Hands on with Sony's Playstation TV

It plays games from five different Playstation platforms, but it can't stream Netflix

playstation tv standalone
Credit: Amazon

This week Sony released the Playstation TV, a small device that is essentially a Playstation Vita without a screen or controls. There're a lot of things you can do with the Playstation TV, so let's jump right in.

The Playstation TV comes in two configurations: a $99.99 'bare bones' system and a $139.99 Bundle that includes the TV as well as a DualShock 3 controller, an 8 GB memory card, and a code that lets you download The LEGO Movie Videogame. So which one to choose?

playstation tv bundle Amazon

The $140 bundle comes with a controller, memory card and a free game

Going by Amazon's current pricing, the DualShock 3 controller is about $44, the LEGO game sells for around $15 and the 8 GB memory card is $23 (the proprietary memory cards the Vita uses are stupidly expensive), so the bundle makes a lot of sense if you need everything included.

I already had DualShock controllers laying around and I wasn't too interested in the LEGO game, so I opted for the basic $100 Playstation TV and bought a 16 GB memory card to go with it. It comes with an HDMI cable (a pleasant surprise) and a power cord and that's about it. There is no way to control the Playstation TV if you don't already own a controller or buy the bundle; I think there're going to be a lot of unhappy surprises if this thing gets sold as a gift for the holidays. There is only 1 GB of storage space on-board the Playstation TV so you really need a memory card unless you're going to stick to Vita games that come on physical media.

Playstation TV in hand Sony

It's a tiny little box.

The Playstation TV itself is a tiny black device; it's about the size of a deck of cards, but not as thick. On the back are ports for Ethernet, HDMI, power, USB, a slot for the memory stick and a tiny power button. On one end is a covered slot for a Vita game card.

For initial setup you'll need to connect a controller to the device via USB cable; either a DualShock 3 or a DualShock 4 will work. If you have a DualShock 4 there's a mode that lets you emulate the Playstation Vita's front and back touch screens using the touchpad on the DualShock 4. When playing Vita games the Options and Share buttons on the DualShock 4 act as Start and Select buttons.

So let's get the worst news out of the way right up front. A lot of the tech press has been referring to the Playstation TV as a streaming device that also plays games. It's really not, at least not yet. The only streaming services supported are Crackle, CrunchyRoll, Qello and content you buy from the Playstation Store. I'm sure Sony will add more services as time goes by but for right now this is not a good streaming device.

It's strange because the Playstation Vita does offer Netflix, Hulu Plus and others, but even if you pop your Vita memory card into the Playstation TV, these apps won't work.

So for now, buy a Playstation TV for gaming. You've got a lot of sources to choose from.

Let's start with the obvious: Vita games. Not all Vita games work with the Playstation TV, but a lot do. Click here for the full list. The handful of titles I tested looked pretty good on a 32" 720P TV (what I happen to have upstairs) and played nicely with a full-sized controller.

In addition to Vita games, you can play some Playstation Portable games and some old PS One classics. The list above will also tell you which of these titles will work with Playstation TV. Some of these titles look a little rough when blown up to TV-screen size, but they play well.

Next up, you can play Playstation 3 games via the Playstation Now open beta. Playstation Now is a streaming service; unfortunately that means I can't tell you how well it'll work for you. It's going to depend on your Internet speed and how close you are to Sony's data centers. I've had pretty good luck with it in the past, but the other issue I have with Playstation Now is that you can only rent games and doing so tends to be quite expensive, in my opinion. For instance you can rent Saints Row IV for $2.99 for 4 hours. A week costs you $5.99, a month $7.99 and 90 days is $14.99. You can buy the PS3 version of the game on disk from Amazon for $19 and keep it forever, but of course you need a PS3 to play it on.

Lastly, if you own a Playstation 4 you can use the Playstation TV for remote play. This was my primary reason for buying one. I set up the device with a wired Ethernet connection and paired a DualShock 4 with it, and remote play works well. I've tried Remote Play on my Playstation Vita and sometimes it works great, other times it starts to glitch; it all depends on how healthy my WiFi network is feeling while I'm playing. The wired connection makes all the difference and the Playstation TV is a great 'remote client' for the PS4.

There are two concerns with remote play. The first is that the games don't look quite as good as they do on the actual Playstation 4. That might be because of my hardware; my PS4 is setup to generate an image for a 1080P TV and the Playstation TV is hooked to a 720P screen. Or it might be because of the compression routines that Remote Play uses, since it was originally designed to be shown on the Vita's 960x544 screen. In any case it feels like an acceptable trade-off for the convenience of playing PS4 games on a second TV.

The other problem with Remote Play is that you lose support for the headset jack and speaker in the DualShock 4 and the Playstation TV doesn't have a built-in microphone or a jack for one. I haven't tried pairing a bluetooth headset with the Playstation TV yet but it is supposed to work for Vita games though I'm not sure it'll work for PS4 games played remotely. You can already chat between Vita and PS4 players using Party Chat so that's probably the way to go if you want to chat with friends in a PS4 game you're playing via Remote Play. First join their Party via the Vita's dashboard, then launch Remote Play.

If you own a Vita and want to play the same game on both the Vita and the Playstation TV, you can either just move the memory card back and forth between devices (which is frankly pretty cumbersome), or you can download the game on both systems and use cloud saves to copy your save game back and forth. For Playstation Portable and PS One games the cloud option won't work; I set up Sony's Content Management System on a PC so I can back up save games to and from the PC from either the Vita or the Playstation TV.

I've only had the Playstation TV for less than a day at this point, so this can't be considered an in-depth review, but so far I'm pleased. I wanted a reliable way to access my PS4 games on our upstairs TV while the downstairs TV was being used for something silly, like actually watching TV, and the Playstation TV with a wired Ethernet connection does a good job of that. Playing Vita and PSP games on a big screen is really just a nice bonus. The limited streaming options will be a disappointment for some, but I have so many other ways to access this content (ChromeCast, Roku, Apple TV, the other gaming consoles) that I don't really miss it (and I'm sure more services will be supported with time). Sony has hinted that they may offer some kind of subscription service for Playstation Now and if they do I might add that to the list of things I do with the Playstation TV. 

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