Sony PS3 as A Home Media Center

This is going to be a somewhat different review of the Sony PS3. First off, I’m an old guy. Second, I got it more as a media controller in my living room than as a video game player. The game playing aspect of it has some secondary appeal as I’ll be my nephew’s coolest uncle.

Mainly though, I’m getting it to manage media in my living room. I have 32” LCD TV, and Logitek computer speakers. The majority of the music I listen to is mp3 files on my computer or on my 8 gb mp3 player. I rent a lot of dvd’s, and never watch broadcast television. The PS3 comes with a blu-ray DVD player and I’m looking forward to the occasional high definition video with my family.

I work with computers, mostly windows, so you would think that windows media player would be a natural choice. Except:

  1. Which windows, do you get? Windows XP, media player? Vista? Vista media player? Don’t know, would take a while to find out, and after that, I could be wrong.
  2. Computers that will look nice in your living room and that are quiet seem to cost above $700, or so. At least that’s what shuttle’s cost.
  3. Currently I manage media on my windows XP system. I like windows media player for managing my mp3 recordings. I like the playlists and the editing capabilities of windows media player. The playlists and the music downloads to my Creative Zen mp3 player easily and transparently. Since Windows has no native DVD writing capability I write DVD’s using Nero DVD writing software. Using Nero to write DVD’s disables windows media player’s ability to write music CD’s.
These incompatibilities make me hate windows. There might be a solution to this that I could find from browsing the web but this is for my living room and its not my job, its only my hobby.

So I’m going to try the PS3. It should let me browse the web in my living room, play all my mp3’s through the Logitek computer speakers I have in there, keep all my photos and most of my family video as well as the odd hobby video on its 80 gb hard drive.

In the future, I can get a larger hard drive (supposed to be simple) and run Linux (which I work with).

Buying the PS3

Two places are selling it for $500 out the door: Sears and Circuit City. Circuit City recently fired all their experienced employees to save money. Sears, I read, gives generous allowances to employees called out for National Guard duty. Circuit City gives you a coupon good for 5 blu-ray DVDs. I don’t know if Sears has the same coupon, but I go with Sears anyway.

Pre ordering.

I ordered it on the web for pickup in the store. Since my credit card is actually an ATM card, I decided I’d save Sears the credit card hit and direct a draft from my bank account. After I enter my 9 digit ABA routing number and 12 digit account number message appears saying another company (not Sears) actually makes the draft and if the draft is returned for any reason they will assess a $25 charge on my account. Realizing that I don’t want to bet $25 on my ability to transcribe 21 numbers without error, I decide to use my credit card. If I enter that wrong, all I get is a polite message asking me to enter the number again.

Four hours later, I’m at the store, parked in front of merchandise pickup. I’m in and out of the store in six minutes.


The PS3 is capable of HDMI output. This is the same output that you get from a high-definition DVD player. Makes sense as the PS3 will play high-definition blu-ray movies. The PS3 doesn’t come with an HDMI cable so you have to buy it. Prices vary from $99 to $8. You can get an $8 cable at You can probably find a $99 cable on your own.

Cable update: the cable I bought from monoprice turned out to be defective. The tv signal would periodically disappear in the middle of watching a DVD. On the positive side, Monoprice quickly exchanged the cable with no paperwork. I emailed them describing the problem, and they mailed me a cable the next day.

I believe there is no functional difference in signal quality between cables.

Initial Impression

Heat and fan noise

My Shuttle compact computer sits on my desk. Its twice the size of a shoe box. It has a sophisticated cooling system which adjusts the speed of its two fans to the amount of heat generated by the PC.

It’s a lot quieter than the PS3.

The PS3 also generates heat. I have it on an open shelf which gets noticeably warm. This would seem to preclude putting it in some sort of sealed enclosure. It is worthwhile to consider installing it in a cabinet against a wall with a glass door on the front and good ventilation from behind to keep the thing living room friendly. The cabinet I have it in is open so it’s a bit noisy.

Software Integration

I have three immediate goals. I want to quickly and easily:

  1. connect to my in house wireless network.
  2. look at all my photos on my windows computer.
  3. play all the music on my windows computer

Connect To My Inhouse Network.

Easy. The PS3 has a menu system where you set up the same things you set up on a pc. You can specify the security that your wireless network uses. Assign the PS3 an IP address or have it assigned. The defaults all make sense so I took them. There’s even a screen which displays all the network settings.

Five Minutes

Music and Photos

It turns out that Windows has a protocol for sharing media over a network. What you do is you turn on the PS3. You then go into into Windows Media Player on your home computer. You pick TOOLS – OPTIONS – LIBRARY and press the configure sharing button. A cool little icon that looks like a PS3 shows up, although its not smart enough to call it a PS3. It calls it an unknown device. You specify all the folders on your PC that have videos, photos or music on them. You are telling Windows Media Player that it is okay to share these folders with the PS3.

You are now done with the Windows computer. The Windows computer must be on in order for you to view content from it. It is not necessary for windows media player to be running.

Another five minutes.

Technical Addition

You don’t need to know this to make this stuff work: What you just did is use the UPnP AV standard. That’s Universal Plug and Play for Audio Visual devices. This standard is defined by the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance). Microsoft has extended this standard and calls their extended standard, “Windows Media Connect”. Wikipedia has good articles about both standards.

Update: the procedure above starts a service on your windows computer. A service is a program which runs on your computer in the background. It turns out that this service, WMPNetwk.exe hogs may hog CPU on your computer. I say, “may” because it does it on my machine, and others have reported this problem, but I think that Microsoft will fix the problem sooner or later. Currently I am using TVersity, another protocol sharing program

Back to the PS3 and Windows Media Player


Now if you turn on the PS3, go through its menus and pick Photos, one of the alternatives is Windows Media Server, with the name of your computer. Pick this, and your photos will display. Any play lists you have created for your photos will also display. Other options, similar to Windows Media server, are available.

Video and Music

Video and Music work just like photos. You go to these menus, pick Windows Media Server, and play your videos or music.

Summarize and Regroup

Okay, here’s where I am so far. The PS3 will play media on my computer in my office. It will play media stored on its own hard drive. It will play media stored on any one of several varieties of memory cards (I haven’t tried this).

Playing DVD’s with the PS3

First, the Shanghai 3 principle, named after the Chris Rock and Jackie Chan movie of the same name:

“Movies that suck in normal definition, suck in a more detailed fashion in blu-ray DVD.”

Upsourcing vs. Blu-Ray

If you have a high definition television, the PS3 will upsource the signial from a normal DVD and send a high definition signal to the television. No additional information is added, but lines are a bit smoother and the picture is sharper. On a 32” television, I found it a noticeable improvement.


Blu-Ray, on a 32” television, is not as noticeable improvement as upsourcing. I found a few exceptions to this. When I watched Bladerunner, a movie with very finely detailed sets, Blu-Ray made a difference. On the other hand, Director Ridley Scott was so in love with the sets that he lingered on them, making the movie boring. I suspect the the high definition format is more noticeable on a larger screen TV.

The sound is now played through my computer speakers and is much improved. Blu-Ray sounds better than standard dvd’s. I don’t know why this is.

Update - October 2009


Pandora, is a music playing site. The latest release of Sony software is compatible with Paragon. You get on the paragon site and pick a genre and it will play music for you all night. My fussier friends criticize the sound quality. You need to connect a mouse and keyboard to use this effectively. Its nice though, to have a party and not have to fuss with the music.

Playstation Store

The player no longer automatically boots playing a dvd inserted into the player. Instead it boots into the playstation store. Obnoxious.

I don't really understand the playstation store, which seems to be more of a Sony Corporate back patting session than anything else. You can fairly easily download a movie from the store for immediate play. I used this to good effect at a family gathering to keep the kids happy, I downloaded the latest batman movie in HD.

Photo Album

The photo album is kind of nice. You can set up a folder of family pictures and just fire it up on autopilot on thanksgiving. Not a bad way to convince dad to buy one of these things.


Choose Language