There are two price tiers to the Music Unlimited service: a £3.99 30-day Basic plan, and a £9.99 30-day Premium plan. Subscribers to the basic plan get:
- Music Sync, which scans the hard drive of your PC (not Mac, as discussed) and adds details of your existing music tracks and playlists to your personal music library in the cloud. You can then listen to those tracks and playlists using your TV, PS3 or other Internet-enabled compatible devices.
- Basic channels, where you can enjoy a variety of advert-free music channels grouped by era, genre and mood, or SensMe, which compiles playlists personalised to your identified tastes. Rather crucially, though, for basic subscribers on-demand playback of each track is limited to just 30 seconds. Er, great.
Make the leap to the Premium plan, and the system starts to make more sense. So much so, in fact, that the Basic plan becomes clearly just a teaser designed to persuade you that actually, you really need to spend a tenner a month for the full Premium deal.
With this in mind, it rather sticks in the craw that you won't get a refund on any unused portion of a Basic Subscription if you decide to go Premium part way through a month on the Basic plan. Cheers. On the upside, Sony is at least currently letting you try the full Premium system for a full 30 days for free before you commit to it.
Anyway, getting back to what the Premium plan offers, you get all the Basic plan benefits, plus:
- Premium channels, which offer a variety of 'step up' music content including the Global Top 100 compiled from the music service library.
- On Demand Playback, where you can pick and choose tracks from the service's entire music library and create your own playlist.
You can initially set up your account on your PC, TV or PS3 - though personally we'd suggest just doing it on your PC first, as you'll have to use this at some point anyway if you want to get the best value out of Music Unlimited by letting it scan your PC music content.
This brings us to another huge catch, though: namely, that while Music Unlimited will scan your PC and add details of your existing music tracks and playlists to your personal music library in its 'cloud', it will only do it with tracks that don't have DRM protection and are already within the Music Unlimited library. Which effectively means that potentially large chunks of the stuff you've already bought via or added to (eg, from CDs) other music software platforms will be unavailable on your new Music Unlimited system.
So far, so rather frustrating. But the frown did at least disappear from our faces for a while once we clocked its rather lovely interface.
The key point is that unlike the rival PC-focused platforms, Music Unlimited has been built from the ground up with TV use in mind, and the result is an onscreen menu system that in most ways is really outstandingly easy to use as well as looking cool and cutting edge thanks to the extremely high quality of the record sleeve artwork shown with each track. The menus react quickly and sensitively to your navigational commands, too.
The photos accompanying this article pretty much tell the whole story of the MU operating system, though for descriptions' sake we might add that its approach of presenting rows of icons you can scroll quickly along, with the selected option popping up large while smaller icons to either side show the next options, is very reminiscent of the system Microsoft uses on the Xbox 360.