Beyond Gaming: Consoles as Media Players

Just because you like both computer games and movies doesn't mean you need multiple devices stowed under your television.

Xboxes and Playstations have long been able to play DVDs, Blu-rays and new movies from the internet, as well as show photos and run music, all the while supporting a whole host of games. That said, not every video runs problem-free on these devices. The Wii also has some potential beyond games.

And there are big performance differences between the different consoles. "The Playstation 3 and the XBox 360 can both be used as DVD players," explains Roland Stehle of the German Society for Entertainment and Communications Technology (gfu). But only the Playstation 3 can also be used to play Blu-ray discs.

When it comes to music, videos and photos saved on an external device, like a USB stick, both the XBox and Playstation can be of service. But the devices also show their age in this regard, since neither has a fast USB 3.0 connection. And the XBox 360, regardless of how large the external device connected to it might be, will only recognize 16 gigabytes of storage space.

"For the XBox, you've got to create a virtual drive on the hard drive into which you can copy films and music," explains Ingolf Leschke of the German magazine Computer Bild Spiele.

The Wii's options as a media player are relatively limited. "Conceptually, it was never intended for this kind of work," says Leschke. "It's purely an entertainment device." Thus, it can neither recognize Blu-rays or DVDs, and can only recognize video files when they're stored in the JPEG format. "And then, the picture quality is much worse."

As for video, music or photo files, they can only be pulled up off an SD card. The Wii cannot access USB devices.

But all three offer internet access. The Playstation 3 and the XBox 360 go a step further, allowing themselves to be integrated into the home network, letting users access files on their PC or network hard drive from the console so it can, for example, stream movies. To make that work best, connect the console with a cable to the router.

"That way you don't lose any data packets," says Leopold Holzapfel of the German computer magazine Chip. "Compared to that, wi-fi isn't so good for streaming movies, because the connection tends to get shaky."

Nonetheless, in case wi-fi is the only option, both the Playstation 3 and the XBox 360 come with wireless adapters. Some can even be used to receive TV broadcasts. "With the XBox 360, you can use the new Metro Dashboard to see the pay-TV channel Sky Go," says Leschke.

The Playstation 3 has a receiver for digital terrestrial television (DVB-T). These are best for big city residents who have neither a receiver nor a hard drive for recording TV shows. But even a fast cable connection doesn't guarantee that the consoles can play all video formats.

"The XBox and the Playstation are a little limited," says Holzapfel. "They both understand the standard formats, but, for example, MKV files for high resolution films aren't recognized."

But both can download contemporary films from the web. XBox 360 owners have access to Microsoft's platform Zune, where they can rent or buy titles. For a monthly fee, Playstation owners can stream films from Sony's Lovefilm online video library.

Nonetheless, you should only consider a console as a media centre if your primary aim is to play games, says Stehle. "Depending on the console, you can use the multimedia function as a practical extra feature."

But, if you don't play, you'll notice several disadvantages to specialized devices.

"They are louder than a normal DVD player and use up more energy," says Holzapfel. A better and less expensive choice is usually a multimedia hard drive that plays multiple formats, uses less energy and can be connected to the television without much difficulty.

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