Say what you like about how the PS3's games library stacks up against the 360, it's hard to deny that it's a far lovelier media player.
Near-silent operation, masterful upscaling of SD content to HD screens, the lovely Planet Earth music visualiser and, of course, the Blu-Ray drive.
What it doesn't have is loud prompts and fancy Media Center screens to set up streaming of music and video files from a PC elsewhere on your home network. Fortunately, there are several ways to make that happen - but which one one addresses your oh-so-specific needs?
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1. Windows Media Player 11/12 - Free
Windows' native music/video playback app is about the closest you'll ever get to running Microsoft software on a Sony console. The PS3 might be denied the glossy interface of Windows Media Center, but it can access anything WMP's sharing over a home network. The plus side is that Windows Media Player is essentially built into Windows, so if you already use it to manage a media library there's a minimum of setup required. The downside is, well, everything else. Limited categorisation options make navigating a large library a hateful business, there's no on-the-fly re-encoding of unsupported files and, in that typically Windows way, there's far too many button pushes and requests for permission necessary for setup.
2. TVersity - Free
The most elegant app of the lot. Essentially, TVersity is a super-charged, less restrictive alternative to Windows Media Player's streaming tool. It still requires manual or automatic refreshing of your media library to stay up to date, but brilliantly it enables you to browse it more logically at the PS3's end. Exploring by Date Added sounds so simple, so obvious a thing, but it makes all the difference if you're regularly adding new media to your PC. It also allows you to add various web media feeds such as Youtube channels, Flickr, even the bounteous Hulu (if you're a US resident) or anything you can provide an RSS feed for. Better still, it's capable of some on-the-fly transcoding of unsupported files; there's a drop in quality, but the important thing is it still starts playing at the click of a Sixaxis button.
3. PS3 Media Server - Free
While TVersity's the slickest streamer, it could be accused of being a little bloated - a charge you can't level at this strikingly powerful Java-based tool. PS3 Media Server doesn't need to install any codecs, it's a small, fast-loading app, and best of all it doesn't need to refresh a database to keep your PS3 up to speed with what media files you've got. Instead, it lets the console directly browse any folders you've specified, as if you'd just plugged in a USB drive - it'll even make ZIP and RAR archives browsable via the console. It also offers best-in-show transcoding - as long as your CPU and network connection is fast enough, it'll convert anything you throw at it to PS3-friendly formats on the fly. Alas, it's really not a pretty piece of software and the PC's end, and is so loaded with tech jargon and ludicrously specific settings that relative tech novices may struggle to get it do what they need it to.
4. MKV2VOB - Free
Not a media streaming app per se, but a vital tool for anyone who downloads stuff in HD. The current community standard filetype is MKV, which the PS3 doesn't support. Except... it does. Without getting too tech-babbly, the type of video in most MKV files is one that the PS3 can play, but the MKV element is an additional container around that - designed to hold, say, multiple audio or subtitle tracks within a single file. MKV2VOB simply removes this container, usually within seconds as essentially it's simply copying, not re-encoding. Though it is capable of that too - most usefully to turn DTS soundtracks (if your TV/amp doesn't support them) found on some MKVs into Dolby Digital 5.1.
5. Nero Media Home - £25
The only app here to carry a pricetag, though you may already have it if you own a recent version of Nero's DVD burning app. Like TVersity and PS3 Media Server, it can transcode unsupported files on the fly - and with a minimum of configuration. The stand-out goodie, however, is its ability to stream live television if you have a TV tuner in your PC. Given your PS3 is already connected to a telly that might sound a tad obtuse, but if you also own a PSP and have set it up for Remote Play with the PS3, you can call up the TV tuner through that too - from anywhere in the world. Unfortunately the app installs itself all over your PC rather than being invisible - in more ways than one, Media Home really needs to lose a few pounds.