PS4 Media Player review
A couple days ago, Sony released their Media Player for the PS4. The long awaited tool lets you connect your PS4 to Media Servers (without going through the browser like we did with Plex), and play local media files on a connected usb storage.
Installation of the PS4 Media Player is extremely simple and straightforward. Most likely, you’ll see the download link on your PS4’s home screen. Once installed, you’ll have to have either a usb disk connected to your PS4, or a Media Server running on a machine in your local network.
PS4 Media Player – local storage playback
Beware, your usb drive needs to be formatted in FAT or exFAT. I had to dig an old Fat32 external usb drive and copy some of my files to it. FAT32 has some limitations on the size of files that can be copied to it, and this means some of your HD movies might not even be copied to the drive. exFAT does not have the limitations of FAT, so you’ll probably want to go with that format if you can.
Once plugged in, my generic usb drive had no problems being recognized by the PS4 Media Player. Soon enough, I was navigating my folders to play mkv and mp4 files.
File support in PS4 Media Player
In general, the PS4 Media Player had no problem reading my recent movie files. Its codec compatibility is not perfect though, and I would say it was able to play 90% of the files I threw at it. (By comparison, popular player Kodi a.k.a. XBMC plays 100% of my files).
Files that had problems to be played were obscure files from the very early days of the mkv format. In general though, if you have a big collection of older DivX (in .avi format) files, you’re probably not be able to play many of them.
However, a variety of mp4 and mkv files, either downloaded ones, or my own encodings from handbrake, played smoothly, and that represented the majority of my local files.
Options and functionality
One big issue I ran into was the lack of “aspect ratio correction” support from the MP4 player. For some reason, I always end up with some aspect ratio issues on some of my encodings. Players such as Kodi or MX Player on Android either automatically detect and fix the issue, or at least give me the option to switch the aspect ratio manually. The PS4 Media Player does not offer these options, making some of my movies unwatchable.
Speaking of the options, they are extremely limited. The Lack of aspect ratio correction was the biggest one, but I was nicely surprised to see a “rotate screen” option. That one has been missing from most video players nowadays, and if you’ve ever had to watch a video taken with your phone on a PC screen, having to tilt your head, you’ll know what I mean. I’d argue however that most people will not be using their PS4 to watch phone videos, so instead of the “rotate screen” option I’d rather have had an aspect ratio correction option.
Surprisingly, the PS4 Media Player seems to support .srt subtitle files. Having been here in the early days of the DivX scene, when the .srt format was basically created by pirates for pirates, I almost feel “proud” that it ends up being supported on a device owned by one of the biggest companies of the Hollywood lobby. Back on topic though, it seems not all of my srt files were detected by the PS4 Media Player. I haven’t pinned down what difference there might be between all my files, but I’ll have to dig it up. Thumbs up for the file format support though.
PS4 Media Player – UI and movie database
PS4 Media Player is not going to replace your favorite movie library, such as Kodi. The interface is minimalistic, this is designed to help you play movies files, not to organize your movie collection.
Although I wasn’t expecting Sony to come up with an instant replacement to Kodi, I feel there is a missed opportunity here: the PS4 integrates with Playstation Vue, Playstation movies, Netflix, Amazon Instant video, and now the PS4 Media Player. Surely, there should be a way for all these applications to be smoothly integrated, so that you could easily browse and navigate your movie collection.
In an ideal world, you would be able to search and browse all the movies that you can access from your PS4, independently of what service provides it. Search for a movie, and the app could surface it to you, as long as the movie is available on your local storage, or a media server on your local network, or on netflix or playstation Vue. Such a smooth integration that blurs the distinction of files you own and files you can stream from services you are subscribed to, is the kind of dream I have for a system like the PS4.
More realistically, support for search, browse, categories, art cover,… just like kodi does would be awesome. But the PS4 Media Player does not offer that as of today.
PS4 Media Server connectivity
I’ve connected my PS4 to the popular Plex Media Server, through the PS4 Media Player. I had hopes that using Plex, the same way I’ve been using it in my browser, would reduce the incompatibilities that I had when playing directly with my local usb. Plex does transcoding of the file, in other words, it recompresses the movie files in realtime before streaming them to your PS4. This is to help with bandwidth, but also compatibility. Sadly, although this works perfectly fine in the PS4 browser, I had trouble playing some of my files with the PS4 Media Player. Specifically, the same files that refused to play from the usb drive, also refused to play through Plex streaming. I tried to play a bit with the options without success. Bottom line is, there was not much benefit using a Media server through the PS4 Media Player, from a compatibility perspective.
However, from a “database/catalog” point of view, using a Media Server means that the Server is able to categorize your movies by actors, genres, year, etc… which makes it a powerful browsing tool. If you have lots of movies, this could be useful for you. Again, using Plex as a PS4 Media Server through the PS4’s web browser has worked better for me so far.
I’ll have a dedicated tutorial on how to set up Plex as your Media Server for the PS4 Media Player soon.
Note: I haven’t tried the Plex dedicated app for PS4.
A note about Music
The MP4 Media Player also supports playing music, and displaying images.
Supported music formats are mp3 and aac. Flac fans are SOL, I don’t picture Sony supporting that format anytime soon, sadly.
Your music files need to be under a “Music” folder on your usb hard drive, otherwise the MP4 Media Player will not recognize or play them. It is not obvious without looking at the official documentation, so be aware of that.
I tried the Background playback, it works as expected, although there’s a significant pause in the playback when you switch screens. Not a big deal in general.
The PS4 Media Player is a significant improvement over what I have experienced on other Sony consoles, including the PS3. It seems to play modern formats reasonably well, and a few unexpected surprises such as subtitle files support are a great addition.
Lack of aspect ratio options is a bit of a problem for me however. Additionally, its interface is extremely minimal, and this will not replace your favorite movie library application (kodi, plex, etc…)