It’s Saturday night and for the first time in forever I have time set aside to just play video games. I still have a stack of last year’s biggest games waiting for me on my PS4. Some of the best games from last generation are sitting un-touched on my PS3. And yet I choose to ignore these gaming powerhouses. Instead I grab my controller and turn on my PlayStation TV. Somehow this under-powered, under-appreciated, and practically unknown micro-console has become my go-to gaming device.
Andrew House, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, shocked the world in September 2013 when he reached into his pocket at the Tokyo Game Show and pulled out a tiny white box. While most of the world was clamouring for more information on the PlayStation 4, he unveiled a brand new gaming console called the PlayStation Vita TV. As its name implies, the new console was essentially a stripped down PlayStation Vita that plugged into a television. Nobody saw it coming. Most were confused, baffled, or bewildered as to why Sony would introduce another console when the PS Vita was struggling to find an audience and the PS4 launch was only months away.
I looked upon this tiny device, and I saw the future. Forget the PS4 or even the PS5. This tiny box, no bigger than a deck of cards and retailing for approximately $100, was going to disrupt the video game industry forever. This device was going to expand the appeal of video games on a scale not seen since the Wii. I wasn’t alone. Soon people started claiming how they’d buy one for every TV in their house. “At that price, I’ll take four!” For once, I was going to be in on the ground floor of the “next big thing.”
Boy, was I wrong.
Sales of the new console quickly dropped off a cliff after its initial release in Japan. By the time the Vita TV was released in the West it received a fresh coat of paint and a new name. Now dubbed the PlayStation TV, it was launched with about as little fanfare or marketing as any new product has ever seen. In short, it was launched into the world and then actively ignored. And those people who were going to buy them in bulk? They never showed up.
Sony did themselves no favours by shipping the product with some of its key features only half-complete. One of the major advantages to the PlayStation TV was its ability to remote play games from the PS4 to any other TV in the house. Sadly this feature was plagued with horrible performance issues at launch that made it practically unusable. Several months, and a few updates later, remote play was eventually fixed, but this did nothing to stem the tidal wave of negative reviews it initially received.
Then there was the lack of basic applications that everyone was expecting. Every micro-console on the market could also double as a media streaming device. The PlayStation TV however launched with none of these capabilities (or so few they’re hardly worth mentioning). There was no Hulu Plus, no HBO Go, no Amazon Prime, and the most damning of all, no Netflix. In a world where my toaster can stream Netflix, the PlayStation TV could not.
This doesn’t even factor in the difficulty of trying to describe this console to a general audience. It’s called the “PlayStation TV” but there are no PlayStation TV games. It plays games labelled for the PS Vita, PSP, or even the PlayStation One. Even then it doesn’t play all of them. Vita games that rely on the system’s unique features such as touch control or cameras are not compatible. This means that some of the biggest Vita games, like Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Gravity Rush, won’t work. Worse yet, finding out which games are compatible has become a bit of a crapshoot. Customers have to do Google searches and visit enthusiast web-sites to get an idea of which games will or won’t play. If you can’t make it easy to just buy a game for a gaming console, then something is definitely wrong.
But somehow it remains my favourite PlayStation console. Why? Maybe the Vita just isn’t niche enough for me. Maybe I needed something that is a niche of a niche. Maybe I just really like the underdogs and always want to fight for the hopeless causes. Or maybe it’s that instead of looking at it and seeing all the things it can’t do, I see all the really cool things it can.
It’s easy to look at its faults and point out all its flaws. It doesn’t have Netflix. It can’t play a large number of Vita games. It requires expensive and proprietary memory cards. Its screen resolution is restricted to 720p/1080i. But to me that’s just noise that hides the beauty of what this little thing can actually do.
It may not be able to play everything, but the list of games it can play is both long and impressive. Borderlands 2, Killzone: Mercenary, Rayman Origins, Dragon’s Crown, Freedom Wars, Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed, FIFA 14, and most importantly Minecraft are just some of the little gems that work great on the system. Then when you factor in all the PSP, PS1, minis, and PS Mobile (RIP) games it can play, it is downright mind boggling. Throw in PlayStation Now, the service which allows you stream PS3 games over the internet, and you suddenly have access to hundreds of more games. Oh, and it can also stream games from the PS4.
But it’s not just the games. For me, the most attractive feature is the convenience. It’s a small and quiet console that doesn’t sound like a plane trying to take off after an hour of gaming. I can get in and out of games quickly since the suspend/resume feature works flawlessly. I can play music, watch movies, look at my pictures, surf the web, read Twitter, check Facebook, and stream some TV shows through Hulu Plus (one of the few streaming services that has been added).
All of that has been crammed into this tiny box that is now being sold at bargain bin prices.
The PlayStation TV may be a hard sell, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its merits. It’s a shining example of a device that is a “jack of all trades but master of none.” It’s a device that is capable of doing so much, but most people will never know. In fact, most people will never hear about the PlayStation TV as it has been relegated to the Land of Misfit Toys, a barren wasteland for the unwanted and unused.
But I want it. I have put the time in, have pulled back the covers to see what this mini console is really capable of, and I am completely enamoured with it. It may still be a lost cause, but as Jimmy Stewart reminded us long ago, sometime lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks so.
This editorial first appeared in issue five of The Vita Lounge Magazine. Look out for more opinion pieces in future issues!