Sony announces a media player for PS4, improvements to PlayStation Vue

PlayStation Vue
The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) may be a gaming convention, but that doesn’t mean other forms of media escape mention there. Yesterday, Sony revealed a few big improvements to the PlayStation’s TV and movie capabilities. Sony’s Internet TV service, PlayStation Vue, is expanding to new markets and gaining a la carte subscriptions, and the PlayStation 4 is finally getting a dedicated media player app.

PlayStation Vue is launching in San Francisco and Los Angeles today and other markets later this year, said Sony boss Andrew House during the company’s E3 presentation. (That’s in addition to the three markets in which it was previously available: New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.) But that wasn’t the only announcement regarding Vue. In July, the service will gain a la carte programming — you’ll be able to “subscribe to individual channels without the purchase of a multi-channel bundle,” House said.

That may sound exciting, but Vue’s a la carte option isn’t as widely encompassing as you might first assume. “Individual channels” refers to premium add-on content like Showtime, not basic cable, and you’ll have to shell out quite a bit for the privilege. The first two available networks, Showtime and Fox Soccer Plus, cost $10.99 and $14.99 per month, respectively, and even the “PlayStation exclusive” Machinima channel runs a hefty $3.99 a month. PlayStation Plus members get cut a bit of a break — Showtime is $8.99, Fox Soccer Plus is $12.99, and Machinima is $1.99 — but all subscriptions are in addition to Vue’s Access ($49.99), Core ($59.99) or Elite ($69.99) monthly base price. Basically, it isn’t cheap.

To be fair, Sony never promised it would be. Vue seems to emphasize choice over value: it sports live local programming (unlike Dish Network’s competing Sling TV service), no-contract pricing, and features like three-day cloud DVR. Vue isn’t without its drawbacks and limitations right now, but the implication is clear enough: you probably won’t save money with Vue, Sony seems to be saying, but you’ll be able to swap out your legacy cable subscription with it and enjoy an overall better viewing experience.

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If that’s indeed the goal, Sony hasn’t quite achieved it yet — Vue still lacks television staples like Disney-owned ESPN — but perhaps the company’s hoping its new PlayStation 4 media player will fill the gaps. Unveiled ahead of Sony’s briefing last night, the app supports a wide range of video, music, and photo file formats: MP4, AVI, MPEG3, MP3, ACC, JPEG, PNG and even the esoteric MKV. It packs USB and remote playback via a home server, and supports background listening for audio tracks. It’s available to download from now the PlayStation Store.

What with the Vue push and the surprise release of a media player, Sony’s augmenting the PlayStation 4’s multimedia features in a big way. That may not have been how the company positioned the console at launch, but you can probably thank the gaming space’s ferocious competition for Sony’s pivot.

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