You don’t have to be jaded to see that the PlayStation TV (or known on the other side of the globe as the PS Vita TV) was going to have one hell of an uphill battle ahead of it. Maybe Sony knew this and was betting on the promise of being able to play Vita titles or streaming games via PlayStation Now would be enough for its debut. If that’s the case they were hoping for a miracle.
For the uninitiated, it appears that you get a lot of device that fits in the palm of your hand, all for just $100. But after the setup you can sense that something isn’t quite right, from the overall lack of refinement and expected features, to the value of the package itself.
In their defense, nobody can accuse Sony of being lazy with the styling of the PS TV. At dimensions of 4” x 2.5” x 0.53” it’s pocket-sized and featherweight at just 0.24lbs (110g). The face and rear are textured matte while the sides are sharply flanked by glossy piano black accents, and connectivity is an expected collection of a HDMI, USB, Ethernet, and a slot for those PS Vita memory cards you love so much. To maintain the clean look the game card slot is cleverly placed on the top and hidden thanks to a flip door.
The internal hardware is identical to its handheld PlayStation Vita parent so I won’t spend time going over the specs again. Besides, I’m pretty sure that many of you Vita owners are already familiar and want to know what the PS TV actually brings to the table, and some of the changes brought on by using a DualShock 3 and/or DualShock 4 controller.
If this is your first Vita experience you’ll have to get acquainted to the console’s unique menu system, it’s not horrible but it never feels seamless either. Obviously, the omission of a touchscreen means that the functionality of the LiveArea is altered to accommodate a tactile feel. The general UI layout remains and is still all about big bubble icons enveloped in a bright and inviting atmosphere. Only now the experience feels somewhat awkward and nowhere as natural compared to tapping and swiping between downloadable apps and game sub-menus.
This mix-match of design isn’t limited to the UI but how you interact with the console itself. One frustrating example of this is powering off the PS TV via the controller, yet not being able turn it back on the same way. This is just one design flaw that foretells the entire PS TV experience, and only gets worse the more time you spend using it.
No, it’s not a coincidence if you’re also getting an uncomfortable vibe about the PlayStation TV. The idea for most buyers is that you’re bringing your Vita library to a bigger screen. Playing games on the PS TV is potentially solid…if you take into account that all Vita games are bumped up in resolution (720p/1280×720) and are subject to softer edges, for better or worse. I was fortunate enough to have a few compatible titles on hand like God of War Collection, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, and MLB 14: The Show which all looked adequate at best.
But the real problems start to manifest when you try to download or play games that aren’t fully compatible, especially for those who may have already invested in a decent Vita library. You’ll have about 150 titles that will roughly work on the PS TV, which is a paltry amount in consideration. And that’s IF the game actually makes it past the title screen, which happens surprisingly often.
Speaking of which, from freebies like Jetpack Joyride, where the action stops at the main menu due to lack of a touchscreen, to bigger releases like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Uncharted: Golden Abyss where they simply don’t work at all. Compatibility is a mixed bag, almost as if the engineers forgot that many Vita titles utilize the touchscreen in some way. PSOne Classic titles are also subject to the same treatment but are more bearable in scope. Regardless, expect to endure a lot of trial and error discovering how much of your collection actually works out of the box.
This drudging goes on to a lesser degree if you’re beaming content through Remote Play, which essentially means you can enjoy your PlayStation 4 sessions across a connected home network. I like the idea on paper and the execution through Ethernet is fairly smooth, with only minor input delays. The same can also be said with PlayStation Now, where you can rent and stream PlayStation 3 titles over the cloud. My experience with Killzone 3 and Ultra Street Fighter IV were equally impressive and fairly stutter-free.
Unfortunately linking up through Wi-Fi is a total crapshoot that makes online nearly unplayable even with a strong wireless portal at your disposal. If laggy performance didn’t ruin the moment it was a noticeable drop in visual clarity and constant buffering, which is unacceptable for gaming at a serious clip.
Another major knock are the playable apps for the PS TV, emphasis on the word ‘playable’. While you can technically download the Vita versions of Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus you’re treated to a message telling you that “This content is not compatible with PlayStation TV”. Not only is this a crushing oversight, especially if you were hoping the PS TV would (and probably should) be a viable alternative to the Rokus, Chromecasts, and Apple TVs of the world, but it’s embarrassing. Crackle and Crunchyroll are available but these choices aren’t enough to quell video streaming needs.
The PlayStation TV has potential but falls flat on so many levels right now. Unless your motivations are using this as a Remote Play extender to complement your PlayStation 4, cloud gaming on PlayStation Now, or just want to play Vita games up-scaled within reason the PS TV is just poor value for money, especially when the $99 base model which gets you nothing but the micro-console and an HDMI cable. This this amplified by an surprising lack of compatibility. Not even the optional $139 starter bundle can hide the fact that this foray isn’t ready for primetime. I really wanted to like this device, but I can’t recommend it until Sony finally makes it a fully functioning machine – just stick to a PS Vita handheld instead.