Internet TV: The web comes to your TV

Written by Stuart Andrews

July 23, 2010 | 12:20

Tags: #htpc #internet-tv #iplayer #media-center #media-centre #media-pc #streaming-media #youtube

Companies: #sony

Internet TV through a console

Fact: Over 13 million of us already have a means of accessing some Internet services on our TV screens, for the simple reason that we have games consoles already plugged in. The Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 all have built-in Ethernet and/or wireless connections, and all three have, to some extent, found ways to combine them with popular Web-based services. While the selection is fairly limited on each one – particularly in comparison with a media centre PC – there is one advantage: console apps have had to be built with TV screens and console controllers in mind, which makes them easier to use.

For all its history with convergence technology back in the day, Microsoft wasn’t initially that keen to open the Xbox 360 up to services outside of its own Xbox Live movie and game download stores. However, in November last year it changed its tune, providing access to Facebook, Twitter and Last.FM in an update to the console’s dashboard, and adding a SkyPlayer application earlier this year.

Internet TV: The web comes to your TV Internet TV through a console
Microsoft recently updated the Xbox 360 to enable access to social media services such as Facebook

Microsoft has worked hard to make this work, creating clean, well-designed apps that work well with the standard Xbox 360 controller from the comfort of the sofa, and allowing users to control how they integrate their Facebook IDs with their Xbox Live gamertags. You’ll need the optional Xbox 360 Messenger keyboard if you want to write frequent Facebook status updates or tweets, but it's a perfectly fine experience for checking what your friends and contacts are up to.

Sony hasn’t fared quite so well. It got off to a promising start by installing a Web browser as standard on every PS3, but integrating Web services into the Xross Media Bar interface hasn’t been such a priority. PS3 apps such as the photo viewer or the music player, which practically scream out for integration with, say, Flickr, Picasa, Spotify or Last.FM haven’t seen it, and in the UK at least, there’s no access to music or video-on-demand services bar Sony’s own PSN Store (in the US, PS3 users can stream films via Netflix).

Internet TV: The web comes to your TV Internet TV through a console
The BBC provides a special version of iPlayer tailored to the PS3

You can work around some of these issues by using the PS3 as an extender for a connected DNLA-compliant media server, but that’s hardly ideal, and the experience is clunky. Facebook support is limited to status updates of in-game events and trophy achievements, and while you can use the browser to use more services, you then run up against the usual problems of using conventional websites on a larger screen.

Luckily, the PS3 has a couple of saving graces. Firstly, it’s got an excellent version of iPlayer. Running smoothly and offering decent quality SD video, it’s one of the best ways to enjoy the BBC’s catch-up service on your TV. What’s more, the PS3 will also work with a USB wireless keyboard and mouse, so while you still have the usual interface issues you come across when using straight Web sites and services on a TV screen, at least the UI will be easier to get around.

Surprisingly, Nintendo’s underpowered, non-HD Wii also packs some nice Web-friendly features. Not only does it have a fully-featured browser, based on Opera, available for download from the Wii Shopping Channel, you can also download a version of iPlayer built especially for the console. Meanwhile, dedicated news and weather channels bring – you guessed it – news and weather, while YouTube XL adds a version of YouTube designed specifically for Wii.

The news feed isn’t always that brilliantly executed or UK focused, and the Wii uses a lower-quality iPlayer stream than the PS3, but the Wii Remote is a better replacement for the mouse than a regular controller, and with its zoom and text-wrapping features, the browser works better than you might expect. What’s more, it now works with a USB keyboard for text entry, should you need it.
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