A lot has been made of the inability to connect an external HDD to the PS4 in order to expand the available storage space or copy videos, MP3 files and other content to the internal HDD.
But is it really that big a deal? We take a look at some of the trends that might have led Sony to make this decision in the first place.
First of all, let’s recap why you might want to connect an external HDD to the PS4 in the first place. To do that, we’ll look at how it was used historically on the PS3.
Both the PS3 and the PS4 contain internal hard drive units that are fully customer-changeable. If you don’t think the 500Gb that comes with the PS4 is enough room, you can go ahead and upgrade it at any time. For example, a high-quality 2.5″ SATA II drive with 1Tb of space is available right now for just £53, and when the Samsung Spinpoint M9T becomes available for consumers to buy (currently it is only available to manufacturers) you’ll be able to get 2Tb to fit in your PS4. Be aware the drive you buy needs to be under 9.5mm high – many larger drives are 15mm.
You could argue that with 1TB on board, there is little point in attaching an external device anyway. But for most PS3 owners, the internal storage wasn’t the limiting factor or the reason to connect an external HDD – it was more about throwing content on to the PS3 to play it using the XMB.
Users could copy thousands of MP3 files on to the PS3 and play music through their TV speakers or home sound system. Many people copied video files to the PS3 in order to watch movies and TV shows. And then there was that other main reason to connect an external drive to the PS3 – if you did upgrade your hard drive, it made sense to use the Backup and Restore features with an external drive so that you could get your content back on the PS3 after the HDD upgrade.
But is anyone really doing this anymore? Are PS3 users actually connecting an HDD to the box now, or have they all but given up on it. We asked that very question over a series of days on Twitter, and here are the results.
Of the 95 people that took our poll, 54% have not actually connected an HDD to the PS3 in more than a year. We were told on Twitter that some of those users had actually never connected a drive to the PlayStation 3.
Another 12% had connected at some point between half a year and a year ago. Therefore, two thirds of PS3 owners had not bothered to connect an HDD to their console for the last six months or longer.
20% of the 95 people we asked had used an external HDD in the last month, with 15% of those using it within the week.
Sony must have had an idea of these numbers from their own panels, research and surveys when they were deciding on whether external HDD access should be allowed or not. After all, look at it from their point of view.
The PS4 is, effectively, a super-powered PC that is focused on playing games. If you allow people to connect external devices, you are opening yourself up to a whole new level of security provisions to avoid piracy of games, something the PS3 has done remarkably well at dealing with.
And Sony, of course, want to maximise their profits on the PS4 so that the console is fully supported for the next 7-10 years. They’ve already said they are selling each unit at below cost, and Sony have a full suite of services built into the PS4 and PlayStation Network to deliver entertainment across the board in order to maximise their after-purchase revenues.
If you want to play music, you can use a music streaming service like Music Unlimited, which is also available on smartphones and the PS Vita – a broad device choice that makes it competitive with the likes of Spotify and Google Play. If you want to play movies or watch TV shows, you can rent or buy them from the PlayStation Store and Video Unlimited. Sony have a vested interest in stopping you from downloading movies and TV shows from the Internet to watch on their device – after all, it’s against copyright laws and you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
Don’t forget there are also a wide range of third-party TV catch-up and movie streaming features available too, such as Netflix and BBC iPlayer (we assume all the PS3 services are available now or in the near future on the PS4).
If you’re going to break the law (which, of course, we don’t condone), why bother going through an interim stage to copy it to the PS4 in the first place when so many external HDD units these days come with their own media players built in! The lack of DLNA on the PS4 is also not a big deal for this same reason – so many of the TVs that you’re connecting the PS4 to in the first place have DLNA support anyway, why bother switching the PS4 on in the first place when your TV can access your PC content directly?
No DLNA on your TV? OK – just grab a DLNA dongle for under £10 and you can take that with you in your pocket when you go on holiday, away on business or around to your friend’s house. These devices are tiny, and a lot more portable and convenient than using the PS4 for PC file or smartphone content streaming. You probably spent more than that in Starbucks this morning…
We know the PS4 also has the provision of being able to backup game save data to a USB device (such as a memory stick) if and when you do decide to upgrade your internal hard drive in exactly the same way as the PS3. Don’t forget that your game saves are also being stored on the cloud for you as part of your PlayStation Plus subscription, and you can re-download games and other content quite easily from the PS Store, so you might not even need to use a USB device for this process.
With 66% of you not bothering to use an external HDD with the PS3 between the last six months and, well, ever, and only 15% using it in the last seven days, plus the availability of so many other options when it comes to the reasons for using an external HDD with the console in the first place, we really don’t think it is a big deal.
But in case you’re not convinced, we asked a few more questions on Twitter for good measure to get a barometer on how people interact with their content.
Almost everyone we asked explained that they are keeping their PS3 console and adding a PS4, only planning to sell the PS3 when the PlayStation 4 can stream the older console’s back catalogue. Therefore, they can continue to use the PS3 as their media player anyway.
And we also noticed a large number of people have completely stopped using MP3 files on any device, not just consoles. The vast majority of music lovers we asked have moved on to streaming services now and have access to almost every song ever released, rather than just their own purchased or downloaded content.
It would seem that not only are Sony protecting themselves by not allowing access to files on an external HDD, they’re reflecting what is happening out there in the real world anyway and providing a console that mirrors real-life trends.
What say you? Do you really need to access an external hard drive on your PS4, or is it irrelevant to you? Let us know in the comments below…