New OS Required For Improved Online Experience

While the PlayStation 3 has a number of obstacles to overcome, its biggest problem comes right from within; the Cross Media Bar interface. Before Sony can improve the existing PlayStation Network, they may have to completely rewrite the XMB first.
Published: February 9, 2007
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Not As Cutting Edge As We Would Have Hoped

When Sony first showed off their XMB interface for the PlayStation 3 back during E3 2006, my first reactions were generally negative. Not because the XMB was practically lifted directly from the PSP and PSX (PlayStation 2 with DVR capabilities), or that the XMB was extremely limited in its functionality, but because months earlier, I had predicted that Sony would likely fall back on this interface simply due to their inability to come up with anything even remotely original or cutting edge.

While I never expected Sony to come up with something to rival the XBox 360 Dashboard - operating system design is really Microsoft's forte - I did expect Sony to offer something new and constructive, and more importantly offer something that was advanced enough to deal with the complexities of an online infrastructure. When Ken Kutaragi first discussed the early possibilities for the PS3 to link with other hard drives and computer hardware within a users' home network, I certainly believed that the PS3 OS would have to include a proper file explorer at the very least.

So in the end, I believe that we wound up with something completely different: an unoriginal, highly simplistic interface that really delivers nothing exciting and offers none of the features that many people had hoped to see. So what exactly went wrong?

What About Those Media Features?

What ever happened to the idea of being to link your PlayStation 3 wirelessly with other computer hardware and wireless devices? Kutaragi had originally envisioned the PlayStation 3 as a media hub, with the capability of transferring and streaming files from other PC's within your home network, just like a media hub (he referred to this concept as "networking hard drives". In fact, the original prototype even included additional ethernet slots to make wired connections with other computers, in effect making the PlayStation 3 into a router. In my mind, this didn't quite make much sense, since most people would be happier using a separate router for their networking capabilities. With more and more computers in the average home, it is far more likely that users would keep their wired internet connections (with the cable modem) closer to their computers, and keep their PlayStation 3's closer to the entertainment area. I wasn't too surprised when Sony decided to include only a single wired connection in the final spec. I mean, think about it: Who would want to make wired connections of their computers directly into a console? It's certainly not a practical idea. The real power of the PS3 rests in the wireless ethernet controller, and its ability to wirelessly connect with other devices. Perhaps Sony was unable to come up with the proper security software that would be required to prevent users from accidentally downloading viruses and other harmful files from a PC. Perhaps Sony was worried that users may use a network scheme of this type to transfer PS3 ISO files from the PC directly to the PS3 HD, thus clearing the way for piracy.

Or perhaps, Ken Kutaragi simply wasn't thinking straight when it came to "home networking" solutions. Remember Kutaragi's keynote at Tokyo Game Show 2006? Kutaragi very vaguely attempted to make mention of this networking concept, but it was clear by the end of his presentation that he never really knew what he was talking about in the first place. In any case, PS3 owners cannot perform true file browsing between their PlayStation 3 and other computers or wireless devices within their network, thus making the console a very poor media hub to begin with. Instead, it would seem that Sony is relying more on the inclusion of the Memory Stick, CompactFlash and SD slots for the transfer of multimedia files - still this is rather primitive solution when you consider the advantages and benefits that wireless networking would have to offer. It's also rather sad when you consider that neither the XBox 360 nor the Wii consoles offer complete media/file transfer capabilities out of the box (the Xbox 360 DOES offer streaming capabilities, but only when used with Windows Media Extender edition). As it stands, the PS3 does have the capability of streaming files and transferring PSone games one-way to your PSP console, but you still cannot stream or transfer file content from other PCs or PSP's back onto your PS3 HD. Had these options been made available via the XMB interface, the PS3 would have had some very refreshingly original features and a sizeable edge over its competition.

Besides the lack of true media hub features, the PlayStation 3 also lacks a true online infrastructure for games. When Phil Harrison recently made his keynote speech at GDC 2007, he briefly mentioned that the online infrastructure would see "constant change" and that there would be more features to be offered down the road. However, I do not believe that this is even possible with the XMB interface in its current form. Instead, Sony will have to make significant changes to their current interface if they hope to make it more attractive and more practical for an online network.
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