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A Day With PlayStation TV

by Matt Miller on Oct 14, 2014 at 12:35 PM

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Today sees the release of Sony’s PlayStation TV. The tiny system (about the size of a wallet) allows access to a broad variety of PlayStation content, but as of launch, it certainly isn’t the entertainment all-in-one package some might hope it could one day become. Limited access to older games and substandard streaming of current titles make the PS TV a serviceable secondary gaming tool for your house, but it falls short in many other respects. Even so, with a budget price tag and the potential for growth over the coming months and years, the gadget isn’t without potential.

The PlayStation TV is available in one of two packages. The $99 version is barebones, including just the unit and required connection wires, but it’s probably the best choice if you already have a PS3 or PS4 controller. The small main unit includes ports both for a Vita memory card and Vita game cards, as well as a USB port used primarily to pair controllers with the system. The system can support up to four controllers simultaneously. Overall, the black matte finish is discrete but attractive, and its compact size factor is impressive. 

If you want more than the base unit, a second option runs $139, and includes a Dual Shock 3 controller (the standard PS3 controller) an extra 8GB memory card (to supplement the onboard 1 GB storage), and a voucher for the excellent family game, The Lego Movie Videogame

Regardless of which version you snag, setting up the PlayStation TV is a breeze, plugging directly into your television via an included HDMI cable, and offering instant connection options to your SEN account, or allowing new users to create an account on the fly. Like with a Vita, the PlayStation TV connects to a single SEN account, and doesn’t allow for multiple authorized accounts without wiping the system memory. All North American users will need to download a firmware update upon initial connection, but the process was smooth and problem-free for me. 

As I explored the system’s intro screens, I was struck by the large type interface, which is reminiscent of the Wii U’s simplistic display – clearly targeted to a broad base of users. Parental controls are introduced during the frontend introduction, assuring parents can limit the content their kids can engage with, as well as setting time limits for play. 

Anyone familiar with the Vita will recognize the PlayStation TV’s home screen. The bubble interface is a good choice for the Vita because of the touch screen approach to interaction, but it is a little odd to see the same tools implemented on a home TV system. Even so, I had little trouble navigating around. Players can set their own themes and backgrounds, and a simple standby power option assures that the system will be up and ready for action at the press of a controller button. You can also adjust display options, though the PS TV disappointingly doesn’t support 1080p – only 1080i or 720p. 

[Next Page: The PS TV's two coolest features]

For established gamers already engaged on another PlayStation system, the PlayStation TV has two cool features. The first is the ability to use remote play from your PS4. This works best in a local wi-fi environment, but it’s also technically possible from an entirely separate locale. In common practice, it means you could stream a game from a PS4 connected to your home’s main TV, and play on a separate monitor in another room, an ideal option for families who might often fight over access to the PS4’s location. In order to test it out, I plugged in the visually intense Driveclub, and tried to connect up over local wi-fi. The PlayStation TV initially had trouble finding my online PS4 using an automatic setup, but a subsequent manual connection process solved the issue. Afterwards, it was easy to dive into Driveclub and get racing. Lag is noticeable, but not completely game breaking. The bigger issue is the downgrade in visuals. I noticed significant artifacting on objects, and when the race got heated and fast, the blurriness was even more noticeable. In short, remote play is likely best used for games that don’t require twitch response or high visual fidelity, such as a turn-based game.

The other major advantage of the PlayStation TV for seasoned gamers is the option to plug in Vita cartridges (or download games onto the memory card) and play them on your home TV. For many players who have never sprung for a Vita, this is an ideal option to explore some games at a lower cost of entry. I was excited by the prospect, and immediately popped in the Vita cards for Rayman Legends and Tearaway. Sadly, neither game is supported. In fact, many of the available games on Vita are not supported, and you should temper any plans to use the PlayStation TV in this way by perusing this official list of supported Vita games. In some cases, the absence of support is likely because of trouble integrating certain Vita touch mechanics, but other absences seem odd. Even so, I did manage to plug a copy of Vita’s Lego: The Hobbit in and got it up and running with little trouble. Though the visuals were understandably not stellar on my large TV, the game worked well, and I got to play with my excellent PS4 controller. 

For players who don’t already own a home PlayStation system, the availability of some of the Vita library is one of several fun features available at a much lower price than buying a new console. The system also allows users to download available PS One and PSP titles and stream PS3 games using PlayStation Now. And if (by some unlikely chance) you don’t already have another download-ready device in the house, you can also buy and rent movies and TV shows from the PlayStation Store. A small selection of streaming services is also available at launch, including Crackle, Crunchyroll, and Qello. However, a Sony representative shared with me that users can expect additional app rollouts post-launch. As it is, the absence of now-standard applications like Netflix and Amazon Prime is a major handicap for PlayStation TV, so I’m hopeful that they show up soon. 

PlayStation TV offers nowhere near the flexibility or quality entertainment experience as a dedicated home console, but neither is it intended to do so. Instead, it seems clear that Sony’s new mini streaming and download device is meant to fill gaps. For homes already inundated with gaming consoles, the PS TV is a secondary way to let the family connect up to some quality gaming experiences at a lower price than buying another full system. And for folks who haven’t yet adopted a home console, the PS TV is an inexpensive route into some (though certainly not all) of Sony’s available games and media offerings. The sleek and small form factor of the unit is a plus, and the price is hard to beat for a new gaming device, but its limited streaming and gaming options at launch hold me back from offering a hearty recommendation. 

If you have more specific questions about the PlayStation TV, check out this extensive FAQ