Last night Sony's VidZone service went live, offering PS3 owners an on demand music video channel for free. And it's pretty sweet.
Although Sony told us in advance that the service was going live last night, it still wasn't available when I checked at 11pm, so they must have left it to te very last minute to push it live. It's a 23MB free download from the Playstation Store, although that small footprint belies the time it takes to setup.
Once you've downloaded and installed the app, you need to agree to the EULA and choose whether to receive email updates on the service. Then it sets itself up, installing various components and doing God knows what else for about five minutes before you can start watching your favourite music videos.
From the homepage, navigation is a little confusing. There's a whole heap of predetermined playlists, like the Top 10, best rock, sexiest and "star cameo" playlists. If you don't actually want to listen to any of those, you need to press the circle button to enter the menu. There you're given the option of searching for songs, artists or genres and creating or listening to playlists.
The search feature is probably the first area that VidZone struggles. Typing in the name of your desired artist is slo-ow. rather than using the PS3's usual on screen keyboard, you have to manually scroll through each letter, and it's not responsive at all. If you're trying to type in a name with a lot of letters around the middle of the alphabet, like Bon Jovi for example, you'll need a couple of minutes.
On the upside, the sheer number of songs and artists is impressive. It's not just restricted to the latest music either – there are tracks from the likes of James Brown as well. And John Mayer is there too.
The videos themselves look and sound good, except for one little problem – they're all restricted to 4:3 ratio, meaning your big ass 16:9 TV has two black bars down the sides. Even clips that are 16:9 in nature, like The Pretender by the Foo Fighters is restricted to 4:3, which means you have black bars all around the clip. Hopefully this is something Sony fixes post-haste, because not being able to view clips full screen is a huge disappointment.
As we saw from the screenshots yesterday, the ads are unobtrusive and varied, although at the moment a lot of the ads look to be directly imported from the UK, considering the pound signs everywhere. I'm sure that's just a launch phase thing though – as the service kicks off we'll probably see a lot more localised ads.
On the whole, VidZone is pretty impressive. It's not something you'll use all the time, but if you're having a party or just want to sit around watching sexy videoclips, it's a great solution. And if it is a precursor to a full VOD service from Sony like we hope, then you can colour me excited.