Sony launches PlayStation Vue as bigger, pricier Internet TV

Sony's entrant into the burgeoning Web-delivered-TV world hits three cities Wednesday, with a $50 entry price that may test how much people really want to cut the cord.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
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Watch this: Sony's PlayStation Vue brings live TV to a PlayStation near you

Sony on Wednesday launched its PlayStation Vue, an Internet TV service accessible -- for now -- just through its gaming console and only in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. The entry-level price is $49.99 a month.

PlayStation Vue, which is offering 7-day free trials, is the latest in a series of "over-the-top" TV services to hit the Web in recent months, after the television industry for years hemmed in options that diverged from the traditional cable or satellite bundles of channels. Warming to such services shows how networks and TV providers have recognized the long-term importance of appealing to a "cord cutter" -- someone who forsakes a traditional pay-TV for Internet-based video

But Vue, with its relatively high $50 price for its basic tier of service, will test whether Internet television can win adherents based not on significant price savings but on the new merits of a Web-based system. Paying for Vue in addition to paying an Internet service provider creates a total cost that approaches what a consumer might pay for both video and Internet from a cable company. Vue will also indicate how much the PlayStation base of users is interested in entertainment coming all through one source.

Sony said it is introducing Vue as an entertainment solution for households that already have the company's PlayStation 3 and 4 gaming consoles. The PlayStation user, by and large, is typically male, aged 18 to 39.

"That gamer household is something we've defined even further," said Daniel Myers, Vue's head of product. "Lots of people use these platforms to consume Netflix and other digital media. The household is bigger than just the guy who bought the PlayStation."

PlayStation Vue focuses on your shows

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Vue streams live, on-demand and DVR TV over the Internet. The company has an iPad application in the works. PlayStation gaming consoles are among the most common devices used to stream video from the Internet to a TV. Sony has an installed base of 35 million PlayStations, PS3 and PS4 combined, in the US.

Myers said Vue will add more device support "in the mobile space and the TV-connected space," referring to handhelds and other boxes along the lines of a Roku or Chromecast, without specifying devices. Though Vue is limited for now to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, he said Sony will add more US cities later this year.

Vue's collection of channels is a mix of local and regional networks, broadcast staples and cable options. It includes broadcasters CBS, NBC and Fox, as well as many of those companies related channels, such as Fox's Fox News and NBCUniversal's Bravo and SyFy. It also includes networks from Discovery, Scripps, Turner and Viacom. AMC channels -- including the namesake network that is home to "The Walking Dead," television's top-rated scripted series -- will be added to the service next month. My colleague David Katzmaier has written up a full listing of the channels and a comparison to rival service Sling TV from Dish.

Notable Vue absentees: Disney's ABC broadcast network and its all-important king of cable sports, ESPN. It also lacks premium channels like HBO or Showtime.

For an additional $10, subscribers can add local sports channels. New York gets the YES Network for Yankees games, and Philadelphia and Chicago get Comcast SportsNet for those cities. And for yet another $10, subscribers get more niche lifestyle, music and family channels.

One of the major differences between Vue and rival Sling TV, which launched last month as the first true Internet multichannel live-TV service, is that Vue includes DVR and on-demand capabilities. Once viewers tag a favorite show using the DVR feature, they will automatically have access to recorded episodes of that show for 28 days, without storage size or scheduling restrictions. The previous three days of much programming is available on demand without the need to schedule recordings.

Another major difference is price. Vue's entry price is $50 a month; Sling TV's cheapest option is $20 a month.

Vue's higher price point raises the question about whether its differences from cable and satellite norms -- such as not locking in customers with contracts, unwavering rates, the ability to search for TV in a more robust and intuitive way than the gridlike guide -- will hold sufficient attraction for people to compensate for having fewer channels than cable for not much less money, when the cost of Internet service is added.

Myers said that the way Vue serves up TV will make customers feel like they're getting more than they did before because of features that make it easier to find and get what they like to watch.

"There's been a lot of great TV made recently, and a lot of great TV in general, that people can't find. It's about the mechanism by which you can make it available," he said. "How can you make it more about what I want to watch and less about what's on at that given time?"

PlayStation Vue is Sony's response to that question. But Vue raises another: Will people pay top dollar for it? And that's a plot -- borrowing from the land of TV -- that is to be continued.