You've seen the adverts on TV and on the Internet we are in the middle of a home entertainment revolution. Games consoles are at the forefront of how we are going to consume movies and TV shows in our living rooms, no longer will we have to watch digitally available content in front of our PC screens. Multi media consoles such as the Xbox 360 and the PS3 will revolutionise this experience they are marketed as being the centre of your entertainment universe.
Are they? Well lets take my Friday night experience into account. Having survived the week, treated ourselves to takeaway and and collapsing on the sofa in front of our TV talking about how exhausting the week had been. We decided it would be nice to watch a film, I pick up the Sky Plus remote control and press the box office button 2 minutes before 8pm. The laboriously slow menu system on the Sky Plus box isn't very forthcoming on the entertainment it has to offer me tonight as it sluggishly provides very poor information on each film. We as usual look up the films available on www.imdb.com to see if they are any good using one of our laptops, and as usual there's not much that grabs us. Next I decide to fire up the PS3 as I've heard someone mention there are some new entertainment features available and I might be able to start downloading or streaming films. On firing up the PS3 I realise I need to plug the HDMI cable in as it was used earlier for my PC. I'm then presented with a hard disk corruption message and told the system will attempt to restore the hard disk corrupted sectors. The task succeeds but I'm presented with a message telling me that I will need to run a System update. I ignore the message click on the Playstation store icon and am told before I can proceed I must do a system update. Fine I'll do the system update, I set the PS3 to do a system update and decide while I am waiting I may as well fire up the Xbox 360 to see if there is anything in Zune or Sky Player.
I log into my Xbox 360 and enter the Zune store. But there's not that much new content in the Zune store, the majority of the content is old films and there are not many of them. The newer films that have been released such as the new Star Trek film and Moon are not available. I like the idea of Zune because it enables me to stream content instead of having to wait for a large movie to download. Having not found anything I want to watch there I checkout Sky Player. There's a lot of movies here but unfortunately I need to subscribe to the movie channels on my Sky Movie package before I can get any of these movies on demand. I already have a multi room subscription and I have a package that includes the entertainment and documentary channels. Having multi room enables me to use the Sky Player on my Xbox 360, I had kept multi-room because I had been locked in a contract on it from my previous home and had planned on cancelling it and taking the movie channels but this means I couldn't use Sky Player on my Xbox 360. What a dilemma! I can't even watch Sky Movies on the Xbox 360 on Pay per view because its on my Sky account. I shake my head and wonder how the PS3 is doing, it looks as though the update failed something about a server connection problem. So I decide to fire up the Mac Mini connected to my TV and look at the iTunes movie store. It also requires an update so I get that running and am eventually able to browse the store and find the film I wanted to watch Star Trek! I set the Mac up to download it. Apparently its going to take an hour.great. We decide to play Rockband on the Xbox 360 while we wait. After 40 minutes the film has download and I get it to play on the Mac through the RGB cable on my TV. The quality I must say wasn't stunning, for some reason films still have the "letterbox" view even on wide screen TV's. Why? The letterbox view is a lot narrower than usual and you can tell by the full screen mode that pixels are slightly stretched every now and again the action scenes give this away. I probably wouldn't have noticed this if I had watched it on my laptop screen, which I kind of feel seems to have been he target of this format. What family watches films on their laptop or PC screens together?
So what's the problem? Well there is no doubt that services are now available for watching shows on demand through your TV. I have a Sky Plus box, Xbox 360, Wii, PS3 and Mac all connected to my TV. The problem is the Xbox 360 may provide a streaming high quality service which is brilliant for watching content on demand when you want it, but it lacks the content in Zune. The iTunes store has the content but it can't be streamed you have to download it and that's just as bad as having to wait for a film to come on at the right time on Sky Box Office. Besides the quality of the content on the iTunes store isn't as good, maybe I would have a better experience if I had bought the Apple TV box? (more money to spend and yet another box). The Sky Player service on the Xbox is prohibitively expensive, Sky appear to treat Sky Player content as though you were a completely new Sky TV subscriber. It doesn't work on the idea that you are a Sky TV subscriber already and just want another way of watching the same content on demand. It basically gives you that ability but it charges you for it in the way of multi room subscriptions.
What about the PS3? Well I eventually got the PS3 update to work and discovered it had a movie section which seemed to have the same content as the iTunes store. Great news I suppose, but it appears this content is not streamed content but has to be downloaded. Not so good..
Buying content to own is also another dilemma, what format do you purchase the content for? If I purchase the film on my PS3 I won't be able to play it on my Mac or my Xbox 360. I'm not a pirate all I want is the ability to play the media I bought on what ever platform I choose. Unfortunately content providers don't really understand or are unwilling to let their content be available on multiple channels even if it is watched by the same person who purchased it to begin with. Rights for content is distributed by channel not by who purchased the content to begin with. I believe we are going to face a big issue unless just like DVD and Blu-Ray, the industry comes up with a standard for the delivery of the same content across multiple platforms digitally.