Sony’s PlayStation 3 includes a web browser and for some time it has been possible to view BBC iPlayer content there. The iPlayer is based on Adobe Flash. The attraction of this approach is that the console is already plugged into the home TV, so it is a relatively seamless shift from conventional broadcasting, provided you can figure out how to operate it using a game controller.
According to the BBC’s Anthony Rose, people are figuring this out big time, now that Sony has both enhanced Flash with h.264 support and full-screen hardware acceleration, and added an iPlayer icon to the PS3 menu (I should think the latter counted for more than the former). He’s revealed on the BBC Internet blog that:
… iPlayer on PS3 now accounts for a massive ~10% of all iPlayer viewing, overtaking Mac (8.5%) to be our 2nd most popular platform for IP-delivered content.
I find that impressive given that the PS3 is still marketed primarily as a games console.
The obvious question: what about Xbox 360, which is inherently more than capable of the same feat? The problem is that Flash is not supported on the 360, nor does it have a web browser. You can watch TV via a 360, by using it as a Media Center Extender, but that means getting quite a few other pieces in place in your digital home, including a Media Center PC with a TV aerial plugged into it – and even then, you are not getting iPlayer, just digital TV.
There are a couple of solutions that come to mind. One is that Microsoft could get together with Adobe and support Flash on the 360. The other is that Microsoft could get a move on with its Silverlight support on 360 and persuade the BBC to serve up iPlayer content for Silverlight as well as Flash. Both are technically feasible; the first would be easier for the BBC but embarrassing for Microsoft, which is promoting its own video streaming technology, while the second would be expensive for the BBC.
Another party which is likely to be watching with interest is ITV, which has its own catch-up service. This used to be based on Silverlight but now seems to be pretty much all Flash, perhaps because of quality problems or simply to take advantage of the wider deployment of the Flash runtime. Even though it does not have its own icon on a PS3, you could watch ITV Player via the browser.
Catch-up viewing is popular, and this sensible Flash-based development alongside existing Blu-ray support gives Sony’s machine a substantial advantage over the 360 when considered as a home entertainment device, rather than merely a games console. I’d expect this to be a significant factor as buyers make their choices in the coming Christmas season.
Finally, I wonder what other interesting potential there is for runtimes like Flash or Silverlight on a game console that is wired directly into the family home? Could there be a PS3 app store in the console’s future?
Update: A couple of informative comments below observe that there is a way to get iPlayer on the 360 via WMV download and Media Center; and that Sky Player is Silverlight-based and coming to Xbox. So it is not game over yet.