Good Things Come in Small Packages
The Playstation TV, Sony's micro-console offspring of the PSVita, seems as though its not sure what it wants to be when reading the impressions of other outlets. Announced back in September of 2013 as Vita TV for the Japanese market, fans were quick to take to social media and demand information on a release for the west. Well, that release came last year as the Vita TV was re-branded to Playstation TV. Its safe to say most of those clamoring for a release in the west haven't picked one up since launch. Is the lack of a Netflix app really that much of a buzz kill for the Playstation TV? Lets find out from someone not interested in that 'TV' aspect..
First things first - The PSTV is a sleek looking bit of kit. Even though it houses a power input, HDMI port, Ethernet port (major inclusion), USB port and a Vita memory card slot (no there hasn't been a switch to Micro SD etc. Was anyone really expecting that?) on the back, there's no denying the diminutive size of the unit. It surprised me as it easily rests in the palm of your hand and shows how small handheld gaming devices actually are when you remove the screen & controls, remarking on twitter that the Playstation TV "looks small enough to have been built for the borrowers once it's all wired up properly" Almost everything is as it is on the Vita once the unit is powered up. Set-up is as simple as you'd expect, and once finished your greeted with the familiar Vita dashboard. Your given a choice with the PSTV early on, do you use a Dualshock 3 or a Dualshock 4? Although I still have my Ps3 available and the battery life of the Dualshock 3 is really good, I opted for the Dualshock 4 (The Usb port seems to only be used for the purpose of syncing a controller so far) As you'd expect moving to a controller, things are a little more comfortable. Those stubby, sensitive analogues aren't a problem for shooters anymore (EDF 2017 controlled really well) and if your a fan of controller feedback like rumble, the option is there for developers to include for PSTV compatible titles. One good aspect, aside from the touch pad emulation which works really well with the PSTV, is the battery life of the Dualshock 4. When used with a Ps4, the battery tends to last less than 6 hours - but when used with a PSTV, the same controller can last almost double the time between charges. Power efficiency also shows itself with the console. A low power draw, adapter specifies 5W output, means the PSTV will go unnoticed. There's no need for any cooling (where would it fit anyway), the device does get a little warm after a couple of hours though but never goes beyond that, and you come to appreciate the silent running. There are some quirks admittedly. One seems to be the odd delay spike. Its only happened a few times in the entire time I've been testing the unit, but when your controller inputs are suddenly delayed for a few moments by a couple of seconds, its hard not to notice. Luckily a quick fix is to tap to PS button and then continue your game at the dashboard, which seems to end the delay. A few too many errors will be thrown your way by the PSTV too when browsing the Playstation Store using Ethernet as well. Hopefully the few quirks will be squished with a firmware update in the future. There's no denying its a nice looking device, even with a quirk or 2 due to it being based on a handheld interface.
Most people that take a look at what the PSTV has to offer seem to fixate on the lack of TV shenanigans. Its kind of understandable with the name of the device, Sony should really have stuck with Vita TV, and its an issue that sticks out like a sore thumb. There's pretty much nothing but whats available on the Playstation Store to watch with regards to content & apps. No Netflix. No Amazon. No BBC Iplayer. No Youtube (you can view YouTube on the browser though) You get the picture. There is one beacon of hope. Sonys Network Media Player app. This allows you to make use of DLNA by streaming content over your home network to the PSTV. Now, that would be grand if it was as simple as it sounds. Whilst my Ps3 & Xbox360 allows me to stream my movie backups from the PC, this app on the PSTV wouldn't even register that there was any other device on the network capable of media streaming. After spending a bit of time trawling forums and testing a couple of things on the PC side, I gave up. It has the potential to really boost the PSTV due to its more powerful sibling (the PS4) not offering that capability yet, but only those that see it as a key feature of the system will get their hands dirty (I'm sure there are users out there though who's PSTV connects all the time to their media server. Jelly) Other notable uses for the micro console come in the form of Playstation Now & Remote play. Unfortunately, Playstation Now still hasn't even entered an apha/beta stage in the EU so we were unable to test that on the device. Remote Play on the other hand was testable. When it comes to my home network, everything that can be is wired. I still haven't taken to WiFi too well, the dinosaur that I am, so I tend to spend the little extra time getting things set up properly with Ethernet. Thankfully, the PSTV comes with an Ethernet port which helps with keeping latency low during remote play when the Ps4 is connected to the router via Ethernet as well. Sure, the 720p30fps output of the stream isn't quite as much of a lofty standard as the pure output of the Ps4, but that can be mitigated depending on how your secondary TV would be. My test was done on a 32" TV, down from the 42" I tend to use, and the image managed to look good enough. There's still no beating the Vita itself for image quality though with remote play, as the 5" screen would gloss over most inefficient aspects, but the PSTV does offer a more stable & smooth experience due to the inclusion of Ethernet.
Now lets talk about the elephant in the room. No, not the lack of Netflix, but the minefield of compatibility. It was obvious from the beginning that some titles which make extensive use of the Vita's touch interface may not make the cut, but games that can be completely played without touch control are also ommited. Its the lack of consistency that's most irritating for owners. Killzone Mercenary is a fully fledged FPS that makes use of the Vita's touch interface for numerous in-game actions due to less buttons than a standard controller, but its compatible. Then something like Uncharted or Touch My Katamari, which can be played almost entirely without touch (and could make use of the PSTV emulated touch control), are not compatible. It gets even weirder when titles like Hyperdimension Neptunia Rebith, Producing Perfection and Soul Sacrifice (to name a few) work fine on the Japanese Vita TV, but aren't compatible with Playstation TV. Was the compatibility removed during localisation? is it a quirk with the PSTV? Who knows at this point. The good news though, is that there are quite a few titles compatible that our readers here would enjoy. Demon Gaze, The Atelier+ trilogy of games, Sorcery Saga, Disgaea 4, Senran Kagura duo, FFX/X-2 HD - to name just a few which highlights there's a lot for fans of niche Japanese titles to play. Compatibility with upcoming titles also looks much improved over the inconsistency of last year, as games like Rebirth 2, Criminal Girls, Operation Abyss, Hyperdevotion Noire (to name a few) as well as most indie titles heading to Vita, seem to have PSTV compatibility. Maybe Sony have mandated support for the little console with Vita titles, a wise idea if so.
When it comes to playing those Vita titles on the big screen, the PSTV acquits itself incredibly well. Only HDMI output is available, but your given the option of 480p/720p/1080i video modes with additions like full/limited RGB - sadly 1080p is missing though. For most, 720p would be the sweet spot for Vita output as its fairly close to the 960x544 output on the Vita and should look good on most TV's. Oddly enough though, things took a surprising turn when experimenting with the video modes on my own setup. Switching to 1080i allowed me to activate 1:1 pixel mapping, which deactivated the TV's picture processing and also allowed the use of Full RGB mode with the PSTV. A good de-interlacer in your TV helps here to keep motion smooth, and I found that the overall picture quality was better than provided on 720p due to the 1:1 mapping and Full RGB. SO how do the Vita games actually fare on the big screen? Surprisingly, the internal scaler of the PSTV seems to put on a good show for the most part. Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, for example, looks superb on the PSTV and could almost pass for its sibling on Ps3. The Senran Kagura duo (Shinovi Versus & Bon Appetit) also fare really well, offering a sharp upscale that pops with colour. FFX-2 was the first to show the mixed bag aspect of playing a Vita's game on a large screen. For the most part things look fine, lashings of AA kept the image clean and in-game cinematics seemed incredibly sharp, but the CG cinematics and audio seemed to suffer from the compression needed to fit into the Vita's optimal filesize (same applies to Sly Cooper with regards to CG cinematics too) A lack of AA can also effect image quality due to the upscale, as EDF 2017 shows with its relatively sharp image that's rife with jaggies. As you would expect, the shortcomings of Vita games that are masked so well by the 5" screen, can be exacerbated when playing on one that is 42". Still, the results are impressive for the most part, with even Vanillaware's duo (Muramasa Rebirth & Dragon's Crown) managing to look great at the expense of a slight softness to the 2D artwork. I guess it just depends on your expectations. Going in I expected worse due to other write-ups I'd read, but taking the time to tweak picture settings on the TV yielded superb results as the likes of Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus looked & played superbly on the big screen. There's still the odd time when the fact your playing a handheld game on a big screen becomes obvious, but its not something that happens as much as you would expect.
I also gave the PsP compatibility a try using Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. Its not too bad. Obviously you can't expect miracles on an upscale from 480x272, but the game at least was still very playable. I'm no stranger to PsP on the big screen, I own the component cables for the PsPgo, and the PSTV definitely bests PsP playback that way at least by offering an upscale. The limited amount of compatible PsP software means most probably won't try it, but it works well enough for those that do.
When it's all said and done, whether one picks up a Playstation TV will be down to each individual. There's many positives, and some negatives, which will require a balancing act as you weigh up the possibilities and uses for the device. Personally. I love the device. Its small size, silent running and low power draw means its unnoticeable among my other gaming devices, and a decent upscale for the compatible Vita titles means it looks great (after a little TV tweaking) A few quirks like the odd bout of controller latency, the compatibility minefield of pre-2015 releases and a lack of any actual TV apps, stop the PSTV from attaining its full potential though. Still, Its worthy of consideration at least.