Making Sense of no MP3 or DLNA Support on PlayStation 4

Last week, SCEA took to the PlayStation Blog to publish a rather large and thorough FAQ for the upcoming PlayStation 4. It was a way for the console-maker to get its own facts straight a solid two weeks before launch. The FAQ quickly drew negative attention to itself as it began to look like a long list of things that the hype-beasting PlayStation 4 apparently can’t do. The two biggest standouts being the lack of DLNA functionality and MP3 playback. And then the pitchforks came out.

At this point, I think you can gauge how “well” it went with would-be buyers and core PlayStation fans. Folks weren’t exactly thrilled by the lack of functionality, especially with the console releasing at a time where the tech world is experiencing a renaissance of digital convergence. Even I was thrown off a bit, considering that the PS3 — when it launched seven years ago — touted its DLNA functionality proudly and used it as a means of becoming a tentpole in an end-user’s entertainment center.

Within 48 hours of hearing the news, Microsoft seized the opportunity to make it known that it would not change its current stance on DLNA, MP3, and Audio CD playback (telling Ben Kuchera from Penny Arcade that the functionality would in fact make its way to the Xbox One). Some may feel that it was Microsoft’s way of “getting one up” on Sony, but I don’t think that it’s just that simple. There are two distinct strategies at play here, and it’s much more about the “big picture” for both companies.

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Sony as a company, is in the middle of writing its own comeback story. Since former PlayStation boss Kaz Hirai has taken over as CEO, there’s been a re-focusing of the ingredients that make up Sony’s DNA across the more successful branches of their various businesses. While it isn’t the immediate turnaround that I’m sure shareholders or the Sony faithful are hoping for — with the current initiatives the company has set in place — they are at least  headed in the right direction. They are finally embracing the value of their content and services, especially now; a rarity for what has historically been a company whose primary focus has always been on hardware.

Unlike Microsoft, Sony owns a handful of major film and television studios, and thus have serious clout throughout Hollywood. They used that influence to win the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray format war a half-decade ago, and now they’re going to leverage it into what they can offer prospective PlayStation (and Sony product) buyers. Specifically a service like Music Unlimited, which is being offered in lieu of MP3 playback, CD support, and DLNA. Sony has the confidence to pit this service (and eventually Video Unlimited) against rival services like Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Spotify on pretty much every platform with a screen.

Sony is a content creator. They invest billions in that content. When you look at it from a business angle: why would they want to make easy for users to steal… err I mean borrow that content, when they can streamline things to make it easier to sell content to users instead?

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Sony transitioning the PlayStation Network into the Sony Entertainment Network wasn’t without its purpose. The addition of Video Unlimited to the PlayStation 4 wasn’t by accident either. This is part of the new Sony that is making sure it becomes a one-stop-shop for entertainment needs. And while they, “appreciate your feedback and are exploring possibilities ” about including the DLNA functionality on the PlayStation 4 down the road, in my opinion, you are being placated, and nothing more.

Shuhei Yoshida, SCE President of Worldwide Studios has since taken to twitter to re-affirm that the exclusion was not a business decision. Unfortunately, I can’t help but think that this is more of a Sony initiative that’s above the PlayStation brand. In other words, it’s likely not up to him or even system architect Mark Cerny to decide either.

On the other hand you have Microsoft and the Xbox One going the opposite route by sticking to the same approach they had on the Xbox 360 by including DLNA and they have their own reasons as to why.

Unlike Sony, when it comes to content, Microsoft has positioned itself more as a gatekeeper than anything else. Sure, they have Xbox Music and Xbox Movies, but in the end, the content available on either of those platforms isn’t their own. They merely act as a buffer of sorts, charging users a toll to access a library of content.

It’s not that Microsoft doesn’t care about losing a content sale to a savvy end-user; the kind who takes part in certain swashbuckling activities on bittorrent sites (you know who you are). It’s that for Microsoft, it is more about the big picture: the Windows ecosystem. Microsoft wants you to know about all of the “amazing things” you can do when you’re using a Windows PC, a Windows Phone, and of course the Xbox One. “With Windows, you can share all of your things across all of OUR things.”

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It’s a three screen strategy for them and it needs to remain that way for them to stay competitive not only on the gaming front, but on the personal computing side and on mobile as well. So while their main competition in gaming is primarily Sony, outside of gaming, they’re fighting constant battles on all different fronts against the likes of  Apple, Google and others. Their strategy is to lure users in by placing as many features as they can on the box in hopes of keeping them within the confines of the Windows ecosystem.

It’s never a good feeling to have something taken away once you’ve had it. However, I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of users taking advantage of DLNA on the PS3 and bummed by it’s exclusion on the PS4 this time around weren’t exactly using it for their user generated home movies to begin with.  So in that respect, I can understand — not necessarily agree with — where Sony’s coming from and why they eventually decided against certifying the PlayStation 4 for DLNA.

Like the PS3 helped to propel Sony’s Blu-Ray format to the forefront seven years ago, I think the PS4 will serve as a catalyst for Sony’s content and services to shine as it goes up against Netlix, Amazon, and (in the case of music) even Spotify and Rdio. Unfortunately, DLNA functionality (or the lack thereof) is simply a casualty of the content war.

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