Apple and Sony are fierce competitors, but that hasn’t stopped the PlayStation 3 playing nicely with Mac OSX computers. Thanks to some great third-party software, and Sony’s decision to add support for the UPnP AV standard, the PS3 has, in some ways, become a better solution than Apple’s own offering to the problem of streaming content – audio, video and photos – from a Mac to the TV. Here’s our quick guide to creating a Mac-supported PS3 media center.
Step One: Turning the Mac into a PS3-friendly media server
Assuming that your Mac is already on the same local network as your PlayStation 3, the first thing you’ll need to do is install a UPnP AV-compliant media server. In fact, this will need to be done for all of the Macs that you want to share media from.
UPnP (Universal Plug ‘n Play) AV is a standard overseen by the Digital Living Network Alliance, a consortium backed by big name consumer electronics, computer and mobile device manufacturers such as HP, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung, that enables ‘DLNA compliant’ devices to easily discover and share media on the same home network. Typically, devices either act as a server, meaning that they can stream media to any DLNA certified device, or as a client, in which case they can auto-detect UPnP-servers on the network to browse and stream media from them. For our purposes, the Mac will act as server and the PS3 as client.
Nullriver Software’s MediaLink
Until fairly recently, Mac owners were left with only one UPnP AV server solution: Elgato’s EyeConnect (see below). However, that all changed earlier this year when Nullriver, creators of the popular Mac/XBox Connect 360 software, decided to apply their media server expertise to the PS3 problem. The resulting MediaLink software ($20) has quickly established itself as the best solution for streaming media from a Mac OSX computer to the PlayStation3.
As you’d expect, MediaLink offers complete iLife 08 integration, so that photos in your iPhoto library show up in the PS3’s photo menu. Likewise, iTunes music also appears in the PS3’s music menu. And if you’re running the latest version of Mac OSX (Leopard) you’ll see thumbnail previews for photos and album cover art for music appear as you browse through your Mac’s media collection on the PlayStation.
For videos (or any other media stored outside of iLife) you have the option to designate any Mac folder (or folders) as being accessible on the PS3 via MediaLink. A good place to start is the Mac’s default ‘Movie’ folder. In terms of video files, MediaLink can share and/or stream all of the PS3’s currently supported formats, including MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, AVI, DivX and Xvid. In our testing over several months, DivX and almost all Xvid videos streamed flawlessly over an 802.11g WiFi network, as did most MPEG4-based video podcasts. Other MPEG4 and H.264 files needed specific settings when being encoded (not the fault of MediaLink but rather the PS3’s current firmware limitations — see step two below). As well as streaming, files can alternatively be copied onto the PS3’s internal hard drive.
The only real fault we could find with MediaLink is that on occasions the software, which runs in the background via a dedicated system preference and menu bar item, needed to be restarted. A little bit annoying if your Mac is in a room far away from your PS3!
Update: since installing the latest version of MediaLink, the need to restart has been eradicated.
Unlike MediaLink, EyeConnect ($49.95) from Elgato isn’t a dedicated PS3 solution but rather a generic UPnP AV server for the Mac. Therefore, PS3 support isn’t as polished as it might be, and is in fact at times pretty buggy. The company openly admits as much, advising prospective customers to “try the EyeConnect 1.5 trial with their PS3, before deciding if it works well enough for them to purchase.” However, for those looking for a UPnP AV server for the Mac that can talk to more than just a PS3, EyeConnect may be your only option.
One other caveat when using either MediaLink or EyeConnect: DRMed content bought from the iTunes Store won’t play on the PS3 as Apple doesn’t license its FairPlay copyprotection technology to third-parties
Step Two: Preparing PS3-friendly video
As already mentioned, most DivX and Xvid files that you’re likely to have lying around can play just fine on the PS3. As do most podcasts subscribed to through iTunes. However, if you want to rip your own DVDs for streaming to the PS3, you’ll need to use specific codec settings for the most reliable results.
Luckily, the open source Handbrake software (our choice for creating iPod compatible DVDs rips) has its own PS3 preset. Open Hanbrake and point it to your DVD’s ‘VIDEO TS’ folder, and select PS3 from the right-hand sidebar, then you should be good to go. Note: some DVDs are encrypted, so you may have to use a program like MacTheRipper to copy an unencrypted version of the DVD onto your Mac’s hard drive first. And that’s pretty much it
What’s your experience of Mac and PS3 goodness? Leave your own tips in the comments.