Sony has been steadily building up a deep gaming ecosystem across multiple devices, including its PlayStation 4 console, PlayStation Vita handheld, Xperia smartphones and now the $99 PlayStation TV set-top box. Unfortunately, the PlayStation TV (PS TV) doesn’t live up to its potential just yet.
Originally called the PlayStation Vita TV in Japan, the PS TV launched in the US earlier this month and arrives in Europe in November. In addition to the $99 standalone system, Sony is also selling a $139 Lego bundle that includes a DualShock 3 controller, The Lego Movie Videogame and an 8GB memory card. The hardware is surprisingly small – slightly bigger than the palm of my hand.
The set-top box, which outputs at 720p resolution, includes ethernet HDMI and USB connections. It also has slots for the Vita’s proprietary memory cards and game cartridges.
PS TV offers a few different ways to play. You can sync it with a PS4 in your home to use Remote Play on a second TV; play Vita games through the device’s included card slot; join the PlayStation Now open beta to stream games from the cloud and finally just buy compatible games directly from the PlayStation Store. Beyond gaming, you can also use the box to watch movies and TV shows.
Remote Play on PS TV didn’t work well for me on my home network. Even with the PS TV connected over ethernet, I still experienced noticeable lag when trying to play Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Diablo III, Drive Club and Destiny. I could sometimes get a suitable connection using the PS4’s WiFi Access Point feature, which skips your router to connect directly to the PS TV, but the results still varied.
Remote Play also suffered from poor image quality. Even aside from the choppy frame rates and visual artifacts that came from the spotty connection, the overall fidelity is painful to look at if you’re used to the beautiful graphics on your PS4. If you have a super-fast network at your home, Remote Play should work well for you, but you might need to update your router if it’s an older model.
Playing Vita games on the PS TV sounds like fun, but you’re probably better off just sticking to playing on your Vita. Minecraft’s retro graphics looked fine, but MLB 14 The Show looked pretty awful blown up on the TV.
Retro fencing game Nidhogg did a solid job at showing off how the PS TV fits in the ecosystem. Nidhogg supports cross-buy and cross-play, so you can pay for it once and play it on PS TV, Vita and PS4. It was easy to fire up the set-top box for a quick match with friends.
Earlier this summer, I tried out PS Now on the PS4. I’m on a Time Warner Cable connection that averages between 14-20Mbps, according to Speedtest. Several of the games I rented were still active, so I could jump right in and start playing them directly from the PS TV. The service is still in beta, so the experience is far from perfect, and the game selection is lackluster. In the long-term, I expect PS Now to evolve into an excellent gaming service, but, at least for now, it’s still more of a novelty than it is useful.
Sony has posted a list of compatible games for the PS TV, including Vita titles, PSP digital downloads, and PS One classics. You’ll find cult games like Persona 4, but there weren’t many titles I was excited to play.
PS TV relies on a similar bubble UI as the Vita. I found it horrendously dated on a TV and frustrating to navigate.
So should you buy the PS TV? For now, I’d recommend that you hold off. At launch, it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well. If you live in a house with fast broadband and often have to share the main TV with others, the box’s Remote Play feature might be worth the $99, provided you can put up with the significantly lower quality graphics. That seems like a rather niche use case to me, though.
When Sony works out the kinks for Remote Play and PS Now and has grown the game library for the PS TV, it will serve as an affordable way to get more value out of your existing PlayStation devices, but, at least for my gaming needs, it’s not there yet.
Update: An earlier version of this article attributed issues with Remote Play to Internet connection, but it’s actually an issue with the home network setup. I apologize for the error.
Published October 23, 2014 — 14:43 UTC