The PlayStation 3 was beloved among AV enthusiasts and home theater techies as a simple, relatively inexpensive DLNA media server. Without breaking too much of a sweat you could have it streaming music and videos from your PC, playing them back over your stereo and HDTV.
The PlayStation 4 came with no such features when it first launched, not even having the capability to play MP3s, MKV or MPEG video files. These features have since been added though, we're relieved to say.
Streaming video apps
Like a good little console, the PS4 is playing host to a plethora of third-party apps for streaming movies and television. It's now neck and neck with the Xbox One in terms of both library size and access to thirdy-party apps as Xbox Live no longer keeps entertainment apps behind the Gold paywall.
On both consoles, though you need a subscription for online multiplayer, you don't need it for media streaming.
Media streaming apps are continually making their way onto the PS4. ABC iview has recently joined Yahoo!7 Plus 7, SBS On Demand and Foxtel Play alongside launch services Quickflix, Sony's Vidzone music video service and IGN videos.
You can now also stream your own content to the PS4 using Plex.
There are no third-party music streaming apps on the PlayStation 4. Same goes for Xbox One. Microsoft has its Xbox Music, and Sony has Music Unlimited, a proprietary app very similar in execution to Spotify.
But that's about to change in an upcoming update, with Sony announcing a new Playstation Music service launching at the end of March that introduces Spotify to the Sony console.
Until then, it's Music Unlimited, which requires a subscription fee of $12 a month if you want playback from mobile devices. It lets you stream whole albums or create stations, or channels, as it refers to them, from a massive library of artists. There are enough genres here to cater to cover the majority of mainstream music, some obscure stuff as well, and a strong showing of comedy albums.
The best part of Music Unlimited is how it's been gloriously well integrated into the console's interface. Music can be streamed over gameplay, with playback controls just a long press of the PS button away. You can also access the Music Unlimited app without closing your current game.
Unfortunately, Music Unlimited needs work. The app is slow, you'll see a loading screen each time you open it, even if it was just recently accessed. That's far more loading than you'll ever see in a game.
Channel song matching is poor. When you first create a channel you'll always hear a track from the artist you've chosen. What comes up next is a crapshoot, often a track entirely outside the genre you're expecting.
Music Unlimited doesn't seem to learn from your skips either. Blow past an undesirable track and the next song is often in that same genre you're not interested in, or even by the same artist. There's no way to give a track a thumbs down either.
We also had music playback drop out frequently times during our testing. Hopefully this is all just a server issue, something that Sony can sort out sooner rather than later.
But with Playstation Music around the corner and the promise of Spotify integrating just as well into the console as Music Unlimited, hopefully we'll see substantial shifts in these performance issues.
If Music Unlimited is Sony's Spotify, then Video Unlimited is its iTunes for movies and TV. It works much the same way as those services, offering streaming playback of movies and TV in standard or high definition.
It's a bit of a change from the PS3, which allowed you to download movies for local playback. If you have an unreliable connection for streaming, this probably isn't the best option for you, but to be fair, Quickflix and others won't fare much better. Those services are streaming only as well.
The selection is pretty close to its rivals as well. We did our best to stump it, but found a wide library of new and classic movies and television.
The roadblock here is that your playback devices are severely limited, namely to Sony devices. Only Xperia Android devices will be able stream your purchases, with no support for any other flavor of Android, iOS or even Mac computers. There is an app for playback on Windows PCs, and it did not appear to be limited to Sony Vaio machines.
Basically, while Video Unlimited has competitive selection and pricing, we can't recommend buying anything more than a rental from it, something that you'll watch in one sitting on your PS4 or PS Vita. Unless you own a few more Sony devices, you won't have a lot places to enjoy your library.