PS3 Media Server is, as its name suggests, a multimedia server that is designed to interface with the PlayStation 3 gaming console. You install it on a computer that is on the same network with the PS3 and, thanks to the Digital Living Network Alliance-compliant Universal Plug and Play support in both the console and the server, a connection will be created between the two, without any intervention required (except having correct network settings, of course).
But what's a connection useful for by itself? As its name suggests, PS3 Media Server is designed to transcode videos and stream them in real time, enabling you to watch media residing on the server on the display that your console is connected to. However, if the files that you want to view aren't in one of the formats that the PlayStation understands, you will need a pretty beefy computer to do the transcoding, especially if you want it to happen in real time. Our first impression was that trying to exploit a Java application for real-time streaming would be impossible because of the memory limitations that the JVM imposes, but in fact all the heavy lifting is done by one of the backends that are selected in the PS3 Media Server's configuration options, like the well-known open-source MEncoder and FFmpeg applications.
Unfortunately, PS3 Media Server's interface is laid out in a pretty complicated way. There are a few buttons on the top, "Save," "Restart HTTP Server" and "Quit," and under them there is a strip of tabs. This is where the interface's unfriendliness really shows, and it's quite obvious that this program isn't oriented towards the novice user as we had thought.
There are some minor details about the "Status" tab, however it shows quite clearly what the state of the connection is, as well as some information about the transcoding buffer and the connection. If the buffer doesn't manage to fill up or the content that is being streamed to the PlayStation is skipping, your computer might be underpowered for that task. However, computing requirements vary greatly between codecs, optimization options and media types, so you might have better results with some videos and poor with others. Be advised that, from our experience, if your connection isn't ok and PS3 Media Server says that your PlayStation wasn't detected, that status won't be updated even if you correct the situation and you will have to restart the application.
The second tab is probably the most cryptic for new users, because it contains a run/event log of the server. Unintuitively named "Traces," it displays a text box that gets updated every time something happens, like a PS3 connecting or a network event taking place. This is where you may find clues about the possible causes of any problems that you will encounter, but I'm afraid there won't be any instructions for fixing them attached.
In "General Configuration" you'll find the basics, like program language and, essential for a server, network configuration. Ideally, it shouldn't be necessary to change any of the network settings, but if you have a custom setup and it's generating problems, you should already have a pretty good idea about what to put in those fields.
The gateway to your media is hidden in the "Navigation/Share Settings" tab. Through it you will be able to set a variety of options related to video thumbnails, album covers and navigation settings but, more importantly, you can pick what folders will be accessible from the PlayStation. To save yourself the trouble of navigating to the folders that hold your music and movies all the time, why not just add them directly to this list and be done with it.
"Transcoding Settings" is much simpler than it looks, because only three option pages are implemented. You can set some general options that apply to all the transcoding processes, tune the way PS3 Media Server interfaces with MEncoder and set a couple of settings for tsMuxeR. However, we couldn't get the bundled TsMuxeR or versions downloaded from its official web page to work no matter how much we tried, so we recommend that you disable the "Switch to tsMuxer when H264 video is ps3 compatible" option under "MEncoder." If your computer isn't powerful enough or the network can't handle the volume of traffic generated and you get stuttering, try different "Maximum bandwidth" values in the "Common transcode settings" page.
The next two tabs make up what is an impromptu help system, with a readme and some frequently asked questions. They are very valuable and we recommend that you look over them before using the program. Even so, a proper documentation system would have been more manageable, and probably easier to search.The Good
If it works, it will do its job in a stellar fashion and you will be enjoying your multimedia comfort directly from your living room.The Bad
Sometimes it doesn't work, and the fact that it is a Java program doesn't help it. Hardware requirements are high, but they are rightfully so.The Truth
The added comfort of viewing movies on a big TV connected to your PlayStation is worth the tinkering that you will have to do until you get everything working.