Hardware Review: PlayStation TV

PlayStation TV

After a great deal of anticipation, on 14th November 2014 the PlayStation TV (formerly known as the Vita TV in Japan) made it’s way into stores in the EU. The PS Vita micro-console has caused something of a stir of late because of it’s handling by Sony, least of all in the way it is currently being marketed primarily as being an add-on for the PS4, but is it a worthy addition to the PS Vita family? Retailing for £84.99 it’s a rather unassuming package, less than half the size of a shoebox and from the outside at least it does very little to tempt new gamers into parting with their money. It’s clear from the offset that this is being pushed at people who are looking at adding to their existing PS4 set up and everything else that the console can do is really being offered as a bonus – the opposite of the approach taken in Japan.

Before continuing, I do want to stress now that unlike several other members of the Vita Player team, right now I don’t own a PlayStation 4 so Remote Play wasn’t a factor in purchasing a PlayStation TV for me and as such it’s not something that I’m going to be discussing in this review. Instead, I’m going to concentrate primarily on the PSTV’s role as a device for playing PS Vita games on a television and it’s suitability for doing so – my reason for owning one. So what about the console itself…

Inside The Box

Knowing the size of the console, from the outside you’d expect to get quite a generous bundle of items for your money but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed when I opened everything up. The console itself is even smaller than Sony’s photos lead you to believe and it’s actually about half the size of a PS Vita game case and looking at it you do wonder what you are actually getting for your money. Apart from the PlayStation TV itself, the box contains the user manual, a HDMI lead (a rather pleasant surprise), the power cable and a PS Vita game box containing a PSN voucher for three downloadable PS Vita games – Worms Revolution Extreme, Olli Olli and Velocity Ultra.

The biggest omission with the PlayStation TV is the absence of a controller in the box and to be frank, the decision by Sony to ship the console in this way is beyond me. Right from the start it means that the target audience is reduced to those who either already have a spare DualShock 3 or 4 or they are faced with the prospect of having to pay anything up to £60 for a new controller.  For new gamers this could prove to be the deciding factor as to whether to buy the PSTV. Both Japan and America had bundles with controllers and selling the PSTV in this way only heightens the impression that this is a PS4 accessory rather than a console in its own right.

The Machine Itself

Looking more closely at the console itself, it’s a rather unassuming box. Apart from the PlayStation logo embossed into the top of it, you’d be hard pressed to tell what this little box of tricks actually is from the outside. From the rear once set up completely it more resembles Spaghetti Junction than anything else with ports for the power lead, an ethernet cable, a USB port and the HDMI output with just enough room for a PS Vita memory card nestled next to the power button. The only indicator on the console that there is a Vita inside is when looking on the side of the console where, hidden under a panel, is the PS Vita game card slot which just happens to have the PS Vita logo embossed on the cover.

With regards to the hardware, the console is basically a modified 2000-series PS Vita. Coming with 1Gb of internal storage the obvious difference between the systems are the physical ports that the PlayStation TV provides, the ethernet support and the lack of a screen. The HDMI output is set at a resolution of 720p and Vita titles are automatically upscaled to this although native 720p resolution is supported for videos.

Game wise, the system supports PS4 via Remote Play (via wi-fi or through a network using the ethernet connection), native PS Vita titles (physical and download) and via download supporting PSP, PS One Classics, Minis and PlayStation Mobile. These can be stored on any size of memory that the PS Vita supports, including the 64Gb card not available outside of Japan. While still at the Beta stage, the console will also be supporting PlayStation Now.

As I said earlier, the system doesn’t come with a controller but it is compatible with either the DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 and up to 4 controllers are supported. The touch screen / rear touchpad are supported through limited emulation and the DS4’s touchpad also functions as an emulated touch screen as well.

Setting Up

Getting up and runing with the PlayStation TV is simplicity itself. You’re taken through the basics step-by-step sorting out your country, region, date and time and general preferences before creating a PlayStation Network account or registering the device to your existing account. At this point you’ll need to have your credit / debit card to hand to authorise your PSN account just for security purposes to prove that you are who you claim to be and I found that Sony did reserve a tiny charge on my account of a few pence although this was later cancelled but no mention of this was made during set-up. The whole process only took a couple of minutes though and I was ready to go.

First Impressions

The anticipation of wanting a PlayStation TV had been building up for myself for some time and I had been mentally preparing a list of games that I wanted to play on the big screen so these were the first ones that I wanted to check out. I did have some reservations and wondered how well the controls would hold up (as well as navigating the system using a controller rather than the touch screen) as well as the games themselves expanded up onto a 32″ TV. This is where the console really shines for me and while some of the classic titles do look washed out, especially PS One and PSP games, most Vita games look absolutely stunning. Colours become more vibrant, sound becomes crystal clear (always one of the Vita’s weak points with its speakers) and using the DualShock 4 for many games makes them a real joy to play and far more comfortable no matter what model Vita you owned previously.

Games like TxK look absolutely breathtaking as do Rayman Origins and Child Of Light. When playing Dead Or Alive 5+ I was hard pressed to tell the difference between the PS Vita and PS3 versions running on the same television and as for one of the Vita’s flagship titles Killzone Mercenary… this truly was a showcase title and lived up to the promise that was made to us when the Vita was first released of delivering console quality gaming and being able to play this using a DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 took the game to an all-new level.

In fact, one thing that immediately sprang to mind playing many games in this way was the fact that with the addition of the PlayStation TV to my hardware set-up, I was beginning to feel that in the case of many games I was feeling that there was little need for Cross Buy with many of the indie games I had grown to love. I certainly don’t think that when looking at games like Spelunky, Race The Sun, Limbo, Rainbow Moon or many more that there really is a need to own them on more than one system when a PlayStation TV combined with a PS Vita can offer the perfect balance between home and portable gaming using a single memory card.

Media Playback

This is something of a mixed bag. Performance itself is rock-solid with the console coming with the Vita’s standard music and video players along with the default picture viewer. Videos are supported at 720p resolution and look fabulous as you would expect but I get the feeling that there has been a wasted opportunity with the system here. The name of the console gives the impression, certainly to the wider public at large, that it has television capabilities (along the same lines as the Roku box, and similar boxes from Sky, Apple and Amazon) but the PlayStation TV is sadly lacking in this department. With the exception of Live From PlayStation (which is limited to offering video streams from other PlayStation users and Sony-controlled content) there is little else on offer.

The PS Vita Youtube app isn’t compatible with the system (although Youtube is a strange beast as the service CAN be accessed using the console’s browser!) and as yet none of the other video services available for the PS Vita in other territories such as Netflix have been released in the EU. This would have been the perfect time for Sony to have put pressure on these service providers to have release Vita versions of their apps and to have promoted them on the PSTV packaging but instead we are limited to Sony’s own app and the TuneIn internet radio app. Very disappointing.

The only other function that it does offer is the Network Media Player but this turned out to be hit-and-miss in operation and when attempting to make use of this although I was able to connect to one of our family PCs the app was unable to find any content on it so some work is needed here.

Games

Now, the important thing you are no doubt asking is about the games themselves and whether there are enough available to make it worth considering. I will say right now that not everything available for the PS Vita works on the PlayStation TV, even games you would expect to see running quite happily but that’s not to say that it’s short on choice. Many people (and reviewers) have been critical over the choice and have highlighted key games that don’t work on the system citing many of the Vita’s earlier blockbuster games as prime examples of games missing from it’s current compatible line-up but this is something that shouldn’t deter you from making the decision to get a PlayStation TV.

There is an astonishing range of software that does run on the console and testing my own collection for the Vita Player site during the first week of owing the system has proved that to be the case. Sony quoted a figure of 700 games being available for the PSTV at launch but I’d say that this was understating the real total. As well as native PS Vita titles (both digital and physical releases), the console can run PSP games, PS One Classics, Minis and PlayStation Mobile games (something that Sony fails to mention) and there is a vast selection for each of these. Just looking at the Vita titles for a moment, while there major games that don’t work, for every AAA game that doesn’t run, there are more that do. It may not run Uncharted, Gravity Rush or WipEout 2048, but it does run Killzone Mercenary, Final Fantasy X /X-2, Persona 4 Golden, and Freedom Wars.

Fans of indie games are incredibly well catered for with majority of titles not only running exceptionally well but looking just as good as their PS3 counterparts. I’ve already mentioned that the quality of these when running on the PSTV all but negates the need for Cross Buy and the sheer range of variety of indie games means that there will be something for everyone and with this being a niche that the Vita is finding itself in right now, this could well be an area where it will excel.

With the classic titles, there is an ample library of PSP titles to choose from but the PS One Classics were something that did impress me. Not only do we get access to Final Fantasy V – IX but games here are enhanced compared to playing them on the PS Vita. Firstly, the PlayStation TV takes full advantage of the DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 and its additional shoulder buttons. Straight away this makes many games easier to control and play, especially games like Spyro The Dragon. Something else that I had overlooked when playing PS One games on the Vita that makes a welcome return is support for the controller’s vibration function. This may not seem like a major feature but for games that do utilise it, it’s a welcome addition. The real icing on the cake picks up on another feature of the hardware that I covered earlier on. When the system software was updated to version 3.35 it added support for up to 4 controls. Intended use with multiplayer games on the PS4, this is actually supported with PS One games as well so it’s time to dig out those old retro shooters and racing games! Hopefully we’ll see this supported in PS Vita titles as well in future as it has been hinted at that regular Vita titles can take advantage of the PSTV’s additional features if detected but only time will tell on that one.

Remote Play

While this is one of the features that I haven’t been able to test out personally, it is something that I do want to make a brief comment on. Despite being one of the available features of the PS Vita, no support is provided for PS3 Remote Play with the PlayStation TV which seems to stress even further the direction that Sony want the micro-console to go in. It’s clear that the PS Vita is intended to be an added bonus to what the PSTV is offering for consumers and the PS4 is now clearly the priority for Sony Computer Entertainment and now, as with the PS Vita it would seem, the PS3 is being put out to pasture.

As for Remote Play on the PS4, some have reported that the wi-fi capabilities of the PlayStation TV aren’t as strong as they could be and for optimal performance that it is recommended that gamers should either connect their PSTV directly to their PS4 via wi-fi rather than through a wireless router or preferably through a wired network for optimum performance. This isn’t going to be a practical option for most gamers, adding inconvenience or additional expense to what is already shaping up to be a costly box but for those who have managed to get Remote Play working it has been said that the results – as expected – have been quite impressive.

Overall

I have to be honest and say that not only did the PlayStation TV meet all of my expectations, but it exceeded every single one of them. It’s easy to use, runs plenty of games and enough of the types of games that appeal to me to make it a key part of my PlayStation family and it genuinely has made a lot of my Vita gaming more enjoyable. While there are games I would love to see updated to run on the PSTV, there are ample titles to keep me happy for a long time to come. Ultimately, if you want to see some of your favourite Vita games running on the big screen and looking better than ever, then this is the solution you have been looking for… and it’s a lot cheaper than re-buying the same games all over again for the PS3 or PS4!

It’s not perfect and does have something of an identity crisis and in typical Sony fashion is suffering from an almost total lack of marketing but don’t let that put you off. For £85 you’re getting a Vita that will sit discretely underneath any TV letting you play to your hearts content without ever having to worry about eyestrain again.

Vita Player Rating - 09

 

3 Comments on Hardware Review: PlayStation TV

  1. Great review. I agree that it’s lacking in TV services, but I am hoping that Sony will provide more in the future to support the PSTV and Vita.

    I also thought that it’s a lot easier to play with a controller on certain games, and I’ve noticed that I can play the PSTV and lot longer than the Vita – though, I still play the Vita more.

    Just to let you know, I have noticed, “Videos are supported at 72p resolution.”

    Keep up the great work guys. You’re my morning and evening read!

  2. I do hope that the PSTV will bring the video services that the Vita is lacking right now, certainly in the EU and it could really make a difference getting Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and more… hell, even a portable version of BBC iPlayer would be a step in the right direction!

    I definitely agree on the control side of things. I can use my Vita for a reasonable length of time but I’ve found that controller grips do help a great deal which is why I invested in a few different ones although they never help when accessing the screen or rear touchpad. I’ve been able to use the PlayStation TV for hours without any problems though, using the DualShock 3 and DualShock 4 and it’s been a real joy to use.

    I’m actually splitting my time evenly between the two right now as some games just look so good on the TV now that I’d rather play them that way! As for my PS3… it barely gets a look in these days apart from as a media centre.

    Fixed the typo – think I finished the review around midnight… well that’s my excuse anyway!

  3. Good review, i own a ps 4 and buyed the ps tv a week ago, not for streaming, but for playing vita games, and i have to say i’m totaly blown away.
    the issue with the media streaming is because it only supports h264, but if you own a newer tv it should have dlna, but i hope that sony works a bit on this and add more media apps, (because ps TV,i mean, com’on, it’s called ps TEVE!!)
    I also noticed the ps store changed their description to include compatibility with ps tv, but some games reviewed as functional didn’t indicate that so im not sure what to think about.
    Hope Sony will give support for more compatibility with new and if possible old games.

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