This guide has been updated since its original publication to reflect hardware and software updates. Multiple members of the Digital Trends staff contributed to this guide.
Like many people living in the digital age, my digital media was scattered among various drives, computers, and discs. I wanted seamless central control over all of it, so I decided to use my Sony PlayStation 3 as a media hub, with my 40-inch Samsung HDTV as a monitor. Now I can view or listen to all my photos, videos, and music via my TV screen, no matter where they are. Here’s a guide to building a digital media command center in your living room.
LEVEL 1: Connect to your home network
In the PS3′s main menu, navigate to Settings – Network Settings – Internet Connection, press X on your SixAxis controller and make sure it’s toggled to Enabled. Then go to Internet Connection Settings (also under Network Settings), and select your network name (SSID). Enter the network password if you have one.
If you have the original WiFi-less PS3 20GB, you can still connect it to your network by plugging the console into your router or extender (like an Apple Airport Express) via Ethernet cable.
Bonus Points: A Logitech diNovo mini Bluetooth keyboard comes in very handy for entering network passwords and any other text. There’s a complete guide to pairing and using it with a PS3 here.The pairing process is very similar to setting up a Bluetooth headset on a cell phone. You can check out our full Logitech diNovo mini review.
Extra Life: If your network consists exclusively of 802.11n-compatible hardware, bypass the PS3′s slower (802.11b/g) wireless connection by plugging it directly into your router or an extender (we used an Airport Express) via Ethernet cable. Adjust your router’s wireless settings to operate in 802.11n mode only. And if all your hardware supports it, switch to the 5GHz frequency band for a 60-100 percent speed bump and less interference. This can be a lifesaver when you’re copying lots of files to your PS3 over a network.
LEVEL 2: Connect to your computers
Go into the PS3′s Settings menu and navigate to Network Settings – Media Server Connection, and select Enabled. This allows the PS3 to detect networked computers running Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) server software.
WINDOWS 7/Vista: Windows users have a number of useful options when it comes to serving media files from their PCs. The latest version of Windows Media Player is generally the easiest option because it comes preinstalled with Windows, but a number of third-party applications also exist that offer better file compatibility and more advanced features. Plex and PS3 Media Server are two extremely popular packages that transcode file formats the PS3 doesn’t natively support. For instance, the PlayStation 3 doesn’t natively support playback of lossless FLAC files, but Plex will transcode them into other compatible formats on the fly.
For this particular tutorial, we used Plex. If you have media on either a Mac or a Windows computer (or both), we recommend Plex for its cross-platform compatibility, its clean and easily navigable interface and all the advanced connectivity features you can get. Oh, and did we mention it’s free?
First, you’ll need to download Plex. You can do that here for OSX and here for Windows. The important one is the Plex Media Server. The Plex Media Center is optional, but if you’re in the market for a new media center, it’s definitely worth a look.
After you’ve downloaded the Plex Media Server, click through all the necessary setup windows to install it. Following installation you’ll need to add media to your library. This process differs a bit for Windows and Mac.
MAC: After you’ve successfully installed the Plex Media Server, an icon in the shape of a black chevron should appear in your menu bar. Click on it to access a drop down menu and then choose Plex Media Manager.
A window will appear. At the bottom left you should see + and – buttons. Click on the plus button to add media. From here, you’ll need to tell Plex where your media is located. You can either drag folders into the list or click the + button to browse your folders in Finder. Find the right folders for your media and click Open to add them to Plex.
WINDOWS: After a successful install, a Plex icon will appear in your taskbar in the lower left. Select it and then click Plex Media Manager in the popup menu.
This will open up a new window in your default browser. From this point onward it’s simple. Just click on the sections for which you’d like to add media (movies, music, tv shows, etc.) and a drop-down window will appear. Click the Add button to add media. Another window will appear and you’ll be prompted to select the path to the folder where your media is. This can be done manually or by browsing your files.
Achievement: Use Plex’s list of metadata agents to find album art for your music, and posters pics for your movies. The added aesthetic makes everything look even more gorgeous.
LEVEL 3: Connect to extra storage
This part is simple — just plug in your thumb drive or USB hard drive to any of the PS3′s USB ports. My 300GB Maxtor USB hard drive showed up as “USB Disk (One Touch II)” in the PS3’s video, photo, and music menus. When navigating a USB drive’s folders, use the PS3 menu corresponding to the type of media you’re looking for on the drive, or the files won’t show up.
External drives must be formatted with the FAT32 file system for the PS3 to read files on it. Formatting a drive erases all the data on it, so if your PS3 won’t read your drive, make sure to back up all data before you format.
Memory cards (Memory Stick, SD and its variants, or CompactFlash) go in the labeled slots under the door on the PS3′s front, and they don’t require specific formatting. ‘
Secret weapon: If you have a network-attached storage device (like an Apple Time Capsule with a 500GB hard drive in it), you can access it by mounting the drive on a networked computer. Then select your media server in the main PS3 window, and navigate to Folders – Volumes, and select the networked drive you want. Note that this doesn’t work with Windows Media Player’s UPnP server, but it works fine with Plex.
LEVEL 4: Start watching and listening
Access your content by navigating to Photo, Video, or Music on the PS3′s home screen, and scroll until you see your computer or external drive. If you don’t see your computer’s media server listed, try selecting “Search for Media Servers” from any of the multimedia menus.
PS3 Codec Support
Video: MPG, MP4, AVI, DivX (except v3.11), AVCHD, WMV
Audio: WAV, MP3, AAC, ATRAC, WMA
Photo: JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, PNG
Not supported: Protected content, lossless audio formats (Apple Lossless, FLAC, etc.), RAW image files, or VOB movie files.
Next page: How to copy frequently used files to your PS3 and other tips.