With the PlayStation 4, Sony already has a credible claim to conquering your living room with its do-it-all gaming and streaming entertainment box. Now the company is going after the other rooms in your home with the PlayStation TV.
It's a tiny box -- smaller than a deck of cards -- that has Roku and Apple TV comparisons written all over it. It connects to your home network over Wi-Fi or Ethernet and sports an HDMI port (there's also a cable in the box) for easy plug-and-play with your TV.
When this same box came out in Japan last year, it was called Vita TV. And after playing around with its interface and what it had to offer, I quickly came to the realization that its original moniker is a more honest name. This is literally a PlayStation Vita connected to your big-screen TV.
Available in two versions, PlayStation TV (PSTV for short) is sold as a standalone unit for $100, or as a bundle that includes a DualShock 3 controller, an 8GB Vita memory card and a voucher for the Lego Movie video game for $140. (It will hit the UK, Europe, and Australia on November 14, where it will retail for £85, €100, and AU$150, respectively.) No matter which you buy, an HDMI cable is packed inside. There's 1GB of internal storage inside PSTV, but you'll definitely need more (which I'll cover later).
When you boot up PSTV for the first time you're presented with what is essentially the Vita home screen. It's filled with floating orbs that represent apps and games. If you've used a Vita before, navigation will come easy for you. If not, getting around is a bit of a pain. I'm not sure the idea to port the Vita's interface to PSTV was the right move since it was originally designed to be touched. That's not an option with PSTV, so you'll have to tap on the directional pad a frustrating number of times when you want to access the corner buttons.
PSTV offers a number of features, but there aren't any that really stand out as its killer app. Here are PSTV's main attractions:
Vita and PSN gaming
The PSTV plays most -- but not all -- Vita titles, many PSP games, PS One "classics," and PlayStation Mini titles. The full list of compatible games is available on Sony's site.
There's a slot on the side of the PSTV that accepts Vita game cards. If you have one of these relics laying around that's good news for you, but every Vita game is also available for download from the PS Store.
Of course this inevitably leads me to talk about the absurd proprietary memory card situation that exists with the Vita, and now PSTV. Long story short, they are overpriced for the amount of storage they offer. The $140 bundle comes with an 8GB card, but it's not hard to fill it up quickly. Borderlands 2 is a nearly 5GB download alone. If you're serious about playing games on PSTV you should look at a minimum of a 16GB card, which will run you about about $30, £20, or AU$35 on Amazon.
In terms of Vita game performance on PSTV, I could swear there's a noticeable lag that's not present when playing a Vita handheld. This weirdness extends to downloaded games too. The PSTV just doesn't feel as snappy as it should.
Then there's the issue of Vita games that use the portable's front and back touch functionality. PSTV doesn't have much of an answer for that, though if you use a DualShock 4 controller, the touch pad can be emulated to act as the touch screen. You need to click the R3 button to make the touch pad work as the rear touch screen. As much fun as this sounds, it's a really awful way to interact with a game.
There's a great amount of Vita and PSP legacy games available in the PS Store, but titles that rely too heavily on touch aren't available. For instance, you can't find or download Tearaway. What is cool, though, is that any of the compatible Vita or PSP digital titles you already own are available to redownload and play on the big screen.
Vita games have a native resolution of 960x544, compared to 1,920x1,080 for most current TVs. I thought the upscaling to that resolution looked fine for most titles (the PSTV can output 480p, 720p or 1080i), but the on-screen menu interface suffered the most, looking rather jaggy. But you definitely shouldn't be expecting a PS3 or PS4 level of polished HD graphics here.