Here are my initial "Day 1" thoughts on the new Playstation TV. While I haven't had as much time to play with it as I'd like, and there is still some testing to be done, I think I have a pretty good grip on the system by now to offer some opinions.
For those not in the know, the PSTV (released in North America yesterday) is essentially all the hardware of of Sony's Playstation Vita handheld system stuffed into a tiny box sans screen, cameras, and controls. It aims to be a set-top box that gives you access to the Vita's admittedly capable gaming arsenal with the comfort of a controller and without the limitation of battery life.
As someone who absolutely ADORES my Playstation Vita, I was looking forward to this release. On paper it sounds amazing. In reality though, there are some issues. Depending on your focus and intended usage case, these may be deal-breakers or of no concern at all.
The PSTV offers 4 main features or intended usages.
-Playing Local Games: The PSTV give your access to the library of current Playstation Vita games in the form of either Vita cartridges or downloadable versions. You also have access to a growing library of games from older generation Playstation Portable and Playstation One consoles, downloadable via PSN (The Playstation Network).
-Streaming Games from the Cloud: Using the beta of Sony's Playstation Now game streaming platform, you can rent and play Playstation 3 games instantly
-Streaming Games from Playstation 4: If you own Sony's current-gen console, you can use the PSTV to turn on and play your PS4 games remotely in another room.
-Media Consumption: Like nearly any device that plugs into a television these days, the PSTV allows you to download media streaming apps like CrunchyRoll, Crackle, and Sony's native movie and TV storefront.
As far as setup goes, it couldn't be more simple. Plug the deceptively tiny box into a TV via HDMI, connect the included power cord, and the system turns on automatically for setup. Optionally, you can also connect a network cable if you do not wish to use the system's built-in WiFi. The PSTV can be used with either a DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 controller. The base system does not come with either. The controller is paired with the system via a USB cable. The system can also charge a controller via cable, but otherwise your controller will turn the device on and operate completely wirelessly after pairing. Since I use a 3rd party controller charging station, there was no further need for the USB cable, and I removed it to avoid clutter.
One note that I foolishly overlooked when making my purchase. The PSTV's only output is HDMI. This is fine if you're connecting to a TV, but if you intend to connect it to a computer monitor as I did, make sure it has built-in speakers. Since my monitor doesn't, I had to purchase an HDMI converter that splits the audio out to a different cable allowing connection to my external speakers. Such a converter can be had inexpensively on Amazon. Once mine arrives, I'll report back with the recommendation. In the meantime, there was no issue and one of the Vita's best features makes a return in the PSTV: Bluetooth! As with my Vita, I was able to quickly connect my bluetooth headset for audio and mic. You can even connect a BT keyboard for easier data-entry if you like.
While the system comes with a very small amount of memory internally, and serious use will require a Sony memory card. As is always the case with Sony technology, these memory cards are proprietary, work only with the PSTV and PS Vita, and are not particularly cheap. The card slips into a small slot on the rear of the system. If you already have a Vita, you can theoretically swap the single memory card back and forth between systems, but I wouldn't advise it due to the additional wear on both the card and system slots.
After the customary date/time/language questions, you're presented with the system menu. If you've used the Playstation Vita before, there are no surprises here. The menu is a multi-screen affair, similar to that of smartphones. Each app or game is represented by a glossy, 3D, rounded button. Also like a smartphone, you can move these around, organize them by page, or place them into folders. Initially I worried that organizing apps and games without the benefit of the Vita's touchscreen would be tedious, but I was surprised by how well the GUI functions with traditional controls.
Also, like the Vita before it, activating one of the buttons takes you to a new screen that Sony calls "LiveView". This is basically a small info center for the chosen app or game. It will list recent trophies unlocked by yourself or your online friends, new DLC info, and also presents the options to launch, update, or sync the game.
One note, if you already have a Vita, you can use it's pre-loaded "Content Manager" app along with that of the PSTV to transfer your existing games, apps, and save files to your PSTV system. Simply copy the relevant material to your networked or directly connected PS3 or PC, and then download from the intermediary to the PSTV. This saves you lengthy download from PSN.
Now that we've addressed what the Playstation TV is and how it functions, let's get down the nitty gritty; how well does it work? The first thing that will become apparent once you've started the system is that the console does not run at a native 1080p. The Vita on which this system is based ran a 5-inch 960x544 resolution display. Games were optimized for a 720p resolution range. The PSTV gives the HD options of 720p and 1080i. In either case, the upscaled graphics do suffer somewhat from the transition to a large format display. Aliasing jaggies and a general muddiness are present. That said the native vita games are streamed content still look great under the circumstances, but it's certainly noticeable if you're more accustomed to playing full 1080p titles on a modern console or PC. For an example of what I'm talking about, run a modern game at 720p with anti-aliasing features disabled and you'll get a general feel. Also, if you've played on a first generation PS Vita with it's gorgeously rich OLED screen, you may be dismayed at the black levels (depending of course on the quality of your monitor). That said, the PSTV is about bringing the portal experience to your TV, and it absolutely delivers that, just with the expected limitations.
PSP and PSOne games played on the system look exactly as you'd expect given their standard definition origins. That said, running PSOne games on a PS3 gives a better visual experience due to the PS3 emulation software's native upscaling and texture filtering options, which appear to be lacking in the PSTV and Vita. If you routinely play PSOne downloadables on your PS3, you will also note that the virtual memory cards appear to work differently on the PSTV and Vita, so copying your PSOne saves to these systems or vice versa appears impossible. While I haven't yet tested this, it appears as though moving PSOne saves between a Vita and PSTV works just fine.
Playing games on the Vita TV is great fun, and using a legit controller instead of the handheld's limited buttons and analog stick range feels just as amazing as I'd hoped, giving me better accuracy and comfort across every title I've tried it in. Gaining access to the full DualShock 4 controller also makes the streaming of PS4/PS4 games far more practical than streaming to the Vita, in which L2 & L3 buttons have to be remapped to the rear touchpad surface.
Unfortunately, the playing of native Vita games also presents one of the system's Achilles heels; compatibility. You see while most of the hardware is the PSTV and the Vita is shared, titles still require an update to made compatible. The full list of compatible Vita titles is available on the official site. While tons of great titles work out of the box, and Sony promises more compatibility updates are on the way, a startling number of the Vita's critically acclaimed titles will not function on the PSTV. In most cases, this makes sense. While not having access to great Vita exclusives like "Tearaway", "Uncharted: Golden Abyss", or "Gravity Rush" stings, the fact that these titles make heavy use of the touch-screen makes their omission a reasonable one.
What's more frustrating is that some titles that don't appear to have any system-specific limitations or gimmicks are also incompatible. "Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale" for example refuses to run, despite my being able to remember a single instance where touch input, or camera were required. If you're like me and the ultimate deciding factor in purchasing a new console is access to it's library of exclusive titles, then the PSTV is not a replacement for the Vita. That said, given the system's low price point, it's still a very cost-effective option for expanding your gaming options substantially.
Streaming a game via the PS Now rental system worked as well as on other Sony systems. Lag, framerate, and graphical fidelity was surprisingly good for me, just as they had been on the PS3 and PS4. That said, the high number of variables (geographic locations, connection speed, etc), means that your milage may vary.
Streaming from local consoles is another matter. Oddly, the PS Vita's option to remote play select titles from a PS3 appears to be absent in the PSTV. However, I did test the ability to stream PS4 gameplay from my PS4 system in the living room to my office. Before I launch into a more detailed description of that, I want to share my experiences with remote play on the Vita. Remote play on the Vita is a great feature. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and the results are absolutely playable, with the limitation I mentioned previously regarding control schemes. However, when using remote play on the Vita, I would frequently encounter issues of lag, audio drop-out, and graphical corruption. This would mostly occur when playing titles with lots of detail and particle effects that are difficult to encode such as "Infamous: Second Son". Given reports from others that remote play worked far better for them, and even that some were able to get an acceptable experience over the internet, I chocked-up my bad experiences to issues of connection quality. As a tech enthusiast, I have a large amount of equipment running around the house. Also, despite having a nice AC class wireless router, I have several wireless devices that saturate it, and a great deal of magnetic interference it must contend with. With the Vita obviously being a WiFi only device, I blamed the WiFi for it's remote play foibles.
I had therefore assumed that the PSTV, with it's wired LAN port would be the solution I desperately needed to a living room TV that is in high demand. Full DualShock 4 support, and a flawless streaming experience would be great. Unfortunately, I have to report that I'm seeing similar issues. With both devices connected to LAN, I still get image stuttering and some lag. I'm also getting audio dropouts. The experience is certainly better, but not where it should be, especially given how well PS Now works most of the time. In the time I had to test, I tried switching to wireless, and even directly connecting to the PS4 wirelessly (bypassing the router) and experienced similar performance. This was a huge disappointment to say the least.
I do, however, have some theories about these performance issues. Firstly, regarding audio dropouts, on both the Vita and PSTV I was using bluetooth headphones. It is possible that this causes some of the audio problems. Several mobile devices use a shared chip to handle wifi and BT traffic, so it's possible that the additional overhead of the BT processing could be handicapping the system. Also, although both the PSTV and the PS4 are connected to gigabit routers, the existing networking cable that's run in the house between the living room and office is Cat5, not Cat5e or Cat6. This means that the communication channel between the two systems is substantially hampered. I play to test both of these theories more thoroughly tonight and will report back if the remote play issues vanish. If this issue can be resolved, then this feature alone would make the system a must buy for me.
That leaves only the media streaming capabilities of the system. In this regard, things are a bit of a mixed-bag. Currently there are a handful of apps, like the aforementioned CrunchyRoll, but there are many notable absences. Netflix and Hulu both currently do not run on the PSTV. Hulu is actively working on compatibility, but it isn't here yet. It's hard to fault the system for this, since all new gaming devices start with a somewhat meager app offering that is expanded post-release. It's more likely that licensing deals are the hold-up hear as opposed to technical limitations as many of the unsupported services on PSTV do function on the Playstation Vita. But given the this system was released in Japan nearly a year ago, I feel there's been ample time in the interim to work out deals. As it stands, the PSTV is no Roku or HTPC replacement, but prospects in this area are likely to improve.
So, would I recommend that you purchase a Playstation TV? It depends on your situation, really. If you own no Sony consoles and can't rationalize the purchase or one, then this is a great opportunity to get a great deal of gaming access at a fairly low price. If you do own Sony consoles, but not a Vita, then this is an even cheaper proposition and you already have controllers lying around for use with it. It will also give you access to some great Vita and PSP titles you may have missed. If you also have a Playstation Plus membership, it will also carry over to the new device, giving you benefits and free games each month. The PSTV is also easy to recommend to those who've previously found VIta titles interesting but despise playing on a handheld.
If you're an avid handheld player or constantly on the go however, it's tough to recommend the PSTV over the Playstation Vita itself. Since the Vita hardware was recently refreshed, there's never been a better time to purchase either a new 2nd gen Vita or an older used 1st gen Vita. In either case you'll get a good price.
In fringe cases, I think the device will be well worth owning for PS4 users if the remote play issues can be ironed out. And the device's ultra-compact design make it great for a traveling console. Tossing it in your bag with a controller to take to parties or to hotels would be a great way to kill time.
Overall, I think it's well worth the cost, and I'm pleased I decided to pick it up. Some time spent playing "Persona 3 Portable" was all it really took to validate my purchase.
That's it for my initial thoughts. I'll update once I've performed additional tests.