Music Unlimited is Sony’s new music streaming/catalog service. It is available on a variety of Sony products including Bravia Televisions, Blu-Ray players and the PS3. There are essentially two parts within the service, one part being a Pandora-style streaming player with unlimited skips, the other is a music catalog with complete albums and search functionality. There are two tiers of this service, a basic service and a premium service. This is a review of the premium service on a PS3 and PC.
The setup was as expected. It included entering a credit card for billing and signing in with your PSN ID. The PS3 will download the application and you’re ready to go. Anyone without a PSN ID can create an account online and use the service through an internet browser.
On the Playstation 3, the service runs as a dedicated application that appears on the XMB . The PS3 will not allow Music Unlimited to run in the background while playing games or performing other tasks. The service has an online portal that allows remote access to content. It’s a flash enabled website and an Android app for the service is said to be in production for release later this year.
Interface and Navigation
Music Unlimited launches you right into the channel selection. The menu’s are horizontal scrolling with colorful pictures inside. The sections are broken off vertically separating the music channels by Era, Genre, Feeling, Premium content and user content. Pressing the menu button will bring up the main menu to access account information, the search function, programs settings and the channel menu.
Song’s can be “liked” by a button press and the Qriocity program will tailor the random music to what you choose. Playing the 1980′s channel played any song from the 1980′s, many I wasn’t familiar with. After liking a few artists like Babyface, Peter Gabriel and Q-Tip, the 1980′s channel started to play more familiar artists, buts still very random songs.
Songs can be skipped with no limitation, but there are no fast forward controls, just play, pause and return to the beginning of the song or go to next song. This does make listening to songs with long introductions a pain if you’re looking for a particular part that is toward the end of a song.
The sound quality for the service is good. It still doesn’t sound as good as a CD, but when streaming with a good high speed connection there are no artifacts or buffering during the playback of songs. On a slightly slower connection, there were some artifacts present, similar to what is found on similar music streaming services.
The dynamics of the songs are completely preserved, where older songs are significantly quieter than newer songs. There is a dynamics normalizer feature in the settings that is default to on, but to get the full sound and energy of the music, then it is best to turn that feature off. For night listening, turning it on will save sudden jumps in volume between songs.
Using the Music Channels
The Premium channels consist of top 100 playlists including Pop, R&B, Rock $ Metal, Jazz and more. These play modern top 100 songs like Rhianna, Muse, Katy Perry, Nelly and the Pixies. The service has unlimited skips, so if you’re not a Kings of Leon fan, you can skip right to Radiohead.
Picking a genre channel will open up the choices to all time periods within a genre, new and old. Liking and disliking songs will greatly impact this section,for it will start to ignore songs similar to what you dislike. There are also more channels available, sections for children and for holiday music are available. They also separate out the metal genre from the rock genre.
Picking a Era will pick music from six available choices. It’s separated into decades starting with the ’50s to 2000s. This section greatly benefits from the like/dislike function for it will jump around to many different styles of music within an era without a little direction.
The SensMe channel allow you to pick music by your mood. The choices include energetic, emotional, lounge, extreme, relax, mellow and a set of channels that switches to the time of day. This is a similar service found on the PSP and the Media Go software that Sony has available. It’s a pretty cool way of hearing new music, since no house music will come up if you’re trying to relax.
The navigation throughoout all the channels are the same, and if a new song comes up that you like, you can at any time choose to hear other artist similar to the currently playing on. The service, unfortunately, does not let you press a button to hear more from a particular artist. If a song from Cans comes up that you like and you want to hear more of them, then currently, you must back out of the channel area to the search function, type in the artist and you’ll see all the music from them. There is no shortcut directly to the artist’s page or list of albums.
Searching and the Music Catalog
The search function allows complete access to the entire music catalog. It was in this area that the service really shines. The service has a very good collection of songs available. I was able to find just about any song or artist I was looking for but there were some definite omissions (Dr. Dre’s older music, The Beatles). The catalog seems to be filled with albums and songs that are currently in print. Older out of print albums are not present here but reissues are available.
Looking up, for example, the Beatles would bring up a collection of audio books, but no real music offerings. Typing in Michael Jackson will bring up what seems to be every album Michael Jackson recorded, and searching for Jackson 5 will bring up another large group of songs and albums. Searching for Pink Floyd will brink up 10 albums, 100 songs and even a pop band’s covers of Pink Floyd songs.
The spelling within music unlimited is extremely picky. Typing in Michale Jackson will not bring up Michael Jackson as an artist, but will allow you to see the songs from “This is It” as well as karaoke versions of MJ songs. Yes, there are Karaoke versions of songs in the music catalog.
The searching function serves it purpose well, given your spelling is pretty accurate.
Adding Your Own Music
Music Unlimted also bring music found on your computer to the serivce for listening in different enviorments. This part of the service requires a Windows Pc running XP or Vista. From the music.qriocity website, a program is installed that reads you iTunes music folder and uploads mp3s to the service. This is a completely background process, so much background that it’s hard to tell if it’s uploading or if a song is compatible with the service. The serivce will allow you to upload cataloged music only. This means any personal self-wrote songs will not transfer up to the cloud service, but versions of popular songs from out of print albums may transfer.
The advantage of this service is music from your computer can be ready for you to use anytime or anywhere you log into the service. From the online browser offered from the Qriocity site, music from your library will show up and can be played just like any other song. Album art is pre-loaded and the sound quality is the same as the streaming media. Accessing the site and playing songs from a OSX computer is no different from a Windows computer, just with OSX you can’t use the uploading feature.
Occasionally, though, some album art work will not load up. The artwork is replaced with a musical note on a blue background and stands out from the colorful artwork that is displayed prominently. Also, a few times the service would not connect to a selected song. After a small error message, just backing out and clicking the song again would solve the problem, but it seems more annoying because overall the service works extremely well with no problems. For people with young children, there is also an explicit control setting that will only allow family friendly material to play.
The Music Unlimited service is one of the better music streaming services available today. The sound quality of the music streams is good with little to no audio artifacts present. The interface is nice and simple and does a decent job of looking classy yet displaying basic information. The water effects on the bottom on the PS3 version adds a cool effect to the UI, but the screensaver is bland.
The selection of music is up to date. I tested a few artist to see if their new albums were available and they were on day one. This is most likely record label dependent and I wouldn’t expect to see that every time, but it was nice to see lesser known artist with label releases still make it to this service on release day.
The internet version of the Music Unlimited service allows the creation of playlists. Playlist can be any collection of songs, but can only be created on the computer. Creating playlists on the computer will create a playlist where ever you log in to the service. Playlist creation is not supported on the PS3.
The cost of the premium service is $10 for 30 days, and there’s a good amount of music here to dig through which makes this service a good value. The library catalog is very deep though not complete but it is more than enough to satisfy nearly any music fan.