Make your PS3 actually work as a media player

Charles Shopsin is a New York City-raised and Brooklyn-based software developer. In his spare time, he runs the Modern Mechanix blog, waits tables, and finds new ways to torture his cat. His dream girl is Jordan from the movie Real Genius. Hi! I'm Charlie and I'll be your guest blogger this week. I'm not sure what Joel was thinking when he offered this spot to a blogger whose blog consists entirely of scanned images. Kindly direct all complaints to him. Recently I purchased a big screen LCD television and a PlayStation 3 with the goal of using my PS3 as a network media player. Up until this weekend, I've found it to be a pretty frustrating experience. My goal was pretty simple: I wanted to store all of my media on a 1TB drive attached to my AirPort Extreme and play it through my PS3. It should've been a snap, right? This thing is a frickin' supercomputer with every connectivity option imaginable. Why did it not work? The first thing I discovered is that you can't play media from a plain-old shared network folder (Windows or Mac). Instead, you need a DLNA compliant UPnP server. No problem. Windows Media Player has a built in UPnP server and it seemed to work fine. I could see all of the media on my computer under the Video tab on the PS3. So I started browsing around to see how things looked on my fancy new TV. Some things played fine, but others give me a "this data type is not supported" message, seemingly at random. I'm sure that someone with a deep knowledge of video encoders, transcoders, muxers and media containers could tell you why, but I can't. Also, forget about playing back any H.264/AC3 HD content one might have um ... acquired on the Internet. The other issue I noticed was that I couldn't see any of the video stored on my AirPort Extreme, even though I had the shared disk mapped to a drive in Windows and had added it to my WMP media library. Apparently, WMP doesn't allow you to share content from a remote drive. So, I went looking for a third party solution and found one called PS3 Media Server, an open source java app that runs on Windows/Mac/Linux. The description on the site claimed that it could make your PS3 play pretty much anything under the sun, with zero configuration:
  • Real-time video transcoding via MEncoder
  • DVD ISOs images / VIDEO_TS Folder transcoder
  • OGG/FLAC/MPC/APE audio transcoding
  • Thumbnail generation for Videos
  • All formats PS3 natively supports: MP3/JPG/PNG/GIF/TIFF, all kind of videos (AVI, MP4, TS, M2TS, MPEG) the ps3 is willing to play
  • Display camera RAWs thumbnails (Canon / Nikon, etc.)
  • ZIP/RAR files as browsable folders
  • Support for pictures based feeds, such as Flickr and Picasaweb
  • Internet TV / Web Radio support with VLC, MEncoder or MPlayer
  • Podcasts audio/ Video feeds support
  • Basic Xbox360 support
Windows/Linux Only:
  • Direct streaming of DTS / DTS-HD core to the receiver
  • Remux PS3 compatible H264/MPEG2 video and all audio tracks to AC3/DTS/LPCM in real time with tsMuxer
  • FLAC 96kHz/24bits/5.1 support
I installed it, turned on my PS3 and went to the Video tab. There was now a new entry called PS3 Media Server and under it, I found all of the drives on my computer, even the network shares. Everything played! All of the videos that wouldn't play before worked fine now. Even H.264/AC content played fine, thanks to the ability to transcode/remux video streams on the fly. I've only just scratched the surface of what this app can do, but it has already made watching video over my PS3 a lot more pleasant. Link
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16 Responses to Make your PS3 actually work as a media player

  1. espressoroast says:

    “Medialink” is another (paid) alternative that provides media server functionality between the Mac and a PS3.
    The only limitation that annoys me about the PS3 as a media player is the lack of .mkv support.
    It is a simple matter of conversion but a hassle nonetheless.

  2. Enochrewt says:

    This sounds amazingly simple compared to other “solutions” I’ve seen for playing a multitude of video types on the PS3.

    I use the Xbox 360 for my video, and I can understand the frustration. I have 2 different 3rd party apps for making everything play, and even that’s not full proof, H.264 still gives me fits, and is a 50/50 chance that I can get it to play, even with manual transcoding/demuxing and remuxing. I’ve actually learned most of mencoder.exe’s command line stuff in order to get things to work. Not the most relaxing thing to do when you’d rather be watching TV.

    I don’t understand why both MS and Sony release consoles that make use of HD resolutions and 5.1+ surround sound for games, and yet come so half-heartedly to the media extender game with their features that don’t include those standard technologies. Insert your own MPAA/RIAA conspiracy theory here.

    Still, your post gives me hope that I can pick up a PS3 and make it into the media box that I’ve always longed for, because the 360 just doesn’t cut it in the end. Even with MS’s Media Center.

  3. Charles Shopsin says:

    espressoroast: This app will convert mkv files on the fly as they are served to the PS3. I watched a movie yesterday that worked great, AC3 and all.

    Enochrewt: I tried it out on my xbox360 and it worked fine there as well. I was able to play an H.264/AC3 movie but unlike the PS3 it only played 2 channel audio, which is true on the 360 no matter how you convert it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    PS3 Media Server – ive been using it since beta and its amazing, its changed the way i live. the guy deserves a medal and a large wad of cash…

  5. kuanes says:

    I started with TVersity (which sucked) and then found TwonkyMedia, which has worked quite well for me (while still using MKV2VOB for conversions). I’ve been following the guy (he’s French, btw) who has been developing this PS3 Media Server. He seems to not be jaded yet and seems to really want to make a GREAT Media Server.

    I’m still happy with TwonkyMedia, but will probably be changing to this new PS3MediaServer soon (HD conversion in real-time!).

    I would highly recommend running an ethernet cable to your PS3 (yeah, i know, a pain in the ass, but…). You’ll lose all that choppiness.

  6. Charles Shopsin says:

    moosedesign: I had the same problem and I ended up running an ethernet cable over to the PS3.

  7. Ryan Waddell says:

    I have to say – for just about a year I used my PS3 with Windows Media Player, figuring it worked “well enough” and not bothering to find another solution. But when I switched over to a Mac, and had to hunt around to find something new? I was ASTOUNDED at how much better PS3 Media Server is, and it’s FREE. Absolutely brilliant!

    Having said that – I still end up copying my high quality movies (the 2+gb ones with AC3, etc) onto a compactflash card when I want to watch them on the PS3 – I don’t have the option of running an ethernet cable (not without the wife killing me for having wires all over the place, any way). Works pretty well though, as long as it’s a format that the PS3 can play. :)

  8. dculberson says:

    Oh, jeez! In-freaking-credible. I’ve got to give this a shot – the media server bit has been troublesome for me for a long time. I’ve been running Mediatomb, as mentioned previously, but it’s really not all that stable or great.

  9. thechicgeek says:

    I guess you could say that right now I’m “beta” testing a bunch of ways to get a media server running. Right now I have all my digital files stored on the Popcorn Hour, which is fine, but the interface drives me bonkers! So, I try to stream everything from the Popcorn Hour to the PS3. This works well enough if I have the proper formats for the PS3, but more often than not I have MKV files. and they don’t play.

    I tried the PS3 Media Server, but I could never get it to work properly. I don’t know, maybe I should just ditch the Popcorn Hour altogether and tether an external drive to my PS3 and then use the PS3 Media Server.

    Also, if you haven’t already checked it out, works great to stream Hulu and Netflix (with others still coming!). It’s $40, but completely worth it.

  10. RyanH says:

    This is neat. It’s also worth noting that many network drives have the option to run their own UPnP server.

  11. Black Sheep NS says:

    I’ve been using TVersity, which I find head and shoulders above Windows Media in stability and filetype support… but still is far from perfect in stability and filetype support.

    Anybody able to sign off on this program VS. TVersity?

  12. HairySammoth says:

    Post of the year, for me; my Sky’s broken and I just got my 4th Red Rings, so it was beginning to look like I might actually have to make my own fun for a worrying moment there.

    How have I never heard of this? It makes the PS3 into exactly what I’ve wanted it to be since it came out…

  13. djangofan says:

    TVersity media server works much better (plus install the Matroska codec separately).

  14. MooseDesign says:

    I have the identical setup to the one in the article… I would be curious to know what kinds of files you are streaming over your wireless network because some of those much larger movies (~2GB) exhibit a lot of chop over WiFI for me.

    I’m fairly certain I will have to go with a hard line in my final PS3 media hub solution but I would certainly be interested to hear what file types you are streaming and how well it is working…

  15. Enochrewt says:

    #3: Charles Shopsin: Thanks for the tip, I’ll give that a try. And just to clarify the H.264/2 channel sound issue on the 360, you can only use 2 channel IF it’s H.264 in an mp4 container. The video is an avi, 5.1 is playable. Of course there’s a video quality trade off there…

    This post inspired me to try and update my video process to something more quality-oriented, if not eloquent. After mucking around for 6 hours with codec dlls, new demuxing and remuxing apps, and a few other things, I still failed miserably. Unfortunately it wasn’t any of that stuff’s fault, it was the piss-poor job the original person that originally encoded my “test video” did. Hooray.

    I did however set up Windows 7 media center, and found that it used the same mechanism to play avi files that the 360 dashboard does. No 3rd party transcoding-on-the-fly software necessary. It also would play H.264/OGG files, but with no video. That’s bizarre in itself. At least it’s a step in the right direction for MCE.

  16. dman says:

    Damn. I kept hoping you were going to say you’d found a solution for your network disk browsing and codec playback that could be applied to the PS3 itself.
    I’ve been running MediaTomb on my wardrobe Linux server, which is certainly a pain to configure to a usable state, but can eventually produce thumbnails and transcoding. No idea why I have to decipher codec subtypes myself though!

    Would you believe I had to write my own metadata extractor script and start talking UPNP just to get my tv shows and movies to show up in their respective categories?

    Wish list (for Sony more than anything)
    – Simple network browse. It’s NOT HARD.
    – More codecs (eg FLV!)
    – A freaking playlist for the XMB!
    – Ability to queue a song/video without killing the current one.
    – a random play mode
    – metadata from videos. Even locally copied files don’t show up their embedded info.
    – remember favorites or last-played.

    … Isn’t this is a media player?

    A $30 mp3 player can do half of these, why not my big black George Foreman grill?

    Anyway, thanks for the link. It wasn’t on the radar late last year when I tried out about 6 different solutions. PC, Mac & Linux – sweet!

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