Sony and the Missed Opportunity of the PlayStation 3 Remote

ps3remote.jpg

Danilo Campos really doesn’t like the PlayStation 3 remote control. Who can blame him?

Danilo Campos – 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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28 Responses to Sony and the Missed Opportunity of the PlayStation 3 Remote

  1. danilo says:

    Thank you, Anonymous.

    Bravia Sync is the VERY BEST EXAMPLE of Sony’s “Fuck you” mentality when it comes to making customers happy. Instead of addressing the desires of its users, Sony dictates terms including how products should be used and what else should exist in a consumer’s product ecosystem.

    tl;dr for the rest of this post: If you don’t do everything as Sony commands with exclusively Sony product, Sony says “fuck you.”

    “Sony, I want the ability to pause and to record more than two hours of content on my Betamax tapes.”

    “Fuck you. Pausing isn’t in our vision and longer record time would make the picture less perfect.”

    “Sony, make me a digital camera that works with my existing gear.”

    “Fuck you. We’re making our own memory card technology that offers no technological advantages, uses an ugly, bulky form factor and that no other vendors will ever, ever use in their own products. Buy 20 of them.”

    “Sony, I love your miniDisc player. But I have a lot of MP3’s. Since all you’re really doing is storing digital data on a rewritable magneto-optical medium, can you just make an MD player/recorder that supports MP3?”

    “Fuck you. You will use ATRAC and you will like it. You will especially enjoy the hours-long process of converting an album to ATRAC using our crappy software product. If you don’t like it, here’s a USB-driven optical audio output. Have fun hand-labeling your songs.”

    “Sony, your PS3 remote control doesn’t really address many of my needs…”

    “Fuck you. Replace your existing television and other home theater products with Sony gear. Don’t have an all-Sony living room? We don’t want to hear from you.”

    Placing control responsibility in the hands of a single major home theater component is a fundamentally flawed approach. Your controller layer should exist independent of individual components since, you know, sometimes people buy new TVs.

  2. grimc says:

    (Good luck operating this thing in the dark.)

    I can’t be the only person who intentionally learns remote buttons by touch. Besides, looking at a remote means taking your eyes off the tv. Heresy.

  3. cubby96 says:

    Yes, but we shouldn’t have to study our electronics in order to make them work for us.

    I agree, this is practically begging for a third-party solution, with a playstation-store-downloadable ‘game’ (read: app) that programs the remote into a fully-functional bluetooth and IR home-theater remote with minimal fuss.

  4. espressoroast says:

    Although I don’t think the PS3 remote is particularly ugly, I completely agree on the functionality points.
    Everything else aside, leaving out a IR port is bordering on criminal.
    They are already charging for this, so increase in the cost should not be an insurmountable problem.

    Sony has a bewildering talent of combining the most brilliant engineering and the most dimwitted implementation in a single unit. Shame.

  5. bbonyx says:

    Anyone running enough home theater to be fully-utilizing the PS3 should be running a decent remote anyway (read Philips Pronto). Having a remote-per-device is anathema in any decent A/V setup.

    There are plenty of PS3 configs for the Pronto NG on remotecentral.

  6. Tango Charlie says:

    Also:

    The “Stop” button is positioned like a land mine right in the middle of all the other play/pause/forward/backward buttons. If you’re not careful about it and accidentally hit the Stop button, you’re dumped out to the XMB. To get back into the movie, you’re going to have to wait for the Blue Ray to load back up again, which usually takes at least half a minute. Awesome job, guys.

  7. Brother Provisional says:

    I actually prefer the lack of IR on the PS3. Sure I can’t use a universal remote, but bluetooth is a much better technology for remote controls in general. For example, if I’m laying on my couch (the natural reaction to soporific media), I often have to lift the traditional IR remote for my cable box up above the obstruction of my coffee table, since the only good place I have for the box is near the floor. Omnidirectional radio broadcast just works a whole lot better with the topography of my living room than line of sight IR technology.

  8. Tango Charlie says:

    …and why aren’t Play and Pause right beside each other? Their functions are more closely related than Play and Stop. Pause is a gradation between Play and Stop, it should always be positioned between those two.

  9. Anonymous says:

    grab the NYKO remote & use your nice universal IR remote for full Blu-Ray functionality. $15 and go! cheers

  10. Anonymous says:

    This guy needs to get a life.

  11. RedShirt77 says:

    Ehh, I have never had any problem with the remote, except for the occasional trend to turn itself on during LBP and drop a dead sackboy into my game.

    It’s a fine remote for watching movies. You only really need a couple of buttons while watching a movie, the real advantage is just in not having shoulder buttons that are easily bumped to skip chapters. Also, the bluetooth is really a wonderful thing for a remote. No more line of site issues.

    On the other hand if they want their Monolith to be a media center then they should creat a media center remote with touch screen and multi device usability.

  12. danbanana says:

    i use a harmony 550 with my xbox 360 and have zero problems. now all MS has to do is release a blu-ray add-on for the 360 and my xbox turns into my one-stop media machine (streaming netflix and media from my PC in my office).

    that said: there are lots of options with the PS3 and IR. the best is buying a compatible USB IR receiver (usually paired with a crappy remote) and a harmony or other higher-end remote. problem solved.

  13. nickh says:

    I think Sony just took a bunch of the innards of the six axxis and dumped them in a remote. I don’t think they did much thinking beyond, is there anything we can do with all of this old inventory.

  14. eideal852 says:

    ^that too! eff the effing stop button

  15. Anonymous says:

    Bravia Sync, look it up next time.

  16. Adam Fields says:

    Forget telling your console what you have – just point your Playstation Eye at it and have it figure it out.

  17. Sean Eric FAgan says:

    I’m with Brother Provisional. This is the 21st friggin’ century, for crying out loud — why are we still using IR? Which requires line of sight, has potential conflicts, is lossy, is unidirectional, and usually doesn’t let you have multiple instances of the same device? (TiVo, and some others, let you change the ID of the box and the remote. Not every device out there does. This is not an issue with Bluetooth.)

    (Nor would it be an issue with using IP, a la the iPhone’s iTunes Remote. I would like to think that something like that is the future, over even Bluetooth.)

  18. zuzu says:

    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.

    Also, the bluetooth is really a wonderful thing for a remote. No more line of site issues.

    I’ve been using an Intel Mac Mini, Remote Buddy, and a Wiimote (bluetooth) for years as my home theater system. (EyeTV + VideoLAN)

    I wish everything used Bluetooth instead of IR.

    Anyone know if the SCPH-98046 works with Remote Buddy?

  19. eideal852 says:

    ugh. i agree.
    i DO have a super duper master remote. i am a crestron (home control integration system)programmer by trade, and i also program various other available options (intellicontrol, harmony, universal remote, etc). i own a marantz 9500 touchscreen, as well as a crestron processor and touchpanel.

    the bitch of it is that you CANNOT control the ps3 with ANY available universal option without buying a (usually third party) usb IR receiver, ALL of which are lacking some of the more useful buttons available on Sony’s bluetooth “solution”. so, i can’t control any of my other devices with the ps3 remote. i can’t (easily) control the ps3 with anything else. line of sight is definitely an issue i am happy to be rid of, but not at the cost of complicating everything else. Sony could have easily included, at least, an IR emitter on the remote (pennies), and , one better, an IR receiver on the ps3 (admittedly more costly, yet not prohibitively so) to eliminatemost, i not all, of these issues. The unit is touted as a high end entertainment device, no reason to cripple it.

    oh and one more MAJOR gripe, with a minor system update fix: does ANY g-d button press need to function as a power key (for the remote AND System?) i’ll second the phantom sackboy gripe, but i’m MORE irritated that with any shift on the couch, bump by the dog, press by my son, even just PUTTING THE EFFING REMOTE AWAY at night results in powering on one of the bigger power-hogs in my home. why not just have the ps button function in this way, like on the reg controllers?
    arrrrrrrgh…

  20. zuzu says:

    Looks like Remote Buddy does support it.

    Supported remotes: Sony BD Remote Control

  21. eideal852 says:

    ack… looks like i responded to this after reading comments from this morning. since i do not know how to reload a page, everything seems to have been said better and more concisely by others. sorry.

  22. dougr650 says:

    This article managed to capture the superficial problems nicely. Once you’ve started using this damnable thing for any length of time, some other issues begin to grate on your nerves. For me, the worst of these is that there’s no real power button. Instead, the PS3 will turn on at the touch of *any* button on the remote. This, by itself, wouldn’t be a major problem, but the keys on this thing are hyper-sensitive. Just rearranging remotes on the table or laying a newspaper across it invariably triggers the load “beep” indicating that the PS3 has turned itself (and its jet-engine-like fans) on. Once again, because there’s no proper power button, there’s no way to turn the thing off unless you now switch inputs so that you can hold the PS button down until the menu that lets you power off appears, then you can switch inputs back to whatever you were doing before.

    For crying out loud Sony, if you’re going to have the most expensive current-gen console that you’re reluctant to even market as a game console, at least spend 20 minutes or so working out the glaring usability problems! This is just ridiculous. Plus the fact that it is completely unusable with my fancy-schmancy Harmony remote, means that the PS3 is the ugly stepchild of my living room entertainment center that rarely gets used because it’s such a pain-in-the-ass that won’t cooperate with anything else.

  23. dculberson says:

    Bluetooth is great, but Danilo is dead on that it should have *also* had an IR emitter. It also should have been backlit. I hate the PS3 remote. It’s terrible. For exactly the reasons he lays out.

    I can’t tell you how often I have to seriously think about the location of a button or hold the remote up to a light. It’s just dumb.

  24. Anonymous says:

    IR4PS3 – bought from a guy in Quebec, it marries an IR receiver (with great reception at any angle) to the inards of the crappy PS3 remote. Quite a price to pay for Sony saving 99 cents with no IR, but it handles everything via the Harmony 680 no problem. It even has an internal macro to handle the multi-step process of shutting down the PS3. The only real problem is getting it power – I ended up running it off the USB interface on the SA8000HD cable box as it has always on power, unlike the PS3 and Xbox360. How convenient to leave the PS3 on to recharge the bloody controllers! The IR4PS3 can be run off a DC power adapter as well but it work nicely this way.

  25. Doomstalk says:

    The most annoying thing about the PS3 remote, in my opinion, is the fact that EVERY button on it will turn on the PS3. If it’s sitting on your coffee table, chances are good you’ll bump the button every once in a while. It’s also very difficult to turn the system off by remote without having the TV turned on. Irritating when you’re using it to stream music.

  26. Clay says:

    The press-any-key functionality should be an option rather than a hardwired default. Danilo’s best point is that being Bluetooth-based, the remote has this vast advantage of potential two-way communication with the PS3 — why not make it configurable through XMB? Heck, if it’s flashable, Sony could even upgrade the remote’s firmware to do this.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Sure the PS3 remote isn’t the second coming of remotes but you know what I love about it. Two things: Its $20 and its a remote for my PS3.

  28. heavyboots says:

    I have to completely disagree with your review of the PS3 remote.

    1-It operates fine in the dark. The Play, Stop, Pause buttons are huge and at the bottom of the remote. They set it up for *feel* operation, not lighted operation.
    2-Bluetooth is awesome. I can pause the movie from the other room or more likely play/pause/skip tracks when using it for music.
    3-It can be used in pinch to surf the web because it has almost every control a BT PS3 controller has.
    4-I will NEVER pay $100-$200 for one of those idiotic all-in-one remotes. One remote to rule them all has always been an unrealistic and overly costly goal imho.

    The only major issue I do have with the PS3 remote is that it should be play/pause/stop rather than play/stop/pause button order as they have it now.

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