iPad 2 versus PS3 for portable media player

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domitron

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I own a 64GB iPad 2 and have for about six weeks now. I have both the Skeiva, for component/composite video, and the Apple AV HDMI connector for HDMI. For all the hype surrounding the iPad 2, it has sort of surprised me that it really lacks compared to the 4-year-old PS3 in several areas. Of course the PS3 is really large in comparison. But given it's been around for four years, can't we expect a comparable level of horsepower in the iPad 2 given it's supposed to be 9 times as graphically powerful as the first iPad?

Case and point, I hooked up my iPad 2 with HDMI cable to my projector and played around with Netflix. Of course the resolution was only 720P, not 1080P like the PS3, but what surprised me wasn't the relative low resolution but how poor the picture looked on the iPad 2 compared to the PS3. In Netflix projected on a 120" screen, there were a lot of artifacts and the color was just plain washed out, sort of like the white level was pushed way too high. Now I have to admit that the PS3 has had a lot of time to polish its software and maybe some of these problems will be resolved in future iOS and/or app updates, but today the iPad 2 looked sickly compared to the PS3 comparing the two on Netflix. For the HD content, the PS3 produced a crystal-clear picture that had fantastic color. The iPad 2 didn't even compare.

I also tried playing HD movies on both, again projecting the result out to a 120" screen. Of course the PS3 can listen to regular media servers, so that offloads the processing on the PC and the resultant picture is fantastic. The iPad 2, on the other hand, is very closed such that I could not find an app that would read a standard Window's media server (which doesn't surprise me too much considering how long it took iTunes to make it to the PC). The iPad does have the famous Air Server app which sort of addresses this lack, but the quality of the conversion is, while maybe good enough for watching on a 9-inch screen, horrible when blown up to a full 120" projection. It doesn't even support the full resolution of the iPad. And even worse was when I did full movie conversions on my PC and then downloaded them to my iPad and played the result on my projection system, the picture was still poor. The artifacts were gone, but there was still something wrong with the colors.

All of this has me wondering if the iPad 2 is really even for me. It is cool and all, but I'd gladly have taken a doubling of thickness and weight to have a piece of hardware that is a media powerhouse like the PS3. I mean how much can one just sit there and look at how slim it is before they just say, "Yeah, she's sexy, but can she play with the big boys?" Anyway I'll probably keep it for a nice portable web browser, portable basic game machine, etc., but I had hoped for a little more on the media front.

Roger
 

Pierrep99

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I hear all your points and don't disagree, but your subject is comparing the 2 as a portable media players. I don't really see the PS3 as being portable.
 

domitron

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Yeah, you are right. The PS3 definitely is not portable in the way the iPad 2 is. The post's title is a misnomer. I can't change it now, though.
 

Pierrep99

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That aside, you are correct. I stream from my ps3 all the time from Netflix and the video quality is really good. The iPad is not yet ready to replace my ps3 for streaming but if I'm traveling it will do the job.
 

kornchild2002

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So you are comparing a razor thing portable device with a dual-core 1GHz power efficient processor to something using a 3.2GHz desktop cell processor that sits on your shelf? That is like comparing a desktop computer to a basic Nokia cellphone. You just can't do that, period. Two different device classes mean different performance. The iPad 2 (along with the Motorola Xoom, Asus Eee Pad Transformer, and any other tablet out there) was never meant to be a replacement for the PS3 just as the PS3 was never meant to be used as a tablet.

The PS3 is always going to provide a richer media experience when hooked up to an HDTV, that is a no brainer. It was designed to sit there next to your TV and connect to a strong home wire/wireless option so that it could stream 720p and 1080p content (keep in mind that Netflix only streams 720p content, the PS3 is just upscaling it to 1080p). The iPad 2 will provide a better portable experience because it was designed to do so. Try taking your PS3 with you to work to write some notes down. Yeah, you would look like a jackass.

Either way, you just can't compare the two as it is not fair for either device. If you must compare something, at least look at products in the same categories. Compare the PS3 to the Xbox 360 and the iPad 2 to the Xoom. Those would be fair comparisons. Otherwise you might as well start comparing how the Empire State Building is just so much better than the tool storage shack in your backyard or that an older H1 Hummer is better for off-roading than a new 2011 Honda electric scooter.
 

domitron

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I would argue that at least in theory the iPad 2 might be able to stream video as good as the PS3 one day with the right updates but not right now. The 720P resolution in there, although I am not sure what the horizontal component is for the iPad versus the PS3.

One of the things I wanted to use my iPad for was to watch videos in the plane, which it does well, and then also provide me a portable platform to purchase movies and watch them in HD at a remote location, kind of like a portable blu-ray player. I am not ruling out the iPad can do this well eventually either, but today it looks pretty poor on a large screen, and it looks like a software problem to me, not a hardware one. The video playback has some white level issue where everything is slightly washed out when presented through the HDMI cable. I think it's probably a bug.
 

kornchild2002

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The issue with that theory is that you are again essentially comparing a media centered desktop PC with a dedicated graphics card to a tablet that uses a SoC setup (system on a chip where the CPU, RAM, and GPU are all on one die). The iPad was never designed to be used on a large HDTV just as a PS3 was never meant to be used to run Linux. Those bonus features are just that: bonus features. Any type of usage outside of what the devices were mainly designed to do represents superfluous actions. The iPad was never deisnged to sit by an HDTV pumping out HD video content but it can do that. It may not be great but it still has the ability. The PS3 used to be able to run Linux. It definitely wasn't great (my desktop from 2002 ran Ubuntu better) but it had the feature until Sony took it out.

Apple has products that were designed to be used with high def displays. One in particular is the AppleTV 2 and, when fed the right source material, it can equal the output of the PS3 when playing back Blu-ray content. Even then, I would not directly compare the two as the PS3's media server capabilities are nowhere near as integrated as iTunes is with an AppleTV 2 and the PS3 was first and foremost designed to be a gaming console.
 

domitron

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You say that the PS3 was first and foremost designed to be a gaming console, and that is sort of my point. I agree; it was. But then it was found to be a hard sell as a gaming console (in the beginning) and it was positioned as a potential home theater box too, a role it does reasonably well in. Given it's wild popularity, the iPad 2 isn't a hard sell by any stretch of the imagination, but there is so much excitement about it, that I can imagine we might see it used in very different ways than the designers envisioned. A portable HD 720P blu-ray player of sorts might be one of those ways, but it isn't quite there yet. I'd like to see it take on this role.

I like to think of the future of products, and that's what I am doing here. For example if Google and Apple weren't such bitter competitors, we might see a little microphone button on that pop-up keyboard that does speech-to-text translation for ANY application, not just Dragon Diction and Google Search apps. Imagine how incredibly useful that would be! Sure it's not in the original vision of the iPad, but if it makes the iPad even better, then they should develop it with Google if Google is so willing. If Apple wants to really push its iPad to the limit--and I know they do--they have to think outside of the box not just with respect to the design itself but with respect to its software development and eventual placement in new niches.

There is more than just pushing another version of iPad out the door each year to a truly successful platform. That's the hardware side and Apple does this very well, but developing that platform and pushing it to new limits through better software should be part of the grand long-term plan. I hope it is too.
 
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Are you using the PS3 over a wired or wireless connection? The Netflix app uses an adaptive bitrate streaming protocol that adjusts the quality for lower-speed connections, so a poor Wi-Fi connection will definitely affect the image quality, and a 3G connection will be even worse.

Further, I've never been able to find any actual specs on the resolution used by the Netflix app on the iPad, but it wouldn't surprise me if the app is specifically bringing down a stream optimized only for the iPad display, which would be less than 720p. Keep in mind that Apple's Digital AV Adapter is a relatively recent product, and it's unlikely that Netflix has specifically updated its app to take advantage of the higher native resolutions offered by that adapter and the iPad 2 itself.
 

kornchild2002

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You say that the PS3 was first and foremost designed to be a gaming console, and that is sort of my point. I agree; it was. But then it was found to be a hard sell as a gaming console (in the beginning) and it was positioned as a potential home theater box too, a role it does reasonably well in.
The PS3 was also in a different position back in 2006. That was when a good Blu-ray player was about $1000 yet the PS3, while still costing as much as a house, was still almost half as much as that when it launched. Sony also designed the PS3 with that in mind. Right now, the 16GB and 32GB wi-fi versions of the iPad 2 are priced relative to what is currently out there in terms of other tablets. It isn't like the PlayBook is coming in at $1000.

So, as I keep stating, you just can't compare the at-home hooked into an HDTV experiences of both units. A more fair comparison would be to hook a Motorola Xoom up to an HDTV via HDMI. You just can't compare a more powerful non-mobile solution to something that was designed to be carried around running much less powerful hardware to compensate for battery life and size.

We are also still in the early stages of the iPad's life. There is no telling where Apple is going to take it but one thing is clear: they want you to use an AppleTV 2 if you watch content on your HDTV. The iPad 2 (and iPad) integrates seamlessly with that. Comparing an iPad 2 to a PS3 would be like comparing a PSPGo to a 15" MacBook Pro. The later is going to provide a much richer media and gaming experience when hooked up to an HDTV. Then again, the 15" MacBook Pro wasn't designed for much portability while the PSP's sole existence is to allow people to game while on the go.

It is fine if you expected more out of your iPad 2. After all, you paid at least $500 for it so you can criticize the device all you want. Nothing is perfect either so there is nothing wrong with pointing out any flaws. Just don't expect to be able to accurately compare an iPad 2 to a monster truck, microwave, or PS3 as that just isn't going to work. As I said, the only things you can compare the iPad 2 to are other tablets (specifically, slate tablets such as the Xoom, Transformer, PlayBook, Galaxy Tab 10.1, etc.).
 

domitron

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I have 22Gbit Comcast connection, and my iPad 2 is showing in speed tests a 6.5Mb download rate. Given HD Netflix streams are 3800 kbps and heavily buffered at that, one should take only a little over half the available bandwidth, so I don't think the bottleneck here is the WiFi or my router.

As for Apple TV, they must be smoking some harder #### than what Steve Job's did in his biography if they really think it stands a chance of wide-spread adoption for a home theater TV. Sorry but we aren't all made of money, and even those of us, like myself, who could afford such a luxury, wouldn't buy it out of principle because I'm not that deep into Apple (iTunes horrendous software alone has given me pause when I buy anything made by Apple except the very very best they have to offer, like the iPad, iPod, and iPhone).

I really don't think the question here should be what am I comparing the iPad 2 with. I mean let's forget the whole PS3 comparison for a minute. Shouldn't the real questions be "Can the iPad decode Netflix's HD stream?" and if it cannot "Why not?" Remember what kind of hardware we are talking about here. This machine can play some wicked games at a full 720P and, in some case 1080P, with the HDMI AV adapter. Now if it can render those tens of thousands of polygons in a 1/20th of a second, why couldn't it decode some lousy Netflix stream? The answer - it can and it probably will. I just want it now. Remember that just a little over a year ago Netflix publicly announced there was no app under development for the iPad at all. Then in a couple months, the app was suddenly there, and since that time it's gone through several revisions, including one to stream video into the HDMI AV. Now they just need to make the quality better.

Today I was switching between my PC and the iPad's rendering of a Netflix piece. On the PC there is an HD option. If I turn that off, the two look a lot closer, but the iPad is clearly still worse. Something is wrong with the app I think, but it is pretty subtle on the native screen. You can really see it, though, on my 40" LCD Samsung or 120" projection screens.
 

kornchild2002

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Now see, that is better. Take the whole "vs PS3" part of the equation out and you have some valid points. My guess is that the Netflix app hasn't been upgraded to take advantage of the more powerful hardware in the iPad 2 (though the iPad 1 could even playback 720p content with ease). I also wouldn't be surprised if Netflix was streaming SD (or lower) quality videos to the iPad in order to conserve bandwidth for people who are accessing it via their 3G connections (which are typically around 1-1.5Mbps with monthly data caps). It would be nice if Netflix implemented a few options allowing people to choose the quality they want to watch. That way you could pick 360p or 480p when you are connecting through a 3G wireless signal and then 720p when you are at home hooked up through wi-fi.

I think Netflix has been focusing on just the portable experience with their app and haven't taken into account that people may want to watch it on their HDTVs. The app may have that capability but it is likely something that Netflix just tacked on. That is still a step above the Hulu Plus app as that no longer supports TV output. Either way, I think it is apparent that Netflix is not taking advantage of the hardware in the iPad and iPad 2 or giving users more options for playback quality. The last time I used the app it actually looked more like a web page portal than an actual app. In other words, it looked like the app was more of a customized browser that worked with Netflix media than an actual app. It appeared to be no different than accessing Neflix through Safari other than Safari not working with Neflix media.
 
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My guess is that the Netflix app hasn't been upgraded to take advantage of the more powerful hardware in the iPad 2 (though the iPad 1 could even playback 720p content with ease).
That's definitely possible. As I noted above, the Digital AV Adapter is also relatively new, so I doubt that Netflix expected anybody to be connecting their iPad to a TV, and they are therefore likely delivering a lower-quality stream. Even with a 1024x768 screen, the reality is that most users are more likely to watch movies letterboxed, since the screen is a 4:3 aspect ratio and all HD content is 16:9 or 2.35:1. If you're watching an HD 16:9 video on the iPad in letterboxes mode, you're really only seeing a1024x575 resolution image -- only slightly more than SD quality.

I also wouldn't be surprised if Netflix was streaming SD (or lower) quality videos to the iPad in order to conserve bandwidth for people who are accessing it via their 3G connections (which are typically around 1-1.5Mbps with monthly data caps). It would be nice if Netflix implemented a few options allowing people to choose the quality they want to watch. That way you could pick 360p or 480p when you are connecting through a 3G wireless signal and then 720p when you are at home hooked up through wi-fi.
Netflix is technically using Apple's adaptive HTTP streaming protocols. This means that it's doing something different than what the company uses to stream to other devices, which may account for some of the difference, but it's also a speed-adapted, so you should get a higher-quality image when using a Wi-Fi connection than you'll get over a 3G connection. This is true of almost all iOS apps, since Apple basically requires developers to support lower-bandwidth streams over 3G connections.

Any issues with Netflix streaming are more likely with the Netflix app than the iPad hardware itself. The best comparison would be to load an H.264 encoded HD movie onto the iPad and play that via the Digital AV Adapter and compare the quality of that to another equivalent 720p source. This takes streaming out of the equation and would demonstrate the iPad's actual video decoding and presentation capabilities, which in my experience are the equivalent of the Apple TV.
 

domitron

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If you're watching an HD 16:9 video on the iPad in letterboxes mode, you're really only seeing a1024x575 resolution image -- only slightly more than SD quality.
If you are playing 1280x720 content through the HDMI connector, though, you'll see the full resolution on your TV, projector, etc. which is more important to me. As far as seeing "only" 575 lines on the iPad screen when in letterbox mode, it hardly matters because the screen is so tiny anyway that 575 lines is plenty.

Any issues with Netflix streaming are more likely with the Netflix app than the iPad hardware itself. The best comparison would be to load an H.264 encoded HD movie onto the iPad and play that via the Digital AV Adapter and compare the quality of that to another equivalent 720p source. This takes streaming out of the equation and would demonstrate the iPad's actual video decoding and presentation capabilities, which in my experience are the equivalent of the Apple TV.
And when I do play videos stored on the iPad, they look great except for the gamma issue that washes out the video. That is, there are none of these Netflix artifact problems. I do hope they get the gamma problem fixed right away. I assume since the iPad 1 doesn't have any such problem, it'll be cleared up very fast.
 

kornchild2002

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The iPad 1 never had the ability to output audio and video via HDMI. It could only use VGA and, as I said, I never noticed any video quality issues. I also didn't use it for outputting video much and mainly stuck to pictures and PowerPoint presentations. The DRM on the movies and TV shows sold in the iTunes Store locked VGA output and only work with HDMI (thanks MPAA). I will get my iPad 2 next month along with the HDMI adapter so it should be interesting to see the problem in person.
 
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If you are playing 1280x720 content through the HDMI connector, though, you'll see the full resolution on your TV, projector, etc. which is more important to me. As far as seeing "only" 575 lines on the iPad screen when in letterbox mode, it hardly matters because the screen is so tiny anyway that 575 lines is plenty.
That's entirely correct, but the main point I was making is that Netflix was developed for the original iPad prior to the existence of the Digital AV Adapter. The best you could do at that time for video output to an external screen was either 480p through the component cables or 1024x768 through the VGA adapter (which could theoretically provide a 720p stream for video, but didn't always seem to do so depending on the app).

Compared to the new HDMI adapter, the VGA connector wasn't a practical option for displaying video as it required a TV with a VGA input (or a computer monitor) and a separate connection for audio. Combined with the restrictions on DRM-protected video output, I suspect few ever bothered with that solution.

And when I do play videos stored on the iPad, they look great except for the gamma issue that washes out the video. That is, there are none of these Netflix artifact problems. I do hope they get the gamma problem fixed right away.
That point is that Netflix right now is likely only developed for viewing on the iPad. TV Output is a "because they can" type of feature, but I don't expect that Netflix will spend too much time worrying about that aspect of it, particularly when there are so many other platforms available for viewing Netflix on the big screen.
 

kornchild2002

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Right, the Digital AV adapter did not come out until the iPad 2 was released. The iPad 1 could output video only through composite (480i), component (480p), and VGA (1024X768 but the app had to support it and DRMed content would not work). My VGA adapter pretty much sat there for the first 5 months I owned my iPad as I wanted to watch HD iTunes Store content on my HDTV (which had a VGA input) but couldn't. It wasn't until I started using my iPad for presentation more when it really came in handy but now all of our projectors have HDMI (and have had them for a while) and my adapter has gone back to just sitting there. I also have a 13" MBP hooked up to my HDTV that is more than capable of playing back iTunes Store HD content and an AppleTV 2 (I have an AppleTV but it has been in my bedroom for 2 years now and I wanted to use my iPad in the livingroom to watching HD content).

Either way, the HDMI adapter is something that is only a few months old just like the iPad 2. Netflix is definitely developing their app for iPad viewing only. You can easily tell this with most apps as their videos will be a tad pixelated even on the iPad's display. The ABC app is the same way. It looks OK on the iPad but the image is kind of low quality and it would look bad on any HDTV (at 720p and above). I have a feeling that Hulu Plus would be the same way as I think it streams a 244p version of content to the iPad. Most iPad streaming and video playback apps were made for watching content solely on the iPad's display as HDMI output is still extremely new. App developers might take that into consideration when they update their products but I wouldn't hold your breath especially since the majority of people use their iPad's without being hooked up to external displays.

Netflix and others may not be worrying about increasing the iPad's streaming quality either as there are tons of other devices that support streaming from their services that were made for HDTVs. An $80 Roku XD will stream Netflix HD and Hulu Plus HD with ease, the AppleTV 2 does Netflix HD (and no, Apple is not "high" if they expect their customers to buy a $100 device for watching iTunes Store content on an HDTV as it is really only twice as much as the HDMI adapter itself), most Blu-ray players with wi-fi built-in will at least work with Netflix HD, the Xbox 360, the PS3, etc. There are tons of HD solutions (with many costing $150 or less) for watching Netflix HD, Hulu Plus HD, Amazon Unbox HD, etc. streams on an HDTV while there really is only one platform to watch Netflix on-the-go without relying on a notebook: iOS. I would count Windows Mobile 7 but it isn't nearly saturated enough to call it a viable platform just yet and it hasn't been programmed to work with anything other than smartphones (ie no WM7 tablet). Netflix doesn't support Android either.
 

domitron

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I was not even aware of the Roku product. I think Apple should be ashamed of any issues they are having with the iPad's 720P output from Netflix given a product like this is out. And the fact they don't support 1080P is equally shamefully. The iPad costs literally ten times as much as the Roku product but cannot produce an equal output with Netflix streaming?!? Come on; that's just crazy! I hope these are just birthing kinks with the iPad and does not indicate a major hardware lack.
 

kornchild2002

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Again, you are comparing apples to oranges. Can a Roku be used on the go with its built-in display and rechargeable battery? Nope. Does it have access to over 10,000 native apps? No. Is it designed for any type of portable use? Not a chance.

Contrast/color issues aside, Apple can't do anything about the video output capabilities of Netflix. That is all up to the app developer whether or not they want to improve things. I can already tell you that Netflix video output on my 4G iPod touch looks worse despite it being able to handle 720p output as well (even with the HDMI adapter) and Netflix hasn't done anything about despite the 4G iPod touch being 8 months old (and the iPhone 4 coming up on a year).
 
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