Thanks to their grandparents, my kids have real buying power. Consequently, this household has a Wii, XBOX 360 with Kinect, and a PS3. The Wii platform is currently a bit outdated and not as feature-rich. It does not require the same amount of attention from parents as the other two consoles. Let’s take a closer look at the XBOX and the PS3 then, at this point in time (January 2012).
I have now managed the PS3 and the XBox for many months and feel compelled to share some of the frustration that I experienced in the process. If you are thinking about getting either a PS3 or the XBOX for your child, aren’t really into gaming yourself, but expect to get some use out of the investment nonetheless, as a media player or to access online content, continue reading for my advice.
On the surface, both the XBOX and PS3 offer comparable features. There are plenty of articles on the web that look into the differences of the hardware, available games, or the online platform’s capabilities from a gamer’s perspective. I will skip all this, because what interests me is the practical usability in a real-life family setting.
Previously, until Microsoft rolled out the XBOX Live updates last December, things were relatively simple. Microsoft charged its customers for any meaningful use of the console, Sony did not. A parent only needed a Windows Live account to manage a child’s level of access to the console’s features. We wanted to watch Netflix on the XBOX and had to get an XBOX Live Gold membership. Because my son is the primary user of the console, our membership is in his name.
Netflix on the PS3 was free. This is still true today, but with the update, things got more complicated on the XBOX (and took a turn for the worse). Not only is nothing of the new functionality available to you without an XBOX Gold membership ($60 per year), but Microsoft also took parental control out of the parents hands. Previously, everything was under my control through parental control settings. Now there are cool new features, like the XBOX Live Messenger or Youtube streaming, but Microsoft determines who can use them and who can’t. I registered my son’s account with his real age. When I tried to configure the Messenger so that he can talk to his cousin overseas, it never worked. There is no error message, but I suspect that Microsoft forgot to notify the user that this feature is only available to certain age groups. When I wanted to watch Youtube, I actually was notified that my son is too young to use this feature.
Microsoft wants me to get my own Life membership in a not very subtle way, and I don’t like being told that one Gold membership in our household is not enough. I am personally offended by this idea, and am seriously considering not to renew our Gold membership at all this year. After all, we can watch Netflix in equal quality on the PS3 without an additional charge (not to mention a bunch of other devices ranging from an IP TV to the family iPad), and Youtube is available on the PS3 as well without restrictions. As a media player, the XBOX is severely handicapped anyway because it does not play content without the help of a Media Server. So now I not only need to have the file server with the content running (in this household the content is served by a rack-mounted NAS with 8 terabytes of storage) and the device that plays it (the XBOX), but also a quad-core Windows PC for transcoding my movies that are stored in ISO DVD images (Windows Media Server cannot play ISO natively) that consumes more power than the NAS and the XBOX together. That’s just plain silly, Microsoft, and despite the hype in this Forbes article, the XBOX does not and will not rule my television set (or projection screen, for that matter).
Instead, I purchased a ZOTAC ZBOX">ZOTAC Zbox and installed XBMC. This configuration does everything that I want and replaces the XBOX as the primary media player in the basement home theater. The PS3 remains in the living room, attached to the TV, where the family uses it to watch movies on Netflix and play the occasional game of Buzz. The XBOX in the basement has not received any attention in weeks, despite Kinect and the cool setup with an HD projector and a 6 foot screen.
My recommendation to the fellow parents: get the PS3 and skip the XBOX. The latter comes with the additional cost of mandatory XBOX Live memberships, which can be tricky to navigate and if you don’t get it right, it will cost you even more. I did not even mention the buggy and badly integrated suite of Windows Live websites that require a credit card charge whenever you want to make a change to your child’s account. Microsoft has overstepped the line of reason with their XBOX marketing strategy, and as always when this happens, the only way that they will realize that they made a mistake is the lesson of lost market share. I will happily contribute my part.