Sony’s Flash advantage for PlayStation 3 vs Xbox 360

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.

14 thoughts on “Sony’s Flash advantage for PlayStation 3 vs Xbox 360”

  1. I don’t know if this addresses all the issues you mention, but I happen to download BBC programs directly onto my PC in WMV format and then play back using the Media Center Extender on my 360. The quality is excellent, and it’s probably the predominant use of our 360 at the moment.

    OK, so it’s not strictly interactive iPlayer but if you are prepared to wait for a few minutes while the program downloads, the wait is more than compensated for by the better viewing experience. I’m also running Windows 7 Ultimate on the PC, which has a much better MCE than Vista. Also, the 360 MCE ‘channels’ the PC MCE, so if you install this and plug in a mous, then you should be able to watch programs in streaming mode.

  2. One thing you didn’t mention is that Sky Player is coming to the Xbox.

    I have been using it for a while now on PCs and Macs and the quality is excellent. It is based on Silverlight. If the Xbox experience is similar then thinks will be interesting as it will be Sky Player on the Xbox versus iPlayer on the PS3.

  3. One more comment I’ll make is that the Vista Media Centre has some problems with the iPlayer WMV files in that they play back with a distorted aspect ratio on the 360. This requires some buggering-about on the TV to compensate for this. However, the Windows 7 MC seems to have addressed this totally. One more reason to upgrade.

  4. No offence but who cares about watching TV on a ‘games’ console. If you were that bothered you would either watch it online or get a digital receiver which most TVs come with. This entire article seems to slate the 360 for the lack off blue ray or TV.

    For one thing blueray is overrated the drives are not fast enough to successfully pull the information off, so it has to install a portion of the game so it can load. Also why would you be using the browser on one, for one thing most people have PCs and use them.

    The other downside to the PS3 is the update system. If you have never played, for example: Little Big Planet you don’t have the one update like you do on the 360, you have 9 updates taking around 20min to install then it installs on your HDD. The 360 may have some faults but an update is quicker than the PS3 and you can opt to install it on the HDD not have no choice cause the drive isn’t quick enough.

    It seems that you have used a couple of points to make light of the extras you can get with PS3, and not made any attempt to even mention that the xbox will be getting sky. What would people want, 1 channel or several. Personally if I wanted to watch TV I would turn the console off.

    Your view does seem to be very biased though.

  5. No offence but who cares about watching TV on a ‘games’ console.

    Quite a lot of people, if the BBC’s figures are correct. The point is that in most homes the TV is the best placed for “sit back” viewing, but sitting a PC next to the TV is intrusive – using a console solves that problem.

    Nothing against the 360, I use it all the time.


  6. If you use the 360 then you will be aware that British Sky Broadcasting has struck a deal with Microsoft, so the variety of television will be coming to the Xbox around autumn time. I would have made a mention in the article

  7. For starters, FLASH has been ALWAYS been available on the X-Box. Early Arcade games (Hexic) and huge chunks of the Dashboard used FLASH and is only now being (been?) replaced with Silverlight.

    I am pretty sure that the ONLY reason we do not have iPlayer is that nobody is willing to foot the bill to write the client software.

    Its not like iPlayer is written in FLASH anyway that I am aware of. It simply uses FLASH to play the H264 video files on most systems, because that is what is most widely supported in web browsers. But this is not mandatory by any means, as the iPod/iPhone version makes totally apparent – it streams in Quicktime instead. So it could just as easily stream using whatever method the 360 uses as well, it just needs some way to access those H264 files.

    Just look at YouTube, it happily streams the same H264 files in HQ on Windows, Mac, Linux using FLASH as well as Quicktime on the iPod. Making it clear once and for all, FLASH is not the limiting factor here.

    Now I’m not saying a web browser would not be useful on the 360. Many people have been asking for one since the 360 launched and I think it would be very useful, especially if it did support FLASH video.

    Bearing in mind the PS3 arguably did a shoddy job of its FLASH support in the web browser. Even now the playback is not perfect despite the iPod/iPhone version which, quite frankly, DOES play perfectly.

    There is simply no excuse when the PS3 can play low or high resolution H264 by any method other than FLASH, perfectly and with upscaling filters yet FLASH does not. Sony are just lucky people would rather have slightly shoddy playback than none at all, plus people are conditioned for juddery playback thanks to YouTube.

    Ultimately though? Yes I would use iPlayer on 360 and it will be interesting to see if Sky Player will encourage the BBC to act. I certainly would not boot up my PS3 just to watch iPlayer, especially not at the current quality which I find looks aweful due to a lack of upscaling filters and problems with panning. I use my iPod instead.

  8. Just one more thing (I’m beginning to sound like Columbo here)…H264 is supported out of the box in Windows 7 and on the 360.

  9. @Alex

    This is interesting, I had no idea the 360 used Flash at all. Don’t know about dashboard – have you got further info? – but this article describes a “custom flash player” built especially for Hexic:

    Still, even if a Flash player exists for the 360 there is quite a difference between a homebrew hack and being able to run flash content from any URL.

    If I were Microsoft I’d be agitating to get BBC iPlayer (and ITV player) on the 360 ASAP since it is a big deal for many users.


  10. Only last night (when I was playing around with the iPlayer Desktop app on my laptop running Ubuntu) was I thinking, why isn’t there an iPlayer app for the XBOX 360?

    I’d love to be able to get BBC content (and ITV/C4 content too) in HD but at the moment I can’t get a satellite signal (due to some trees blocking the dish which I have no control over) and well Freeview HD hasn’t been released yet although I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the Westcountry (I’m in Torbay) won’t be long behind Manchester.

    I do have Virgin Media at home although I use this mainly for the broadband, I’m a bit reluctant to pay for the HD cable box especially considering we hardly use the standard box apart from iPlayer (we have Freeview and that suits us down to the ground).

    So yeah having iPlayer (in HD) on the XBOX 360 would be a real boon for me. I hear that HD streaming is coming to the XBOX 360 soon (I gather it’s along with the Sky Player, which I’m assuming requires some sort of Sky subscription or payment for content) so having the iPlayer on the XBOX 360 would be great (if I could stream live BBC HD to the XBOX 360 then that would be great, and possibly even worth upgrading my broadband for so I wasn’t subject to the traffic management).


  11. Perhaps I am wrong about FLASH on 360, but I am pretty sure the adverts, anything animated on the dashboard was running in FLASH as Microsoft recently made a big deal about switching to Silverlight.

    But like I said, I do not see that as relevant anyway. The 360 supports all the same codecs as the PS3 (the exceptions being containers not codecs, eg PS3 supports Blu-ray AVC HD and the 360 supports Quicktime HD) and as the iPhone/iPod does not need FLASH to support iPlayer, neither does anything else. The 360 only needs a client, in fact I wonder if someone could make an Indie Game that is actually an iPlayer client? Probably tricky as you need BBC support to get at the streams as they make them slightly none-standard (people were pirating the iPhone/iPod streams on PC).

    I too am waiting to see how streaming HD will turn out as the average speed of broadband in the UK is only really comfortable for SD streaming. I do think it is time we had streaming TV channels on consoles. The assumption everyone wants to have a games console AND a set top box is really false. There must be plenty of kids with PS3/360 in their bed room and old TVs that will have no TV support soon, even streaming basic freeview channels over the Internet to the console could really help fill that gap.

    As for HD, the catch is I do not think enough people have the bandwidth to stream BBC HD yet although I would love to see it attempted. Even if it meant most people had to drop down to 720p streams instead of 1080p it would be a worthy improvement.

  12. If you use the 360 then you will be aware that British Sky Broadcasting has struck a deal with Microsoft, so the variety of television will be coming to the Xbox around autumn time. I would have made a mention in the article

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