I just recently picked up an Apple TV after my PS3 finally died on me. I’m very surprised to say this but Sony actually created a media viewing experience much better than Apple.
I’ve been a PS3 user for 6 years now. As you could tell from browsing my site, I use it mostly for watching movies rather than playing games on it. I suspect this is why it lasted so long.
A few weeks back I was in the middle of watching a movie and the darn thing just blanked out on me and shut down.
That happened to me one time a few years back, but I just turned it back on and all was fine. This time it wasn’t. I could turn it on, and each time it would get all the way back to the main screen, but shortly after it would shut down with a series of ominous beeps and a blinking red light.
It turns out this was none other than the well known, much feared PlayStation 3 Yellow Light of DEATH (YLOD). The YLOD is a fate that awaits all PS3s, and once it happens you are officially hosed. You can try to bring it back to life for awhile but all you’re doing is just delaying the inevitable.
It’s called the Yellow light of death instead of the red light of death because just as it shuts off it will blink yellow for a brief moment, then switch over into blinking red. Apparently what happened to me years earlier was just that the machine overheated and shut itself off for a bit, but the YLOD means that the solder in the motherboard of the machine has cracked from heating and cooling over the years so much that it has become non-viable, and there’s not much to be done about it.
PS3 BATTLEFIELD TRIAGE
Not much, that is, unless you’re willing to perform some surgery on your machine. You could figure that it’s busted anyway, so there’s really not anything you could do to make the situation worse. If your machine is in warranty, then you can obviously get it replaced, but if you’re like me then that wouldn’t be an option.
After some searching I found the most popular method of “fixing” your PS3 is to take it apart and try to shore up the cracked solder yourself, as seen in this video:
I watched this vid plus several more like it and decided screw it, I’ll just get a new one. The bottom line is that this fix is a temporary revival at best. I wasn’t interested in wasting my time with it, just to have the machine crap out on me in a week or a month’s time. Some people reported much longer times before the machine died again, but the general takeaway is that this is a temporary measure.
What really sucks is that my PS3 was one of the original 60GB machines (that I had since upgraded to a 320gb hard drive). What that means is that it had the actual PS2 hardware chip inside of it, so it could play PS2 games, where later PS3’s had the ability removed (or else it was software emulated, so some games might not play). In addition, it had all the extra media card and USB slots that had since been abandoned in later models.
It doesn’t matter that I didn’t actually use any of these features, I guess. I still want all my stuff!
THE PRICE IS WROOONG, SONY
So off to Best Buy I went to pick up another (lesser) PS3. Obviously I hadn’t been in the market for one for 6 years, so I wasn’t really up on what the current pricing was.
When I got over there, I was expecting to pay about $200 for PS3, but I was shocked to find you could only buy one in a bundle. That means it would come with a 250gb hard drive, one game and also a free 30 day trial of the PS3 subscription service Playstation Plus. All for about $270. I think there was one with a 500gb drive package that sold for $300.
Except, I had already beaten the game they bundled (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception), I already had a 320gb drive I planned to use, and I had already had a free month of the Playstation Plus service provided by Sony after the infamous PlayStation Network Hacking fiasco of last year. I tried it and decided not to keep the service, so it wasn’t really a draw for me.
I was surprised there wasn’t a way to simply buy the PS3 itself without a bundle, but that’s all there was. In retrospect I should have remembered, because I myself had tweeted out these very links a few months back:
Don’t get me wrong, I love(d) my PS3, but as I was looking at paying almost $100 more than what I had thought, just to watch tv, I had to reconsider. Is this really necessary? I don’t play that many games on it, so really what I was looking for was a media player, instead of a video game console.
So with that in mind I wandered to the other side of the store to the Apple section and decided to take a look at the Apple TV.
I HOPE CHEAP DOESN’T MEAN CHEAP
When I got over there and found out much it costs, again I was surprised. Only $100?
I suppose it doesn’t actually do as much as the PS3, but because it was Apple, I was expecting it to be expensive. I was happy it wasn’t, but later on I would discover that the price was pretty much right.
I just hoped that it wasn’t some horribly compromised system. From reading the box it sure seemed like what I needed at the moment.
DAMN, IT’S SMALL
If you’ve ever seen an Apple TV up close then you know this thing is small. Since getting used to the hulking monstrosity that is the PS3 for all these years, the ATV seems impossibly minute.
After unboxing it and plugging in the HDMI cord it was time to set it up.
For those of you who don’t know, this thing works with iTunes and ONLY iTunes. I have a Mac but it will also work on Windows as long as iTunes is installed.
You have to have an iTunes account. On the website it says “for buying and renting movies, etc”, but if you don’t have one, you won’t be setting up your Home Sharing, and you won’t be streaming anything over to your ATV, so yes you need to sign up for an Apple ID.
Now if this would have been a PS3, I would just turn it on and that’s that. I never signed in automatically to the PlayStation Network, so I could use it whether I was online and signed in or not.
INFRA-RED REMOTE CONTROL
I prefer the PS3 bluetooth remote to the ATV infrared one.
The ATV remote is pretty tiny, and I had some difficulty adjusting to using it at first. Although it’s pretty much like an iPod, so I eventually got used to it.
What I still haven’t got used to is the fact that it hardly takes anything to block an IR signal. Many times I’ll be pressing away at the button but a chair or something is slightly in the way so the signal is blocked. Either that or I’m just not pointing directly at the ATV so it doesn’t receive the signal.
Compare that to the PS3 bluetooth remote. If you’re familiar with Bluetooth, then you know the signal is pretty much omni-directional, and it won’t be blocked by anything. I could be all the way in the other room or even point the remote directly away from my PS3 and it would still get the signal.
Having to be so precise with the ATV is still a bit annoying even after the several weeks I’ve had it.
I really miss my bluetooth remote so I’m giving Sony the win on this one.
STREAMING/NO HARD DRIVE
Another huge drawback for me is that this latest version of the ATV doesn’t have a hard drive in it (one reason it can be so small). When using my PS3, I always preferred to physically download the files right onto my hard drive through the Playstation Network or move them from my computer to the PS3 via a usb stick. This way there’s less opportunity for any kind of errors, because the file is sitting right there.
Obviously the ATV can’t do this because it has no hard drive and no USB port that a USB stick can plug into (it has a Micro-USB port in the back). Instead you’re supposed to stream all your media through iTunes over your home network.
Although I’ve written before about streaming from your computer to your PS3, I avoid streaming if possible because frankly, I hate it.
I’ve hated streaming since all the way back in the time of the Real Media RealPlayer heyday. There’s always more opportunity for the media to freeze, stutter or completely stop when you’re streaming, so I did my best to choose devices that don’t rely on it.
Except now here I was with the ATV, a streaming-only device. Although I will admit that the streaming for the most part is seamless, when it doesn’t work it is such a pain in the ass to fix.
No matter how good your home network is, some hiccup will inevitably occur and you’ll lose the connection. You’ll find this out when you’re ready to sit down, have a meal and enjoy a tv show, or right when you’re in the mood to listen to some music. You’ll hit play and then…nothing.
You’ll likely get some kind of stupid ass error where the ATV claims that it “cannot connect to the iTunes Store”. What? I don’t give a damn if you can’t connect to the iTunes Store, now play my music damn you.
Then you’ll have to go on a troubleshooting mission, where you will discover that everything is in fact setup correctly, but it’s just some hiccup where you need to power down everything and start it back up. Usually this fixes everything, but by now you’re in a pissed-off mood because you were ready to watch/listen to something 45 minutes ago, but now you’re ready to throw something.
STOP AND GO
I’m not 100% certain this has to do with streaming, but I suspect it is so I’ll list it here. When one video ends and the next begins, there is an extremely long pause and black screen before the next video gets started.
It’s long enough for you to think something might be broken, then the next video will start and you’ll relax. Again, I’m not sure if this is to do with streaming or not, but either way it kind of sucks. It could be that I’m just so used to the PS3 seamlessly moving over into the next video that I’m jaded, and it’s really not that long. But it’s still noticeable to me and it gets me every time.
This is why I always liked to move my media over to the PS3, because I never had to deal with this kind of problem, so I’ll give the nod to Sony again in this regard.
I’m the type who likes to jump around in a movie or tv show. I like to fast forward and rewind a lot, so when I can’t do that easily it is very annoying.
With streaming media, the file has to be loaded as it’s playing and it’s not very graceful to try to fast forward through tv show intros and movie production crap. You can do it, but if it gets past the point it has loaded so far the screen goes black and you can’t even see what part of the video you’re on, so you just end up waiting for it all to load anyway.
I never thought Sony would have amore usable solution than Apple but again, they do.
On the PS3 all you do is press the square button (on the remote or the controller) to bring up a “Scene Search” function. You can use it to view thumbnails that are created at different intervals. If I remember correctly it was 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes and 5 minutes. Then I could just quickly skim through the thumbnails and choose one to start playing the video from that spot. I could quickly skip through the movie to within 30 seconds of the spot I wanted immediately. Boy do I really, really miss that.
Apple should really copy that feature. It’s super convenient and it sure beats waiting while the ATV fast forwards through the whole movie to get to the part you want to watch again.
Obviously, I’m again giving it to the PS3 here.
UPDATE: I discovered a feature that mitigates the scene selection problem somewhat.
If you press the down arrow while watching a movie, the progress indicator will pop up as usual, except this time it wil be divided into many regiments. Pressing the forward or back arrows will skip you ahead or back to the next line.
You still can’t see exactly which part you’re jumping to, so it’s not a match for the PS3 thumbnail chapter select, but it does come in handy. At least with this you don’t have to painfully fast forward through an entire movie to get to that one part you want to watch again.
Another drawback of the Apple TV for me is that I need to have my computer on with iTunes running in order to watch or listen to anything.
It’s kind of a pain because when I’m watching tv I want my computer to be doing something useful even as I veg out.
Normally I would have my computer rendering one of my 3D artwork pieces, but I’ve found that I encounter a lot more stuttering in the movies I watch when I’m doing this.
I’m sure it has everything to do with the relative lack of power my aging Mac Mini can muster up, but it was always nice with the PS3 that I didn’t have to worry about it.
NO HABLA DIVX/XVID – AND NO JAILBREAKY
For those of you who don’t know about this stuff, DivX is a proprietary video codec (encoder-decoder) for video files, while Xvid is like it’s free, open-source bizarro twin. Xvid kind of sprang forth from the DivX project, and the two are *somewhat* compatible. Xvid files don’t always play on DivX certified devices.
The point here is that it doesn’t really matter, since the ATV can’t play either of ‘em. I suspect Apple wanted to remove themselves from any sort of affiliation with piracy. Xvid encoded videos are the favorite of many a pirate the world over. If iTunes and the ATV understood that format, you van bet the pirates would be all over it.
I remember from reading on Torrent Freak that there was a brief uproar when files were beginning to be provided in the H.264 format instead of Xvid. the problem was many people had Divx/Xvid compatible dvd players that would play an AVI file encoded with either format, but those same players wouldn’t play the H.264 encoded MP4 file that was now being provided.
The rationale of the pirates was that avi and xvid/divx would become a thing of the past as more people had devices that were able to play H.264 out of the box.
The ATV is one of those devices. For the most part I didn’t care. I used to be one of those pirates but to be honest I’ve been locked into the system for the last several years. I always had the PlayStation Network, Netflix, Hulu or the ability to watch something on a network’s own website, so it really became more convenient for me to just go through those channels.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last bittorrent article, I like to frequent sites like Vodo.net. They provide the files usually in a hi-def .MKV file, or a standard-def Xvid file.
Sometimes I might not want to download the hi-def, and I’d rather take the quicker, smaller file. that was no problem with my PS3, but with the Apple TV, I can’t play that Xvid file and I have to convert it. Honestly it’s usually quicker for me to download the hi-def file and “re-wrap” it into an MP4 file using MP4Tools than it is to actually re-encode the video from Xvid to H.264 (MP4Tools doesn’t re-encode a video, only strips the MKV wrapper and replaces it with an MP4 wrapper, leaving the video/audio untouched).
Not to mention my backlog of avi xvid stuff that I’ve built up over the years. I’m sure as hell not re-encoding all that stuff!
Looking for a solution, I found that you could “jailbreak” your ATV, and then install something like the Xbox Media Center onto it, then you could play just about anything.
Alas, you can’t do it with this particular version of the ATV. I read that a method is coming soon, but I get the feeling it’s pretty difficult to jailbreak this ATV, so I’m not expecting it anytime in the near future.
So the PS3 wins this round, too.
THE WRAP UP
Well as you can see, I will shortly be buying a new PS3. The Apple TV is cool and all, but I think the PS3 is a better product. Although more than twice as expensive, I feel it’s worth the money. At least to me, as it fits the way I prefer to watch movies. And I could always stream if I really wanted/needed to. Hopefully once I grab another PS3 I never will stream again.
As of this writing, I see a great Black friday deal for the PS3 for $199:
The only thing is, I do not go out to stores on Black Friday. There’s nothing out there worth me getting trampled over.
Still, this is apparently a Sony-mandated price, so it should be available from online retailers. If I can order it online for that price I should have one fairly quickly.
If you have any questions about either product that you think I can answer, or if you know of another device I should consider then be sure to let me know in the comments. See you next time!