Sony has a new console -- and it's smaller than a DVD case.
The PlayStation TV, formerly called the Vita TV, is tiny. It costs $99. It plays Vita games. It streams PlayStation Now games. It can act as a remote hub for your PS4 to play in another room. And it might be the latest example of the next trend in gaming: the micro-console.
The tiny new box will be available later this year, in the fall, in the US, Canada, UK and Europe. Sony didn't announce UK pricing for the PlayStation TV, but a good guide will be the Australian price tag: AU$150 converts to around £85. It's already out in Japan.
Amazon Fire TV, launched in the US this past spring, cost a similar amount: $99, plus extra for a controller. Sony's newly renamed PlayStation TV will have a similar type of bundle for $139, with a Dual Shock 3 controller, an 8GB memory card and a copy of the Lego Movie Vita game.
The Vita TV, as it was previously called, debuted in 2013 at the Tokyo Game Show. It didn't make a big splash then, but the proposition is different now: Sony described its PlayStation TV as a box that would be an affordable conduit not just to Vita games, but stream PS4 console games to another TV. It's also a way to access the PlayStation Now streaming game service without buying a PS4 or Sony-branded TV.
Three ways to play games
Indeed, Sony pledged "hundreds" of PS3 games on the PlayStation TV via the PlayStation Now streaming service, as well as "access to video and music streaming services." The PlayStation TV will also access 1,000 games out of the box when it debuts, according to Sony, adding up games in the Vita, PS One, and PSP downloadable catalogues already on the PlayStation Store. The PlayStation TV will treat itself like another Vita device as far as connecting to your PSN account, and download games or apps from your collection.
We still don't know the pricing of PlayStation Now, which could factor into how good a deal the PlayStation TV seems to be. And you'll need to invest in at least one controller and a memory card, too -- included in the $139 bundle, but you might want to pay even more to store enough games.
Specs and features
The PlayStation TV has a solid set of hardware features for its size: a Cortex A9 processor, Ethernet, USB 2.0 and HDMI ports, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR.
Unfortunately, Sony's PlayStation TV is cursed with a storage problem. There's only 1GB of internal storage, just like the Vita Slim, and to add more -- which will most certainly will need to -- requires Vita memory cards. Yes, it means you can swap in Vita memory cards and play them seamlessly on the PlayStation TV, but it also means you can't use regular SD or microSD, or even Memory Sticks, to add on storage for game or movie downloads. Vita memory cards are proprietary and still really expensive.
Hands-on with remote streaming
I played Diablo III via Wi-Fi Remote Play on the PlayStation TV using a DualShock 4 controller, and the experience was pretty good. The frame rate wasn't silky-smooth, but it was very playable, and somewhat like Remote Play already feels on the Vita when connected to PS4 -- but with the benefit of a full analog-trigger controller.
I like the idea of the PS TV a lot, and it's entering the market at what seems like the perfect time, offering up three different ways to play or stream games. It would be helpful to know what streaming video services it'll offer, something Sony's employees weren't divulging at E3. How the streaming services will work, how they'll be priced, and whether all Vita games will play nicely on the PS TV, are all questions Sony's yet to answer.
Rise of the microconsoles?
Up against Amazon's Fire TV, it'll arrive with a much better game library than Amazon's effort. Whether it will also be going up against a next-gen Apple TV -- possibly one with enhanced gaming abilities -- is anyone's guess.
For those who can't afford full-price consoles, these microconsoles could be interesting. But it really isn't clear how fun, or flexible, the PlayStation TV will feel when it's finally ready to play here in the US.
For more, check out CNET's complete E3 2014 coverage.