Review: PlayStation TV Isn’t Ready for Prime Time

PlayStation TV
PlayStation TV

On paper, Sony’s PlayStation TV sounds like a terrific device for a gaming family. Able to stream media, run Vita software, and play PS4 games remotely, it’s positioned as a sleek, affordable way to access Sony’s video game universe from a secondary TV.

Score that as a solid victory for Sony’s marketing department, however, because in the real world, the PlayStation TV is an exercise in frustration that doesn’t come close to living up to its full potential.

What is it?
At its heart, the PlayStation TV is a PlayStation Vita packed into a tiny set-top box and optimized for a TV screen. It’s also advertised as a repeater for the PS4, letting you play PS4 games on a separate TV without having to buy a second console.

The PlayStation TV retails for $100, which includes the set-top box and an HDMI cable. For $140, however, gamers can buy a bundle that throws in a DualShock 3 controller, an 8 GB memory card, and a copy of The Lego Movie game, a fine deal if you don’t have a spare controller in the house, because you’ll need one to interact with the system.

Roughly the size of a pack of playing cards, the system is meant to be invisible in your home entertainment setup. It’s got ports for a memory card and hard copies of Vita games (those can also be downloaded). The setup is simple, too, just the usual five to 10 minutes of entering account information and user agreements, followed by the now-standard system update. From there, you’re up and running.

The problem is, you’re up and running on a lousy interface. The PlayStation TV’s home screen is basically the same one youll see on the Vita, which makes no sense on a larger screen. It makes poor use of the space, and icons aren’t laid out in a logical order. It’s not a big hassle, especially if you’ve spent some time with a Vita, but it’s an early warning sign that all is not well.

How does it handle Vita games?
That depends on what games you want to play. At present, 143 Vita games are supported. That list has some glaring absences, like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048, and LittleBigPlanet.

Most of the absent games are ones that depend on a touchscreen interface. While the PlayStation TV will simulate the swiping experience with a controller, it’s a clunky, inelegant solution. Also, since Vita games are designed to be played on small screens, brace yourself for jagged edges and blurry textures.

Despite those setbacks, you can still have fun here. Find the right game — Minecraft, for instance — and it works just fine.

But the system’s compatibility problems extend even deeper than the Vita library. There are 389 downloadable PSP titles in the PlayStation Store, and only 68 percent work on PlayStation TV. And roughly 50 of the 179 downloadable PSone titles don’t work either, including heavy hitters like Metal Gear Solid.

Given that so many of these games do work on the system, knocking it for the games that don’t may seem like a petty complaint. But for a device that’s being touted as an inexpensive gateway into the PlayStation world, the omissions are frustrating.

PlayStation TV
PlayStation TV

Is PS4 Remote Play any good?
Effortlessly slinging games from your PS4 to another TV in the house is the most appealing feature of the PlayStation TV. But the process may have you slinging the device itself out the window.

The quality of your PS4 Remote Play experience is contingent on the quality of your home network. If you’ve got great coverage or don’t mind running wires through your walls, you may have no trouble at all. But be prepared for some headaches.

First, you’ll need the PlayStation TV to find the PS4, which requires searching for it on your network or entering a code your PS4 spits out. In the case of the latter, that means dashing from room to room, trying to establish a handshake in the short time before the code expires. This is not as simple as it sounds; it actually took me four attempts just to get the two devices to recognize each other.

Technically speaking, streaming to a PS4 works over WiFi, but Sony recommends a hardwired connection. It’s not kidding about that. Unless you’re right next to your wireless router, there’s no way you’ll be able to make this work. The image is jerky, the audio craps out often, and the whole experience is just a drag.

Unfortunately, the wired connection option doesn’t necessarily work better. The stream is still janky unless you’ve got both the PS4 and PlayStation TV hooked up to the same router. Odds are you don’t have your house wired that way. And — take it from me — running an Ethernet cable up the staircase to connect the TV in your spare bedroom to the router in your office is an easy way to tick off your spouse.

Even if you do get the two systems working smoothly together, you’ll have to accept a lower visual resolution, as the PlayStation TV doesn’t support 1080p. Sigh.

How about other services?
The holy trinity of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are constants in the set-top box world. You expect at least two of the three streaming services to be available on pretty much anything with an HDMI out.

On PlayStation TV, though, they’re nowhere to be found, despite their presence on the Vita.

Instead, the device offers Crackle, Crunchyroll’s streaming anime service and, naturally, Sony’s Video Unlimited. These aren’t bad services, but they’re hardly as common — or as trusted — as the bigger names.

Is it a dealbreaker? Of course not. You can get Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu pretty much anywhere else, but it’s another curious omission.

PlayStation TV is also an entry point for PlayStation Now, which lets you stream PS3 games from the cloud. Over a powerful network, it certainly functions, I’ll give it that, but the still-in-beta PlayStation Now has its own kinks to iron out (for instance, its insane pricing model).

The verdict
There are fine ideas in the PlayStation TV, and perhaps some firmware updates will solve its compatibility and connectivity issues. But those are glaring problems out of the box that turn it into a serious work in progress.

In the end, your enjoyment of the PlayStation TV will likely come down to your expectations going in. If you’re looking for an affordable way to play downloadable Sony games on a big screen, it does the trick. But if you’re hoping to extend your PS4 beyond its current screen — or use this as a replacement for your current set-top box — be prepared for lots of static.

Follow Chris Morris on Twitter.