Wednesday, 29 October 2008

IView and PlayStation 3

The new 2.5 firmware for the Playstation 3 included some level of Flash 9 support - which opens up quite a few of the sort of sites which one might want to access from a TV connected device. One of these is the ABC's Iview product - which is like a DVR of the last couple of weeks of some of the ABC's TV. I have no idea if it works outside of Australia.

There is a little trick to getting it to work on the PS3, but once that is done, it seems to work ok. The first time you go to, you need to check the 'do not show this again' thing, and then restart the machine (not just the browser). Then the next time you open it, it should load up ok - although it can take a little while to get going. Viewing other flash sites in a given session also seems to upset it sometimes, but again a restart should get it working again.

It is a bit slow though. At the full resolution at 1080p, it barely works - infact I got no video at all. At 720p it works, but is a bit jerky, 576p is a bit better, but it's a pain since you need to change the resolution of the whole machine, not just the web browser, and 576P looks pretty bad on a HD TV. Another tip - if you change the 'Resolution' setting in the 'Tools' menu (the actual layer on which the browser content is rendered internally), to -2, it speeds it up further, but at a cost to the video resolution. Still, either way it is fine for watching non-action content such as news and talking head shows. I think Sony need to throw some more effort at the video codecs and flash player, since the CELL should be more than capable of running at least the video at full speed. It would be nice if they implemented 'full-screen mode' too - currently you have to zoom and maybe fiddle with the view a little to get it to show nicely. Perhaps a '-3' setting for the Resolution setting when in 1080p mode could help too, and just scale things up - rather than forcing one to reset the display on the whole system.

The menus themselves are unfortunately all done in flash - which means that although they 'look nice', you need to use a mouse pointer, and can't 'cursor-key' between links as you can on HTML pages. This is mostly just an inconvenience when using a controller, but in some cases it breaks the interface. The widget set they use is a bit shitty, for example in the full programme listing you can only scroll by grabbing the handle in the scroll-bar widget -- which is far to coarse and you cannot get to every item in the list. It would be nice if they had a simpler, alternative interface that didn't do all that pseudo-3d shit and background animations as well - all it does is make it a pain to use. The video quality itself is pretty low - well on a big tv it really shows anyway. It's probably comparable to 'high quality' mode on youtube (when the source material is broadcast quality) - it's ok and quite good for talking heads, but action and pan shots are joltingly difficult to watch. Certainly things could be improved - but it is a nice little addition to the free services available. At least until we get PlayTV over here. Perhaps Sony can try to work with the ABC a little, as they seem to be doing with the BBC's IPlayer, to help improve performance and the accessibility from a controller interface.

Another issue -- iview traffic is all metered for almost all ISP's -- unlike the older ABC video content which most decent ISP's graciously provided as un-metered traffic. This is because of the unfortunate use of Akamai for their content delivery -- I find it somewhat surprising and quite disappointing that the ABC would turn to an international service provider for an Australian service, rather than a local company. There should be plenty which are more than capable of supplying the technology required (Akamai was probably seen as a quick and easy solution - but time will tell if it was a good one). They say they are working on a way around this, but while they use Akamai it sounds like any solution will be flakey (as in iiNet's case it seems, according to whirlpool), and/or costly for ISP's to implement - so they may not do it. I guess we'll all find out soon enough. Although on the other hand, if you have a decent ISP, and aren't using your connection to download movies and tv shows, you probably have the quota to spare. And if you are, you probably aren't interested in iview anyway.

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