PS3 as a HTPC, Close but no Cigar

April 24, 2007

PS3Over the weekend I decided to install Linux on my PS3 in hopes that I could add HD media streaming to the machines list of capabilities, no dice, not yet anyway. Before I get too far ahead of myself here, I’ll back up and try to share enough about the installation process and what you can expect afterwards, in enough detail to hopefully let you decide if it’s even worth your time.

First off if your completely unfamiliar with Linux (no Windows or OSX installations running on a PS3, that I’m aware of) I’d strongly caution you against proceeding with this until you have a least a cursory knowledge of how Linux behaves, its not that the process isn’t somewhat automated but when something does go wrong and it will, that basic understanding of how Linux operates will come in quite handy.

The majority of my installation process came from “Tek Jansen’s Guide to Installing Linux on Your PS3!” which I have to say was quite thorough and spot on with one minor exception. Tek mentions two files needed for the installation process in addition to the “Yellow Dog Linux” installation disc, either I misread the instructions or the file was found elsewhere during my installation, I only pre-loaded the otehros.bld file, I apparently skipped the otheros.self step without consequence.

So as instructed I copied the otehros.bld to a memory card, slapped it in the PS3, loaded the DVD iso of Yellow Dog 5.0 for the PS3 and then formatted the system for a 10GB Linux partition and let her rip. (note you can either choose 10GB for the PS3 or 10GB for Linux, custom partition sizes aren’t permitted) Again if your familiar with Linux in general the process is relatively painless and if not I again urge you to read up on the basics

So after several hours of downloading the necessary files, copying the boot-loader onto my flash drive, partitioning the PS3’s drive for a Linux install and the additional hour or so of actual installation, what did I end up with? 10GB less space for PS3 downloads and that’s about it considering I was doing this for HTPC functionality. The problem isn’t with the PS3 itself or necessarily with the particular flavor or Linux supported but with Sony’s apparent unwillingness to allow the PS3’s hardware to be fully utilized outside of the consoles native operating system.

More specifically the PS3’s GPU and highly touted cell processor aren’t fully utilized under a native Linux operating system. I’m not sure of it’s the threat of piracy, open competition from Linux game developers, some other unknown motivation or just the fact that the Linux community hasn’t had enough face-time with the PS3 to code new solutions, but thus far there doesn’t appear to be a way of directly accessing the PS3’s RSX GPU by means of an OpenGL driver. In addition; apparently only the main core of the cell processor is utilized under Linux (presumably the part that most resembles a PPC processor) combine this with the fact the PS3 only has 256MB of RAM and its easy to see how the PS3 as a HTPC might not be all its cracked up to be.

Now lest I paint the PS3 running Linux to be a complete waste of time, I should say that if your main goal is to be able to browse the internet with ease, send and receive a few emails and or locally play a few video clips then no, its not a complete waste of time or resources. However I would rather have my 10GB’s of space back and just use my laptop in the living room for those tasks. No, what I really wanted to do with the PS3/Linux combo in my living room was to stream HD trailers, clips and movies from my windows machine back in our office.

For whatever (unknown to me) reason I can’t get VLC to stream anything from a networked drive through the Yellow Dog Linux distro running on the PS3, and even when I copy them over locally, resolutions as low as 480p stutter and drop frames, i.e. this is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned. I’m not willing to give up just yet and when/if Sony ever does allow access to the RSX and other cell cores by means of a PS3 firmware update, I’ll be happy to revisit the PS3 as a HTPC. Until then it’s back to status quo, happily living with HD DVD, Blu-ray and Comcast as my HD sources Du Jour in the living room.

Related Links:

Tek Jansen’s Guide to Installing Linux on Your PS3

Yellow Dog Linux for PS3

Yellow Dog Linux for PS3 Forum

Ubuntu Linux for PS3

How-to Install Debian and Ubuntu on the PS3

Open PS3’s RSX for other OS Petition



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under HTPC


Comments

  • moniquejenin

    I have a HTPC but I always try and find something smaller.. It would be cool to have a high-powered Media box.

  • moniquejenin

    I have a HTPC but I always try and find something smaller.. It would be cool to have a high-powered Media box.

  • Az

    Wish I had read your post earlier. The default ps3 ‘gameos’ offers a poor user interface. There’s no search and caveman-like organization of the media – it’s terrible. I tried to install ubuntu to get around this. But as you say… There’s no way it can play full screen video and the time taken to open files over (100mbit ethernet) is terrible. I big let down, but ps3+ubuntu can be a good audio center solution (with several applications on offer) if that’s what you want.

  • Az

    Wish I had read your post earlier. The default ps3 ‘gameos’ offers a poor user interface. There’s no search and caveman-like organization of the media – it’s terrible. I tried to install ubuntu to get around this. But as you say… There’s no way it can play full screen video and the time taken to open files over (100mbit ethernet) is terrible. I big let down, but ps3+ubuntu can be a good audio center solution (with several applications on offer) if that’s what you want.

  • Miya

    You can already stream videos from Windows PCs with the PS3, if you are running Windows XP or Vista and have Windows Media Player 11.

    All you have to do is add the videos to your library and enable sharing, then in the XMB under Photos, Music or Videos pick “Search for Media Servers”. You will need to authorise this on your Windows machine, but then the PS3 will be able to stream at any time from your Windows machine.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Miya

    You can already stream videos from Windows PCs with the PS3, if you are running Windows XP or Vista and have Windows Media Player 11.

    All you have to do is add the videos to your library and enable sharing, then in the XMB under Photos, Music or Videos pick “Search for Media Servers”. You will need to authorise this on your Windows machine, but then the PS3 will be able to stream at any time from your Windows machine.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Kevin

    That’s sad news for the PS3. It would have been cool to have a high-powered Media box like that. I have a HTPC but I always try and find something even smaller and slimer.

  • Kevin

    That’s sad news for the PS3. It would have been cool to have a high-powered Media box like that. I have a HTPC but I always try and find something even smaller and slimer.