I have never been a fan of convergence devices like a phone with a camera, or a PVR and a DVD player in one, as it seems one of the functions always suffer below par functionality or performance, and if one breaks, the entire device has to go off for repairs. No doubt they can be convenient, but in my opinion, a standalone device will almost always trump a convergence device.
Gaming consoles are similar. They are excellent at their primary function of playing games, but are a “poor mans” media player / home entertainment hub when compared to a dedicated standalone device.
Saying that, the current gen consoles do a decent job of acting as a media player, and it looks like the new gen consoles will be taking that a few steps further. Both Microsoft and Sony have openly announced that they want their new consoles to be the one and only media device in your lounge room.
Neither the PS3 or Xbox 360 natively play all of the most popular file types / codecs as they normally require some streaming or conversion software on a PC to allow for this. Because of this, many opt for a standalone media player or PC that allows for a wider range of files to be played, and the ability to update codecs etc. The inclusion of Cinavia DRM Protection on the PS3 can also hamper with media playback.
The PS3 has PVR functionally, in the form of its PlayTV tv tuner add-on, but although being twin tuner, you are unable to record two things at once, and it also has the limitations that come with being Freeview certified.
The Xbox 360s PVR solution is a bit different. It can act as a Media Center Extender. This allows you to have Windows Media Center on your Windows PC in one room (that has TV tuners installed) that can be fully accessed and controlled by the Xbox 360. It means that you can view TV in any room without the need for a TV antenna, including access to all of the PCs tuners, as well as the guide, remote recording options etc. Incredibly powerful stuff. Sadly it appears this feature may be dropped from the Xbox One, but current Xbox 360 owners should still be able to utilise it with the Xbox One using the HDMI pass-through feature.
The ways in which live TV will be handled on the new gen consoles looks to be limited, if not non-existent, with both parties seeming to be content with catch up services delivered through their apps.
Foxtel is available on the Xbox 360, but the inability to record shows or timeshift makes it less appealing.
One thing the PS3 can claim over the Xbox 360 is the ability to play Blu Rays. The Xbox 360 is limited to DVD playback, but the PS3 can not only play Blu Rays, but is well known as being an outstanding Blu Ray player.
This will change with the upcoming release of the Xbox One and PS4, with both consoles being shipped with Blu Ray drives. They have also upgraded video streaming and movie rental services, and are both looking to build on the many apps that are popping up on both consoles…the finer details of what services will be available in Australia are still yet to be finalised.
The idea behind an all-in-one media hub console is appealing, but so far in practice this idea has fallen short when compared to what a dedicated device can provide. With the new Xbox One and PS4 on their way later this year, we will hopefully see enhanced media file / codec support, and improved availability and selection of TV, movie, and music content, meaning we may finally see a gaming console take its place as the media hub in your lounge.