nearly three thousand films sounds like an overwhelming amount but most people will be able to cut that number down radically given some time browsing the selection (which I recommend you do on the website). For a start, a number of TV titles have erroneously found themselves in the feature section. Secondly, there is a large amount of what studio execs would refer to as "library content" - old, obscure and decidedly non-mainstream titles. Now, as someone who loves the more bizarre side of cinema, this need not be a bad thing, but even I struggled to build up a queue of greater than 100 titles I truly wanted to see. Still, one man's Norbert is another's Citizen Kane, so perhaps the sheer variety on offer should be applauded. As I mentioned, the PS3 interface is a little bit restricted (although this is a good thing if you're using a remote), so browsing this large number of titles is best done on the PC. One thing that is missing a Netflix-style instant queue, forcing you to note down titles to search for later on your PS3 (you can add titles to your rental queue - but that's just for the postal service). Quality is as good as MUBI and works seamlessly.

As a quick aside, can I just mention the social integration of these apps. Both MUBI and Lovefilm feature facebook integration (Lovefilm has twitter too) but neither service appears to work at present. In theory, watching films via MUBI and Lovefilm should automatically update FB and Twitter, alerting your friends to what you're watching (this is optional, for obvious reasons!).

Your final avenue to movies on the PS3, is through the web browser. This has been causing some problems, however, as the machine's slightly basic browser seems to run an implementation of flash which is either non-standard or is a few steps back from that used in most on-line video sites. Online forums are full of complaints of sites either not working at all or working intermittently as and when Sony release firmware updates. Several sites have made the effort to optimise for PS3 and ensure that the cranky browser works, chief amongst them - from a UK perspective - is Blinkbox. The site runs on a mixed premium a la carte (£2.99 per title) and free ad-supported basis, with 1200+ premium titles and a whopping 600+ free-to-view titles. The selection is very good, with good support from most of the major studios and a number of indies. Ads aren't too instrusive - you generally get 4 ad breaks throughout a feature and each break usually has two 30-second spots - less than you would get from a terrestrial commercial channel such as Film4. Quality is pretty good, perhaps not as good as MUBI and Lovefilm (at least on the PS3), which may be down to running through the hobbled browser. I've found over the last week or so that feeds occasionally encounter slight video stuttering, but it's not too intrusive and the PS3-optimised site is still in Beta.

One point worth mentioning regarding streaming to the PS3 is that each of the services I've mentioned do not stream all titles via both their websites and the PS3, as titles need to be licensed specifically for the latter. For example, titles on Blinkbox from Sony Pictures are not available for streaming on the Playstation. I have to wonder if this is a legacy of the relative newness of consoles, STBs and connected TVs and that future licensing deals for online streaming will incorporate all potential targets.

So, a decent range of titles - made available in a number of different ways and all legal and largely affordable. And a reason for film lovers to perhaps get rid of, or cut down, on expensive cable and satellite TV packages? Only time will tell.

No comments:

Post a Comment