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Sony PlayStation TV review: PlayStation TV: A microconsole with big ambitions

The PlayStation TV is effectively a Vita for your big-screen TV. It offers gaming and entertainment options -- including the ability to stream directly from a PS4. But does the Vita experience translate to the living room?

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Jeff Bakalar
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Jeff Bakalar

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Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.

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6 min read

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.

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5.7

Sony PlayStation TV

The Good

PlayStation TV has an affordable starting price point, works with existing DualShock 3 and 4 controllers and can play hundreds of games. It also offers game streaming from a networked PS4 or via PlayStation Now, and a handful of video services.

The Bad

A surprising amount of content for PSTV is not available in HD, and the Vita's interface doesn't make a graceful jump to the big screen. Remote play is laggy in Wi-Fi mode and PSTV still relies on an expensive flash storage medium. Major streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus are noticeably absent.

The Bottom Line

The PlayStation TV sounds great on paper, but out of the gate, it underwhelms as both a gaming and an entertainment box.

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Remote play

Like the Vita, PSTV can "sling" your PS4 to any other TV using your home network. It's not the perfect environment on the Vita and the experience on PSTV is only marginally better.

Thankfully, you can use a proper DualShock 3 (PS3) or DualShock 4 (PS4) controller with remote play and PSTV, so there aren't any button limitations like there are on Vita. Unfortunately, there's still the noticeable lag issue that doesn't seem be much improved either. I guess the silver lining here is that you can hook a wired Ethernet connection into PSTV and if your PS4 is wired into the same router, the experience drastically improves. Unfortunately, that kind of setup isn't very practical in most homes, and odds are one of the two (if not both) will need to connect wirelessly.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

PS Now

Available at PSTV's launch is the PS Now beta, a streaming service that lets PSN members stream PlayStation legacy games. I gave some first impressions of what it was like to use PS Now on PS4, and while it's inexplicably a better experience than local remote play, the latency issue makes playing twitch-sensitive games a headache. You're not going to want to play shooters over PS Now, but there are a solid number of other, passable titles.

PS Now operates on a tiered-pricing system, where you "rent" the game from a few hours to a few weeks. I personally don't think the rental fees are really worth it, but I guess that's a separate issue. (Sony could always change the pricing structure in the future, too.)

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Movies, TV shows and media

The first things I noticed that were missing from the PSTV PS Store were Netflix and Hulu Plus. I'm sure there's some legalese that explains their absence, but for a box that wants to play in the same league as Roku, Apple TV, or even Amazon Fire TV, it's a major void.

For now, streaming media is only available with the Crackle and Crunchyroll apps. I tried out Crackle and its obscure selections, and it worked quite well. Netflix and Hulu Plus aren't completely off the table, but they're nowhere to be found right now. (In comparison, the PS3 and PS4 have an excellent library of streaming apps.)

Countless movies and TV shows are available in the PSTV store to rent or own, but I couldn't find anything available in HD. Also, the streaming quality of video from Crackle did not appear to be above 480p either. In this day and age that's a major letdown.

There's a surprising amount of content that isn't available in HD on PSTV, unless you're playing a personal media file off the internal storage or a memory card. A limitation like that is almost unheard of these days.

Note that the PlayStation TV is supposed to be able to run Sony's streaming TV service -- the company's online alternative to cable TV -- which is still due to hit before the end of 2014. But for now, details remain scarce.

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Conclusion

It seems everything PSTV has to offer is hindered by some sort of shortcoming. Even when you take away its feature-set, things like the PSTV's lackluster Wi-Fi performance knock it down another peg.

If you can look past all of its frustrating weirdness, there's a few reasons you might want to own a PSTV. At $100, £85, and AU$150 it's not a gigantic investment, though you need to consider the cost of expanding its memory.

At that starting price point, PSTV is likely the best "microconsole" out there, meaning it's relatively simple to bring it with you on vacation or into different rooms of your home. The graphics are adequate, but to think Apple TV or another competing box out there won't have something better just around the corner is naive. Perhaps PSTV should only be considered by someone heavily invested in the Sony ecosystem.

On paper, PSTV sounds like it's a real contender, especially when considering its gaming potential. If and when Sony takes another crack at the interface and the offering of entertainment apps, it may eventually live up to its potential (and we'd be happy to reevaluate it at that time). In the meantime, there's nothing about the PlayStation TV that makes it a must-have device.

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5.7

Sony PlayStation TV

Score Breakdown

Design 6Ecosystem 5Features 5Performance 6Value 6