Sony and the Missed Opportunity of the PlayStation 3 Remote
Danilo Campos really doesn't like the PlayStation 3 remote control. Who can blame him?
– Proof of Sony’s indifference to my happiness: the PlayStation 3 remote control.
The vaunted role of “digital hub,” the central spot in the living rooms and thus the lives of modern consumers, an utopian ideal sought by many brands. Microsoft has Windows Media Center. AppleTV is a half-hearted push in that direction. Each of this generation’s gaming consoles wants to be a digital hub as well—even the Wii presents its owners with a taste of photo viewing, up-to-the-minute news slideshows and weather forecasts.
In this respect, Sony sits at the table with a notable distinction: It alone offer access to Blu-ray, the only game in town for physical HD media. Let’s say you invite Sony into your living room and let the PlayStation 3 become the center of your media universe. Let’s say you want to put those Blu-ray features to use. Let's say you actually want to watch a movie
. You can either use a Sixaxis controller, designed for playing games, or you can buy a dedicated remote control and watch movies in comfort.
Designated "SCPH-98046" in Sony’s byzantine and lyrical catalog, the Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray Disc Remote costs about $20. The accessory’s tepid name alone betrays the lack of enthusiasm shown.
Behold! It’s just like any other of Sony’s remote controls. You’d have a hard time telling the difference between the PS3 remote and a remote made in 1996. A mess of tiny black buttons against a black enclosure. (Good luck operating this thing in the dark.) Even a few 20th-Century remote controls had light-up buttons, but Sony would prefer instead that you either watch movies with the lights on or study the button positions beforehand.
Ugly, thoughtless design is one thing, but the remote’s innards are most damning. The PS3 doesn’t have an IR port. That means that this device communicates with the console via Bluetooth. Since no one’s television, receiver, cable box or other home theater gear uses Bluetooth, this means that the PS3 exists on its own little control island. The closest thing to proper convergence with a PS3 in your living room is rubber-banding your PS3 remote to the remote that controls everything else.
This is Sony’s biggest crime of all: Faced with a powerful chance to dominate and unify the living room, they pissed it away. Had Sony included an infrared emitter in the remote, they could have offered one-touch interactive programming for all your devices downloaded through the PlayStation Network, a la the Logitech Harmony remotes–but better. Tell your console who makes your stuff and in the blink of an eye, your remote is programmed. No codes, no indecipherable programming instructions. Anyone can do it. The entirety of your living room under the whip of a single master. It would have put Logitech’s Harmony remote experience to shame, making the process of installing computer software, registering for an account and tethering the remote with a USB cable look primitive and tedious by comparison.
Poor usability aside, the device’s similarity to almost every other Sony remote control is also telling. Sony fails to recognize the unique position offered by the PS3 and fails to equip it with the single most important tool to solidify its position in the nucleus of your digital life. Rather than being an afterthought, the PS3 remote control should have been the first thing designed for the console. It should have had its own branding and been included as standard equipment instead of tacked on as an additional cost. The sense of wonder and satisfaction that would come with installing your PS3 and, perhaps for the first time, having the whole of your living room utterly under your control would have been a digital hub nirvana no other company could match. They would have a tangible benefit with countless intangible touchy-feely consequences. Best of all, you and I, as Sony customers, would be happy.
This is no dealbreaker for anyone who wants a PS3, surely. Third-party solutions will bridge the gaps of Sony’s mediocrity. It’s just that they are always so close—why won't they take the final step?
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