Sony has revealed that the Playstation 4 will not support MP3s, allow CD playback or play media stored on external drives. It will also no longer provide DLNA services, which leads to a tricky situation for many consumers.
It’s true that a large portion of PS3 owners chose the Sony product for its robust media centre capabilities. The Playstation 3 was bundled with many Sony TVs for a time and this tactic certainly paid off when it came to install base. Consumers and the tech savvy alike love the PS3 for its media server compatibilities and free access to online streaming services (PS+ is not required).
What isn’t true, however, is the idea that Sony is moving away from media. They’re not. They’re just moving closer to Sony’s media.
This may sound like semantics, but this is a far more concerning state of affairs where consumer freedom is concerned than Sony simply not allowing you to play whatever you like.
If they simply did not feature media playback capabilities they’d be returning the PS4 to the days of the Super Nintendo, ignoring media altogether and making a pure gaming machine. Nintendo has proven four generations in a row that doesn’t work and Sony isn’t stupid; they haven’t done that at all.
Calling out Sony as an organisation that is moving away from media is a complete misunderstanding of the situation and removes all discussion of the real issue: they want to lock you in. They want you embedded, as iTunes has consumers embedded. If you want to use streaming or digital delivery services, you’d better be damn sure it’s Sony’s streaming or digital delivery service.
That’s just one aspect of the move. The other is locking pirates out. You see the problem the Sony Playstation 4 faces is that there is a good chance that the pirated movie or MP3 you want to play is property of Sony too.
Protecting its film production and music publishing business is not new to Sony’s design of Playstation products. The PS3 isn’t exactly friendly when it comes to playing .mkv files and it is the only current generation console with High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) built-in.
HDCP means no HDMI signal can be captured from the PS3 (and PS4), preventing the device from becoming the world’s simplest BluRay ripping machine, plugging what is colloquially known as the analog hole. The side-effect is no HDMI gaming capture either. Feel free to capture up to 1080i through component cables, but not your 1080p HDMI cable.
Preventing users from using systems outside the Sony ecosystem is symptomatic of a corporation that has to co-ordinate content protection with device production.
Microsoft unquestionably failed to establish the Xbox 360 as a dominant media server and centre, but with the Xbox One it doesn’t suffer from the same issue. It has the media capabilities on-board the device and, more importantly, lacks the content ownership. This is a similar situation to Samsung’s rise in the Television space – because it wasn’t shackled to content ownership, it was able to add broad support for media formats with its Smart TV features, something Sony didn’t do.
Like Samsung, Microsoft doesn’t have to protect an interest it doesn’t have, hence the focus on media and multi-tasking with Xbox One. Also like Samsung, it is introducing its own media distribution channels, but isn’t shackled at a corporate level by extensive media production assets.
It becomes clearer and clearer that, as the gaming press were almost universally swept off their feet at E3 they were victims of a brilliant sleight of hand. On the surface Sony delivered a gamer-centric device everyone desired, but at the same time they drew everyone’s attention away from the removal of features that historically made Sony central to our daily media consumption.