Playstation TV Australian Review

Sony’s latest console isn’t quite a console. Except when it is. The Playstation TV is a confusing little device, and I’m still not sure exactly who it’s for.
We discussed the Playstation TV at length in the latest episode of Vertical Hold, which isn’t all that bad a starting point. At that point, I was aware of the Playstation TV, but hadn’t had the chance to test it in the Australian context.

So what is the Playstation TV? Sony describes it as a micro-console, at least partially because it’s the smallest console the company has ever made. Underneath its tiny boxy frame lurks a quad-core ARM processor, 512MB of RAM and 1GB of inbuilt storage, with the option to upgrade with Playstation Vita memory cards. In terms of the wider Playstation family, it’s undeniably closest to the Playstation Vita. Indeed, when in launched in Japan, it was simply called the PS Vita TV.
Here’s the sizzle reel, designed to get you all excited about the Playstation TV, or alternately wonder if people are going to randomly chant “hey!” into your ear while you’re playing. It’s due for release in Australia on November 14th with an RRP of $149.95.

The Playstation TV is broadly (more on that later) compatible with PS Vita titles both as downloads from PSN and by directly inserting game cartridges into the PS Vita game slot on the side of the console. Aside from memory and PS Vita game slots, you’re otherwise looking at straight HDMI connectivity and 10/100 Ethernet, alongside 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. While it would be feasible to use the Playstation TV as a standalone console without networking, that would be a horribly limited experience.

It's not much of a looker when it's not plugged in, even with its ports exposed.
It’s not much of a looker when it’s not plugged in, even with its ports exposed.

This is a system that demands network connectivity; at the very least local network connectivity, but ideally Internet-based connectivity as well. You’re provided with three games in the Australian packaged version of the Playstation TV, Worms Revolution Extreme, OlliOlli and Velocity Ultra, but they’re all download versions, again requiring Internet access to actually play.
You’ll also need some storage for them, because the onboard 1GB of storage will only go so far. Here again Sony’s done something classically Sony by making the Playstation TV use PS Vita memory cards. Sure, it’s because in many ways the Playstation TV is a screenless Vita, but the pricing gulf between a straight SD card, or even a microSD card and Sony’s overpriced Vita memory cards is immense. Adding 32GB of storage to a Playstation TV is going to cost you 2/3rds of the purchase price of the console. Any way you look at it, that’s just insane.
The Playstation TV’s core interface is a direct carbon copy of the PS Vita’s “bubble” interface, right down to the tear-down effect for closing applications. You control it via either a Dualshock 3 or Dualshock 4 controller, although there isn’t one supplied with the $149.95 Australian bundle. Then again, as we noted in Vertical Hold, the Playstation TV is really a strong play for the Playstation faithful. If you’re not part of that group, the Playstation TV isn’t for you.
The Playstation TV covers a couple of interesting functionality bases. Firstly, it’s a network media player, once you download the free Network Media Player application. In my tests, this worked seamlessly from a couple of different DLNA sources, so that’s a plus, albeit one that you can get from media streamers at much lower price points.
Naturally, it’s also hooked into Sony’s own entertainment services, such as Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited. I’ve had my own frustrations with these services in the past to be brutally frank, and while they do work as advertised on the Playstation TV, they’re again a play to the faithful who already have some other kind of Sony device, presumably a Playstation but also possibly an Xperia phone or tablet, with an existing account.
Like the Vita, the Playstation TV supports PS4 remote play, which allows you to mirror the content coming from a Playstation 4 on the same network. The idea is that you desperately want to play a game, but there’s something else on the PS4-connected TV that somebody else wants to watch. Rather than settle the issue the gentleman’s way, the idea is that you use the Playstation TV and a secondary panel to resolve your conflict.
Sony recommends having the Playstation TV and the PS4 on the same wired network for optimal performance, and I can see why, but the practical reality for a lot of home users is that they’re not going to have ethernet running to every room in the house with a TV. I tested the Playstation TV streaming a variety of games over Wi-Fi due to that exact lack of Ethernet, and, like the PS Vita, it can be a mix of brilliant fun and frustrating visual and response glitches. For the most part it ran quite well, although it is rather quirky playing Trials Fusion with a Dualshock 3, because the lack of touchpad means that there’s no easy way to restart complete races.
Remote Play is also only available on games applications, which is slightly frustrating if you’ve got other VOD-style apps such as Foxtel Play or SBS On Demand on your Playstation 4. They simply won’t work with remote play at all.
The other side of the Playstation TV’s games offering lies in its ability to run downloaded games from the Playstation Store, including any that you’ve already got associated with your PSN account. Again that’s a play best suited to the existing Playstation customer base rather than any new buyers, because you’re otherwise stuck going through the motions of finding the games that do work with the Playstation TV.
Most PSOne games should work — certainly, the few PSONe titles I’ve got on my PSN account downloaded and ran without fuss.

Ah, Crash. Still good after all these years, if a bit on the pointy-polygon side

The same isn’t true for PS Mini or PS Vita titles where compatibility is varied. This means that you’re left scrolling through lists of titles that won’t actually install. You are warned of this, but it would be ideal for Sony to actually filter the results it serves a Playstation TV, which prior to launch they don’t seem to have done.
Then there’s the appealing prospect of playing all your PS Vita games on the big screen. Here again, though, there was more frustration than elation in store. I grabbed a mixed set of PS Vita games, comprising Modnation Racers Roadtrip, Killzone Mercenary, Everybody’s Golf, Wipeout 2048, Resistance Burning Skies, Uncharted Golden Abyss and Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale.
You’d think that lineup would provide you with more than a few days of fun play, but there’s a problem. Of all those titles, only one — Killzone Mercenary — is actually Playstation TV compatible.
Even after updates, the others won’t run at all, leaving you with a simple error screen to play with instead. Sony does provide a list of the games that are Playstation TV compatible, but it’s annoying that so many first party titles — exactly where you’d think that Sony would make the effort to provide a port — simply don’t work.
Insert PS Vita games into the side -- and then start hoping they work.
Insert PS Vita games into the side — and then start hoping they work.

Every once in a while, a product will come along that I admire for its interesting concepts and intentions, but that leaves me wondering who exactly is going to actually pay money for. The Playstation TV fits rather neatly into that definition, for a number of reasons.
It’s a device best suited to those who already have a lot of Playstation hardware, especially as the Australian version doesn’t come with a controller, whereas in the US the $140 bundle includes a Dualshock 3, an 8GB memory card and a copy of the LEGO Movie game to boot.
It’s a device that tries to be a PS Vita but with less compatibility with the general Playstation library than the Vita, and at a price point that’s not actually that much cheaper than a PS Vita would be once you factor in the price of a controller.
If you’re keen on gaming, then a PS Vita bundle, where you get the screen built in and guaranteed compatibility with every single PS Vita game alongside remote streaming from the PS4 is a much better idea. That leaves the Playstation TV as an interesting concept, but one that’s really only suited to a tiny niche of users. The world being the big place that it is, there must be hardware completists that have to have every single bit of Playstation hardware in existence. It’s fine for them, but for anyone else it’s a somewhat hit and mostly miss prospect.

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