Which new console is the better bad media player?

4 min read
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Which one sucks least?

Neither of the new-generation consoles is a particularly good at playing back media – but which one is the least bad? Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry has done an in-depth technical analysis of each console’s media functions, confirming that they’re both pretty bad. Only one is noticeably worse.

Neither console allows users to playback their own media, whether through an attached drive or through DLNA media server file-sharing. That rather limits the amount of stuff you can consume on each system. that blocks out a lot of that illicitly-gained pirated media, but neither console is particularly good for legal media either.

The PlayStation 4, famously, lacks the ability to even play Audio CD’s, but each system is able to play DVD’s and Blu-Ray discs. As far as Blu-Ray playback goes, “both consoles output a pure 1080p image without artificially changing the source material in any way, meaning colour accuracy, sharpness and detail are identical.” That’s great news,if standard Blue-rays are your thing, but any that run at 24fps will cause you headaches, especially on the Xbox One.

“24fps is a core part of the Blu-ray specification, and any modern device worth its salt should be able to correctly handle that frame-rate without issue.” says Eurogamer.  “Indeed, the PS3 plays back material at 24Hz flawlessly without introducing any unwanted side effects, and we found the PS4 to be equally solid in this regard. And yet we are on shaky ground with Xbox One. Initially we found the machine outputting a solid 24Hz signal free of any anomalies, but testing a number of discs over a two-hour period revealed some serious audio sync issues where the sound would often lag behind the video by a couple of seconds regardless of what audio setting is selected, making films viewed in this mode unwatchable.”

DVDs don’t fare much better on either system, but there’s an added problem if you want to play PAL DVD’s – i.e, the sort they sell here in South Africa. The Xbox One just completely forgets that the 50hz PAL standard even exists. It instead converts it to 60hz, introducing unwanted judder. and it’s not just in DVDs. It’s everything.

The Xbox One’s complete lack of respect for PAL 50Hz signals across all services – including TV signals from the HDMI input – also extends to playing DVDs, with the machine converting everything to 60Hz. As when viewing live TV through the console, the only way to disable this is to manually force the console into a global 50Hz mode via the dashboard, but then this causes judder in games which are rendered at 60Hz. The situation is far from ideal.

It really reaffirms our belief that Xbox One was made with America in mind. The PS4 isn’t perfect either, and on both consoles there are issues regarding Netflix playback,and playback of just about everything else.

It’s unfortunate for the PlayStation 4, considering that the PS3 is one of the best media playback devices I own. For the Xbox One to be a poor media player though, is downright egregious. It was made to be a media centre that would take over the living room.

It it’s Xbox One’s poor showing overall that saddens us. This is a piece of hardware built from the ground up to be the centre-piece of the living room – but its innovative OneGuide TV functions have no support outside of the USA, there’s zero respect for 50Hz content and there are fundamental problems with playback of disc-based media, while we have issues with the all-important Netflix client, which simply isn’t fit for purpose in its current state.

Improvements will be made on both systems, but right now there’s really no reason to get either machine if media is a primary concern. If you care about media, stick with your PS3 for now…or get anything that runs XBMC.

Last Updated: February 3, 2014

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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