Saturday, February 21, 2009

Streaming From Mac iTunes to a PS3

Well, my love of Guitar Hero was tempting me to go out and buy a Playstation 3, but it was learning about media streaming to the PS3 that finally pushed me over the edge. Well, that and a 20%-off sale at Dell - I don't think I remember seeing the PS3 on sale very often.

But back to streaming - one of the reasons I purchased my 80GB iPod Classic was the thought that I might eventually use it as a kind of small media server to my TV and stereo. I don't yet have a lot of video, but I do have about 40GB of music. So I wanted a good way to get it onto my main receiver in the living room, and I've been using my iPod through a standard dock to do that. I hadn't yet bought the video cables needed to output video ($50? Come on, Apple - it doesn't need to be that much, does it? Yep, I'm cheap).

But then I learn that it's possible to stream from both PCs and Macs straight to a PS3 via its Wi-Fi connection. Ah, wonderful! Now I can stream my content to my living room, plus add a game system and a better DVD/Blu-Ray player, and it gives me an excuse to sell my iPod classic and pick up an iPod touch instead! But there's a strict requirement - it must support my (non-DRM) iTunes content and playlists. So what software to use?

So far, I've taken a look at a few alternatives:

MediaLink seems to be the current marketshare leader. It installs as a Preference Pane, and exports iTunes songs, videos and playlists, and iPhoto albums. You can also expose arbitrary folders, for those of you who don't use iLife to manage your files. It was easy to install and set up, and has a 30 minute trial available. Everything showed up pretty well in the PS3 menus, with one exception - for some reason, my groups of TV Shows all appeared scrambled up in one large list called Unsorted. This may be due to the way I had them tagged or something (I don't think iTunes handles TV shows very well right now anyway), but it was an annoyance. MediaLink is $20 to unlock.

I then poked around at some open-source packages. There's a Java-based server called (appropriately) PS3 Media Server. It's a cross-platform Java application and makes no attempt to use any settings to appear as a native Mac application (yes, it can be done to a degree). I didn't play around with it much, but all it appeared to do was expose selected directories out to the PS3. It didn't tie into iTunes or iPhoto at all, and so didn't know anything about its playlists, etc. It probably could have been made to do so given some scripting work on my part, but I wasn't really looking for a programming task just now.

[Update: It appears that newer versions do now have support for exposing iTunes libraries automatically, although I'm still having some issues with it correctly detecting updates to the library. More on that in this later post.]

Another free package that got several mentions in my Googling was the ominously-named MediaTomb. Since I already had MacPorts installed, and since MediaTomb was available as a MacPorts package, I tried to install using that. Well, MacPorts decided it needed to build and install Perl, Python, OpenSSL, and a whole raft of other things that probably were already on my system. So after a few hours, I have a MediaTomb installation on my machine - along with a bunch of other redundant stuff. And like many open-source packages (don't get me wrong - I'm heavily dependent on open source in my technical life and have contributed a bit here and there), it looks like it is going to take a bunch of tweaking to get up and running. It also doesn't look like it's going to do anything with my iTunes playlists either. I'll poke around with it a bit, but it doesn't look like it's going to make the cut.

Finally, I saw a mention of a relatively new release - Rivet 2.0 from Cynical Peak. Apparently, this was previously an XBox-only streamer, but now has added PS3 support. In my brief exposure, it has three advantages over MediaLink: it's slightly cheaper ($18.95 instead of $20), it sorted my TV shows correctly out-of-the-box, and it has a security setting to restrict connecting machines (if that is a concern). Otherwise, it seems to work just like MediaLink - songs, playlists, videos, podcasts, photos all just show up in the right place on the PS3. Rather than a Preference Panel, it is presented as a menu-bar icon on the Mac. It also has a different trial period - you get one video and ten songs of your choice until it is unlocked. As I mentioned, about $19 to unlock.

I haven't gotten any stuttering with either MediaLink or Rivet, but there have been some reports of that with MediaLink (which admittedly has been around longer, so it has had more time to be pounded on by the general public). I think I'm going to kick the tires on Rivet a little more, and if everything looks good, I'll probably go with that one.

Edit: I've since found a small advantage for MediaLink over Rivet - MediaLink does support cover art display on the PS3 (at least for Mac OS X 10.5). Rivet doesn't currently, although their support forums indicate it is a planned feature. It's of somewhat limited use, since album art only shows up (as far as I know) as a small icon in both the XBR browser and in the bottom corner of the music visualizer screen - it isn't used nearly as prominently as in iTunes and on the iPod. But if it matters to you, MediaLink has the edge there, at least for now.


Rock said...

Cheers mate very helpful... ill be downloading media link now!

Connor McCarra said...

Check out Nero MediaHome. Used it as a media server with the ps3, worked very well.

Good Luck!

Bill said...

Thanks for the suggestion. It does look like MediaHome does have iTunes support, but it's Windows-only, so not what I'm looking for.

Wilson Family said...

Rivet now does the thumbnails with it's newest version!

Raj said...

Another advantage that Rivet has is that it will update iTunes play counts and podcast unread status. This means that your smart playlists based on play counts will continue to be relevant, and you can pick up new podcasts and mark them read accordingly.

Clayts said...

How do you find the smart playlists updating on the PS3 with media link? for the itunes DJ playlist (i want to be able to control the setup with my iphone via the remote app) the playlists seem completely different on the ps3 than in itunes..... wierd... Need to test if this is the case for all smart playlists.

Bill said...

That is something I'd have to check on - I suspect (but don't know) that PS3 Media Server does some kind of caching of the iTunes library state at startup, and I don't know how often that cache is updated. I'll give it a look at home later on.

Bill said...

Whoops - just saw you were asking about MediaLink, not PS3 Media Server. Perhaps I can run that experiment on a few different servers.

Robert said...

PS3 Media Server looks great, except that it does not work. It hangs for me after a few minutes.

Rivet does not appear to transcode, which to me is a deal-killer since it is a very important feature and others do.

MediaLink seems to do it all and has a nice Apple-native interface (as does Rivet), but MediaLink transcodes.

I tried a few others but they either did not transcode, did not work, or had lame web interfaces.

Bill said...

Hmmm, I haven't had a problem with PS3 Media Server hanging before; at least, not in the older versions I was using. But definitely, if you are looking for a Mac-native experience, PS3 Media Server is not the one to use.