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.
And thanks to the addition of Plex in early 2015, the functionality is finally on par with its predecessor. The Sony's media box supports MP3, MP4, M4A, and 3GP file types and plays host to a plethora of media streaming functionality, third-party movie apps as well Sony's own music and movie storefronts.
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. While it's neck and neck with the Xbox One in terms of library size, Xbox Live keeps all these apps behind a $60/£32.49 paywall.
Even if you're paying for Netflix, you won't be watching it on your Xbox unless pony up for Gold. Not so on the PSN. You need a subscription for online multiplayer but not for media streaming.
Right now, the PS4 has apps for most of the major players in the streaming video market. Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, NBA Game Time, NHL GameCenter Live, Redbox Instant, Twitch and Crackle are all present and accounted for.
Editor's note: Music Unlimited will no longer exist after March 29, 2015. It will be replaced by PlayStation Music, powered by Spotify. We will update this review after the new service launches.
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. It requires a subscription fee of $5 a month, $10 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.
All in all it's a real missed opportunity. The strong interface integration on the PS4 really got our hopes up, and since there's no Spotify, Rdio or Pandora here, Music Unlimited really is the only game in town.
Also, since there are apps for Android and iOS, as well as an in-browser player, this could conceivably become your all around source for music, and therefore a worthy investment. As it stands now, it's hard to recommend. We suggest saving the free trial that comes with your PS4 for a month or so and to see if things improve. We'll be back again to check it out and update this review.
If Music Unlimited is Sony's Spotify, then Video Unlimited is its iTunes or Amazon Instant 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, Netflix and others won't fare much better. Those services are streaming only as well.
Price-wise, it's on par with the competition. An HD rental of Man of Steel goes for $4.99, the same price as on Amazon and iTunes. Episodes of Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones are present and priced competitively.
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 only gap we could find was Portlandia, and other shows from the cable channel IFC. Other cable comedies like Chappelle's Show and Childrens Hospital were available.
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.
Amazon uses a similar tactic with its Prime Instant Video, only providing streaming video service for its Kindle Fire devices. It does offer playback on iOS over WiFi though, while Video Unlimited does not.
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.
Sony is venturing into uncharted territory in 2015 with the introduction of its own original programming. It's a move that will put it in direct competition with other anti-cable competitors Netflix and Amazon.
The first show on the docket for Sony is called Powers and is based on a comic book written by legendary Spider-Man writer Brian Michael Bendis. Check out the seven-minute preview below: