PSN Video Service review

Glen takes the PlayStation 3 video download service for a test drive...

PSN

Sony launched its video service on the PlayStation Network towards the end of last year and it has continued to grow since. A number of major studios, including Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Disney etc, contribute titles and users have the option of owning or renting their downloads. It’s been something I’ve been eager to try since it launched.

When I was given the opportunity to get some PSN credit to test it out, I jumped at the chance. So with £20 PSN credit burning a hole in my virtual wallet, I set off to browse the video library for some delights to watch.

Experience

Locating the video section is incredibly easy – just click on ‘videos’ in the top left corner of the screen when you’re in the PSN store. The layout of the video store is identical to that of the games part of the store, so if you have any experience downloading demos, games etc you should have no problem here. You can browse for titles in a number of categories and sub categories as well as entering the name of the title you’re searching for.

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First up for me was Mike Judge’s comedy classic Office Space. I thought I’d make this a full purchase as my copy went missing a few years ago and it’s been one I’ve been meaning to get again for quite some time. No idea why I haven’t spent £4 to get this on DVD since my copy went missing. So I decided to spend £6.99 to own the standard definition version of the film (HD and SD options are also available to rent). I won’t go in to too many details about the film, as I’m sure you’re all aware how amazing it is and it’s been covered a few times on this site – here and here.

The picture quality was great, pretty much how I remember it on DVD. It took 5 hours 40 minutes to download this 1.5GB file, which was a lot longer than I was expecting. I did chose to start the download a few minutes after the PSN store had its weekly update, so I attributed the slow download time to the fact that there would have been a lot of activity on the network around this time.

After Office Space I decided to rent Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary The 11th Hour in HD (£3.49). The title was apt, given that this is how long it took to download, which is an absolute age for a file of a little over GB. I’d like to state at this point that, despite living in a village location, my Internet connection is fairly decent (best available for my area) and downloading files of a similar size on the home computer or laptops at the property are done in a fraction of the time. A while back I had problems with connecting to the PSN but this was resolved some months ago and since then my connection has been very stable.

For the most part, the picture quality was great. Despite reading a number of complaints that many of the HD titles weren’t full HD and presented in 720p, the information box on my TV confirmed that this title was, indeed, 1080p full HD. There are some incredible shots in this feature, but there was also a lot of graininess to the picture from time to time and during some of the interviews the colors seemed a bit off. That’s based on the assumption that the people interviewed didn’t have naturally orange faces. However, as with Office Space, there was no compatibility for 5.1 or similar – only stereo was supported.

The remaining credit was spent on Blood: The Last Vampire HD rental (£4.49), Hard Candy SD rental (£2.49) and The Thing SD rental (£2.49). The picture quality of Hard Candy and The Thing were as you would expect – decent DVD quality – and Blood in HD lacked the graininess and orange faces seen in The 11th Hour. It had a lot of impressive moments that made me glad to rent the movie in HD. It took about the same amount of time as The 11th Hour to download, but the SD rentals downloaded in a little over an hour, which is very impressive (well, in comparison to the HD download times).

I did try streaming the HD the titles whilst they were downloading, but this is far from a practical solution given the infuriatingly slow pace in which they download. I’d suggest waiting until the feature is fully downloaded, or at the very least 90% complete, prior to attempting this. SD rentals, on the other hand, are fine. One had had to buffer once when I started watching a movie immediately, but the second one I waited until it was 10% complete and it played straight through with no problems.

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Cost

SD content to own – £6.99 – £11.99 SD content to rent – £2.49-£3.49 HD content to rent – £3.49 – £4.49

Details and restrictions

When renting titles you will have 14 days to start watching it and 48 hours to complete watching the movie once you have begun watching it. Movies can be watched an unlimited number of times during the authorised period of use, however, you can only watch the movie on one PS3 system. You’re able to transfer purchased SD items onto a PSP (up to three) but not to another PS3. PSPs will also support SD rentals, but not HD rentals. Sadly, I don’t own a PSP and wasn’t able to get my hands on one, so wasn’t able to test this out.

It’s worthwhile switching off friend alerts prior to watching a movie. It’s a little irritating if you have indecisive people on your friends list logging in and out every five minutes and getting a box in the top right hand of the screen informing you of this. It isn’t a concern when you’re watching Blu-rays and DVDs, so it’s easy to over look this.

When the service launched,an ambitious estimate of 50 new titles a week was quoted. Personally, I haven’t seen anywhere near this getting added as yet. But there’s still a decent amount of content for a relatively new service. There are over 800 movies available, 600 of which are available to rent and 177 available in HD.

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Conclusion

The content in the American store is some way ahead of that offered in these parts, although this is expected as it had been running for well over a year before the EU service launched. I’ve tried accessing the video content in the US on my American account but with no success. So, no classic NHL matches or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia for me.

Hopefully, the EU store will extend to include TV shows and sports in the not too distant future, although for BBC there’s iPlayeron the XMB and it’s easy enough to access other catch-up services (legal, of course) online through the built-in browser.

My experience using this video service has been good, although I can’t see myself using it too often, if I’m perfectly honest. The major hurdle at this point is one of price, although I appreciate that this is probably down to agreements with the studios as opposed to Sony.

In the majority of cases, it’s more expensive to purchase movies to own than to buy on DVD and there are no extras included, or a scene select option, and from my experience, there’s no option for surround sound, only stereo is available. This, along with the fact that that there isn’t an option to purchase HD movies to own, and many of the latest titles are only available to buy in SD, are major drawbacks for the service. 

I suppose it does have the convenience factor going for it, but it does take a while to download HD content. Plus, it would be quicker, and cheaper, for me to take the 20 minute drive to the nearest rental store.

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It was good that I got this voucher when the driving conditions were so poor that I had little desire to drive anywhere. Under normal circumstances, though, I’d make the trip. 

I asked friends and colleagues I know who own PS3s, what their opinions were on the video store and none of them had tried it. They had all browsed the titles but were put off by the price. Many commented on the fact that they’re either subscribers to mail rental services or the fact that you can rent four Blu-rays or DVDs for £10 if you take a trip to a rental store, so they see little point in renting or buying movies via their PS3.

I was toying between a two and a three star rating for the service at present and have opted for three, given we don’t do half marks. There are numerous issues with the service, but it’s nice to have it available as an option.

If a few of the problems are ironed out and new features are added (such as TV shows and sports), it could end up being something fantastic. At the moment, though, it’s an average service, but one that shows promise.

3 stars

Rating:

3 out of 5