Last year Sony launched a new “micro-console” in Japan called the PlayStation Vita TV. It was an unbelievably small device that plugged into a TV to play games, watch movies, and listen to music. It was a bit of a shock. The PS4’s launch was just a few months away and the introduction of another new console was a bold, if somewhat confusing, move.
Now, a year later, the Vita TV is being released in Western markets. It is now known simply as PlayStation TV and has received a fresh coat of paint changing it from the original white to a more traditional black.
But what does it do? Or rather, what does it not do at the moment? I thought it would be helpful to give an overview of the console, as opposed to a more opinionated review, so that everyone can judge for themselves if this device is right for you. And since it is a piece of new hardware, the capabilities of the console will change over time. New features will be added. New games will become available. But here is how the PlayStation TV stands at the moment.
The first thing you notice when you see the PlayStation TV is just how small it is. I’ve heard people talk about the size of this device for over a year, and yet when I first saw it, I was shocked at how tiny it was. It’s right around the size of a deck of cards, or for those older folks out there, it is exactly the same size as a cassette tape. You could easily slip this device into your pocket and quickly forget it is there. The second thing you’ll notice is that the plastic is a beautiful matte black. Sony has decided to forgo the glossy, finger-print magnet plastic found on so many other devices.
The device is also extremely light. It’s so light in fact, that it’s a challenge to keep it in one place because the cords you plug into it will pull it one way or another. You never have to worry about it falling off your TV stand and slamming to the ground because the HDMI cable will catch it long before that ever happens.
Included in the standard box is an HDMI cable and the power cord. Sony is also offering the PS TV in a bundle that comes with a DualShock 3 controller, 8gb memory card, and a voucher for The LEGO Movie Video Game.
Looking at the console, the front displays the Sony brand and a tiny pin-hole power light. Moving to the right, you have the game card slot that accepts PS Vita game cards. It is covered with a port cover that is really tricky to get off (tip: when opening the cover, there’s a small indent on the bottom for your nail to catch, so use it. Trying to open the cover from the top or sides is next to impossible). Then along the back, there is the power button, a slot for a Vita memory card, a standard USB 2.0 port, HDMI port, Ethernet jack and the power connector (and the power cable is the same size as the old PSP cable, so if you have one of those lying around, feel free to use it). Aside from the flap covering the game card slot, the PlayStation TV has no moving parts. There is no fan or disk drive spinning and therefore the device is absolutely silent while operating.
Inside the PS TV are the same innards as a PS Vita. In fact, the PlayStation TV is in many ways just like the Vita… except without the screen, battery, controls, cameras, touchscreen, and rear touchpad. That’s a lot of missing stuff, but fortunately most of what makes a Vita work is right there. Also, the PS TV does come with 1gb of built in memory which can be used for game saves or for downloading smaller titles. You actually get a full 1041 mb of available space upon first starting up the system. Once you insert a memory card, the system switches over to the card and the built in memory is left alone.
Unless you’re planning on using the PS TV just for Remote Play or PS Now, you are going to need to get a memory card. Thankfully, if you have one already for your Vita, you can just insert it directly without losing any data or games (provided you use the same account on both systems). You can them swap the card between the PS TV and the Vita with no problems, but the database for the card will be rebuilt each time you swap it causing apps/games to get reorganized on the screen. The rebuilding process only takes a minute, but it might not be a bad idea for a dedicated memory card.
When setting up the PlayStation TV for the first time, it will immediately ask that you plug in a controller and press the PS button. You can use either a DualShock 3 or a DualShock 4. Once you’re connected, you go through the standard set up screens that will ask to connect to your network and then log you in to PSN. After a quick message concerning the Parental Control options, you’re taken to the home screen which looks nearly identical to the Vita’s.
The unit ships with firmware 3.20 but is immediately able to upgrade to 3.30 which brings the addition of themes as well as a number of other PS TV specific improvements.
The PS TV shares the same user interface as the Vita, but there are some slight differences. First you’ll notice that there is a Power button on the screen which can be used to turn the system off or put it into standby. This can also be accomplished by holding down the PS button on your controller. You can also use the PS button to wake the device from standby, but if it is powered off, you need to press the power button to turn it back on. Another very noticeable difference is the inclusion of a Features page just to the right of the home screen. It highlights new games available as well as recent activities (though the Featured Activities section does not yet seem to be active). The Features page is a permanent new screen that can not be removed.
The UI is the exact same as that of the Vita only on a larger scale. Games and apps are represented as bubbles on the homescreen. You can group them in folders or leave them separate. You can move the bubbles around and organize them by pressing Triangle, just as you can with the Vita. If you use the physical controls to navigate the Vita, the PS TV is no different. Everything is just much, much bigger.
The PS Store has also been given a face-lift to account for the more limited number of available games. It features a smaller, curated list of games that are approved for the device. It also lumps PS1, PSP, and minis into one category called “Classics.” This cleans up some of the clutter in the store and makes navigating a bit easier.
The PlayStation TV is, above everything else, a console designed around gaming. It may have aspirations to one day be a full multimedia device, but right now games are its primary focus. It can play select games from the PS Vita, PSP, PS1, PS Mobile, and minis. It also has the ability to use Remote Play to stream games from a PS4, and use the new PS Now service to stream PS3 games from Sony’s servers.
There is a published list of what games are currently compatible, but it is far from complete. Many newer games, like Nidhogg or Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus are fully compatible but have not yet made it onto the list. I’ve also discovered a few older games (Gunslugs and Mutant Mudds Deluxe) do work despite not making the list. Additionally, I’ve found some games that are listed that don’t currently work (F1 2011 and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Plus) even though they should. Likewise, some PSP and PS1 titles that are said to work, don’t at the moment. I was eager to play Modnation Racers for the PSP on the big screen, but it currently is not supported.
When trying to start a game that is not on the approved list, you are given an error screen that tells you the application can not be used with this system. It is not readily apparent which games will work or not since all your Vita games will still show up in the download list, even if they are not authorized. Games transferred over from a PS3 also can be hit or miss. I tried transferring the SEGA Genesis Collection from my PS3 to the PS TV, and while it would copy, it would not start. However, it does work on a Vita if transferred the same way.
The first game I tried that was approved was FIFA 14, and it started right up. No update needed. The game looked quite good on my 32″ TV playing in 720p. I played a few matches online, and aside from the much larger picture, the experience was identical to playing on a Vita.
I’ve discovered that most of the Vita games look very good on a larger screen. Many of them remind me of how early PS3 games looked. They’re in high definition but maybe the animations are not quite as smooth as games that came out later in the PS3 era. FIFA 14 on the PS TV looked nearly identical to FIFA 2011 running on a PS3. Likewise, games like Sonic All-Stars Racing look fantastic, even though there were some noticeable jagged edges at times.
Some games, like Dragon’s Crown, Rayman Origins, and Muramasa Rebirth all looked even better. Games with beautifully drawn art transition to a larger screen very well, as do retro games that utilize a more pixelated style.
Now, instead of swiping the screen, you move the thumb sticks as indicated to complete a melee attack
Then there is Killzone: Mercenary. This game looks amazing on the big screen, and you would not know this was a handheld game if playing it for the first time. Some of the UI elements have changed to take into account the missing touchscreen, but the game plays perfectly with a DualShock 4 (or DS3). Multiplayer works just as well or better than it does on the Vita, and many players who are used to playing FPS games on traditional consoles might find this the ideal way to play.
Multiplayer and ad hoc play are both supported so you can play Minecraft with one person on a Vita and another playing on the PlayStation TV. Local multiplayer is also supported, but few games currently take advantage of this at the moment (Nidhogg is one of them).
As for PSP and PS1 games, they are obviously not as sharp graphically. PSP games take a pretty big hit as those games were never meant to be played at such high resolutions. They play well, but just don’t look great. Think of them as fitting somewhere between the graphics of a PS1 and PS2.
The PS1 games look just like they do if you were playing them on a PS3. The only difference is that you do not have the option to change the aspect ratio of the screen, so you are stuck playing in 4:3 with black bars on the sides. Also, there is no option for bilinear filtering for either PSP or PS1 games.
There are two different ways to stream games to a PlayStation TV. Remote Play can stream games from your PS4 to the PS TV, just as you can with a Vita. You can also use the new PlayStation Now app to rent PS3 games. The ability to remote play PS3 games is not an option.
The PlayStation TV’s greatest selling point is the fact that it can Remote Play PS4 games to another TV in the house when the main TV may be occupied. Vita owners who use this feature know how well it works, but sadly it does not perform nearly as well on the PS TV. The video lags and there is more noticeable latency compared to the Vita. There are tweaks that can be made to make it work better, but when compared to the Vita, it is definitely an inferior experience. It’s a shame, because using a DualShock 4 is the ideal way to use Remote Play. Hopefully this feature can be much improved with a firmware update, but as of now, it is not very enjoyable.
PlayStation Now on the other hand works perfectly. People may have their gripes with the current pricing scheme for the service, but from a functional stand, it works as promised. Games can be played using either the DS3 or DS4 and run with little to no latency. My PS TV is connected through a wireless network, and I was able to play through the entire game of Papo & Yo without issue. Occasionally the network would get congested, and I would see a drop in graphic fidelity. I never got dropped from the service though.
The introduction of apps changed traditional gaming consoles into multimedia devices that brought a wealth of entertainment content to one device. By default, the included apps consist of: PS Store, Browser, Power, Trophies, Friends, Messages, Party, PS4 Link, Videos, Music, Photos, Email, Calendar, Content Manager, Parental Controls, and Settings. Some apps, such as Photos, have been altered slightly to remove functions not found on the PS TV (such as the ability to take a picture).
The Content Manager app works to manage data on both PS TV’s memory card as well as transferring data between a PS3 or a PC. This all happens over WiFi as you can’t plug the device into a PC, but it works. Back-ups and saves transfer relatively quickly. I was able to send games from my PS3 to the PS TV with no problems as well as send photos and back-up saves to my PC.
Additional apps are available for download through the store, but what is surprising at the moment is just how few are available. Currently there are only five additional apps you can download, Crunchyroll, Crackle, LiveTweet, PS Now, and Qello HD Concerts. Some obvious media apps, such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube are not yet available.
Fortunately, all is not lost when it comes to enjoying media on this tiny device. The Video, Music, and Photos apps are able to play any local content you might have. They also are able to stream media from a PC that has the Content Manager Assistant program installed. This allows you to stream music and videos directly from your PC (though the file types for supported video seems to be limited to MP4).
A nice little feature that hasn’t been mentioned much is the ability to broadcast photos and videos from a Vita to the PS TV. If there are no open apps on the console, you can pull up a picture or video on your Vita and you will see an icon asking where you want to view it. You can select the PS TV and soon your video will be playing on the big screen.
Selecting the PS TV icon in the top right corner of your Vita will broadcast the picture to the TV
One of the nice features of the PS TV is the number of peripherals you can connect to it. It is compatible with both the DualShock 3 and the DualShock 4 as well as other Bluetooth devices such as keyboards and headsets. It can connect to a maximum of four different devices at once, and it can be a mix of device. So you can have two controllers, a headset, and a keyboard or four controllers. Once you hit the maximum limit, it starts to drop connections.
The DualShock 3 functions just as it does on a PS3. Rumble is supported if the game allows it, and it also has the ability to use limited touch features if you use the R3/L3 buttons. Pressing L3 will bring up a finger icon on the screen that will represent a touch point for the front screen. You then press L2 to activate a touch. Pressing R3 brings up a red finger icon indicating it is for the rear touch pad, and R2 activates the touch. You can turn this feature on or off with a long press of the PS button, which will also give you other controller options. As a warning, you will want to turn the touch feature off in some games, such as Killzone: Mercenary because L3 is used as the run button.
The DualShock 4 works in the same way as the DS3 with just a few changes. The Share button operates as Select and Options is used as the Start substitute. Also, if you have the touch pointer activated, you can use the DS4 trackpad to enable touch points on the screen. Since the touchpad on the DS4 is multi-touch, pressing it with one finger activates the front touch while a second finger will bring up the rear touch pointer. I found this very helpful when navigating menus in games. It’s also cool that each controller gets its own Settings menu, and the one for the DS4 shows you which color the light bar will be.
Another peripheral the PS TV supports (and the PS4 does not) is a Bluetooth media remote control. I use a BD remote control as the primary way I interface with all media apps on my PS3, and its availability on the PS TV is very welcome. You can use the Play/Pause buttons when watching the Videos app or listening to music. Oddly, the controls get messed up when using the Crackle app where you need to use the Start button to pause a video.
A Bluetooth headset will be required if you want to use chat features in the Party app. Official PlayStation headsets, like the Pulse Elite or the Gold Wireless Headset, are not supported. And Bluetooth keyboards works just as expected and when in use, the onscreen keyboard will disappear.
As of right now, the PlayStation TV is definitely a work in progress. It needs a few more features before it is ready for the mainstream. Remote Play, perhaps its greatest selling point, needs to be improved to provide a better experience. Media apps, like Netflix and YouTube, apps people rely on, need to be available. Without them, this micro-console loses much of its appeal. And then there are the nit-picking things, like the PS Store needs to be fixed to show you what is/is not compatible, especially in your downloads list.
If you look at it as a stand alone gaming console, it fairs much better. It’s not as powerful as a PS3 or PS4, but it is compact and convenient. It plays the games you have for your Vita on your TV. Games like Killzone: Mercenary, Persona 4 Golden, and Danganronpa can now be played with a larger controller on the big screen. They look and play great, and for the hard core fans, this would probably justify the purchase alone. It also offers Classic PS1 and PSP titles and with PS Now there are even more games available. And it does have Minecraft, a game I’ve had friends and family members purchase a console just to play.
The PS TV is sitting on a mountain of potential right now. What it could do in the future is much more than what it currently does now. If Sony can fix a few of its problems, then it could be a massive hit. For right now, it’s an enthusiast’s console with a number of great games.