I’ve been following the PlayStation TV since Sony first showed it off, paying more than a mild bit of attention to the device. It’s essentially a PlayStation Vita stripped of its screen or inputs and stuffed in to a sleek and sexy set-top box; the sort of thing that would compete with Amazon’s little microconsole, or even something like the nearly-forgotten Ouya. At first I thought it was largely pointless, but I slowly came around. Being able to play Vita games, along with with PlayStation 1 and PSP games on a bigger screen is appealing – but its functionality as a Remote Play Extender is what really got me sold on the thing.
It’s really the same Remote Play functionality built right in the Vita as it is now, allowing you to mirror whatever you’re doing on the PlayStation 4 on the Vita’s little screen. Having that same magic happen on a bigger screen, with a proper controller sounds like the stuff of dreams. As I’m somebody who writes about games and has a family, I often have to move the PlayStation 4 to my desk when the family’s taken ownership of the TV – so the PlayStation TV should fit quite well in to my electronics ecosystem. Couple that with the ability to play native Vita games, PlayStation minis and games from Sony’s older catalogue as well as stream music and videos, and you have a recipe for success. The PlayStation TV does a lot of stuff. It’s a pity it doesn’t do much of it very well.
Where it absolutely can’t be faulted is aesthetics. The tiny little box is beautifully designed, sleek and minimalist. Measuring just 66 x 104 x 127mm, it’s the smallest and one of the most appealing little micro-consoles on the market. Most of its inputs are housed at the back, where you’ll find an HDMI out, a little slot for a proprietary Vita memory card, a USB port, an Ethernet port and a little power input. On the side, you’ll find a nicely obfuscated slot to insert retail Vita games. It’s small, and should fit just about anywhere with minimum fuss. The system comes with 1Gb of internal memory, but if you plan on using the Vita TV for anything other than streaming games from your PlayStation 4, you’ll have to shell out for one of those memory cards. Included in the box is a little voucher to redeem a few games you can download to the console; the excellent OlliOlli, Worms Revolution and Velocity Ultra.
It’s once you plug it in that the problems first begin to manifest. Setup itself is delightfully simple; plugging in a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 controller tethers it to the system, which can then be used wirelessly. The device prompts you to choose a WiFi connection or opt for cabled network. From there, you can sign in to the Sony Entertainment Network. You’re then greeted with the very same interface you’ll find on the PlayStation Vita. That, as you’ll likely guess, is an interface that was tailored for touch. Those cute bubbles that made the Vita’s interface so endearing aren’t quite as cute anymore. The “peeling” of the interface you’d usually do with your fingers is now replaced with holding the “O” button on the controller. It feels clunky, and the whole thing could have done with an interface overhaul. It looks ugly too; everything is stretched from the Vita’s original resolution of 960×540 to 720p, and then further upscaled by whatever screen you have it plugged in to – so everything looks a little muddy and jagged on a 1080p screen.
As most of you would do with the system, the very first thing I tried was remote play. Once it had found my console, I started up a game of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Before you get all judgmental on me, what I wanted to test most was how much difference it would make in how the game feels. Call of Duty runs at a mostly solid 60fps, The PlayStation TV’s streaming is capped at 720p and 30 frames per second. My initial tests weren’t all that positive. Both the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation were connected to my router wirelessly, and there was so much artifacting and lag that the game was wholly unplayable. If that’s how your network is configured, you may as well forget about using the feature. Thankfully, it does work significantly better with a wired connection, resulting in a rather playable game.
Unfortunately, with all that stretching, upscaling, compressing and streaming, there’s so much loss of detail that games don’t really look like they’re PS4 games. It’s something you don’t notice that much when you’re using Remote Play and looking at everything on the Vita’s screen – especially the crisp and clear OLED one in the first generation Vita – but it’s rather apparent when stretched to fit a bigger one. Sound also gets downmixed to 2 channels, so surround sound is out of the question. The neat little headphone jack on your DualShock 4 wont magically give you sound from the PSTV either. Results are of course game dependent. Smaller indie titles look just fine – and most of my playtime on the Vita TV has been with Towerfall Ascension. I only have 2 PS4 controllers, but Using the Vita TV to remote play allows me to use my two PS3 ones for frantic multiplayer mayhem. It’s a nice bonus I suppose, but hardly worth the price of entry. Newer, shinier AAA games like Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, and Advanced Warfare look a little on the ugly side, with just enough latency – even when wired – to feel off. If image quality and frame rate are at all important to you, remote play on the PlayStation TV won’t be good enough.
The thing isn’t just for playing PS4 games remotely though, as it’ll also work with many (not all) existing retail and downloadable Vita games – so if you’ve been diligently downloading all of the Vita games as a part of your PlayStation Plus subscription you’ll already have a library of games. It becomes immediately apparent that Vita games just weren’t meant to be on the big screen. Some games, like the excellent Killzone Mercenary look decent enough even when stretched that wide, but most – especially those that render under the Vita’s native Res – end up looking a little on the ugly side. And that’s if they work. You’ll have to check Sony’s compatibility list to know whether or not the game you’re interested in will actually run.
It’ll also play PSP games and PS one Classics, along with PS minis – but they’re also constrained by a meagre compatibility list. It’s quite likely the game you want to play isn’t supported. The system also supports Sony’s PlayStation Now game streaming service, but it’s a feature wholly absent if you’re sporting a South African PSN account.
The last big feature the PlayStation TV has is its ability to function as a set-top media player. Unfortunately those of us in South Africa have access to just about nothing. There’s no access to Sony’s own streaming services, and while you could use a faux PSN account to grab Hulu and Netflix, Netflix doesnt work – and the company says it has no plans to get its Vita app (which works fine on the Vita itself) to work on the PlayStation TV. There’s a network media streamer app allowing you to use the PlayStation TV as a DLNA media client if you’re running something like Plex on your PC, but the list of file formats it supports is slim. There’s not even a functional YouTube app on the SA PSN. If you wanted to use the PlayStation TV for media, you’ll end up being bitterly disappointed.
Last Updated: November 27, 2014