Do you have a hankerin' to play Vita JRPGs on your TV? If so, the PlayStation TV is for you. Sure, it plays other games too, but in all but the most fringe cases, your answer to the above question should be the deciding factor in your purchase decision when it comes to Sony’s new hardware. Not convinced? Read on.
The PlayStation TV (PS TV) is a slick-looking black micro-console about the size of a pack of cards. It comes with a small power adapter, an HDMI cable, and a download code for OlliOlli, Velocity Ultra, and Worms Evolution Extreme. It requires – but doesn’t come with – a controller, although any old DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 will do the job.
Around its back are HDMI out, Ethernet, and USB 2.0 ports, and hidden on the front is a slot for Vita game cards. It also has a memory card slot that only takes Sony’s overpriced proprietary memory cards, although if you use the same account on your PS TV and your PS Vita, you can switch one card between them. There is no headphone jack, as the PS TV uses Bluetooth for any headphone audio. That means USB headsets don’t work, and the PlayStation 4 controller’s headphone jack doesn’t either. For obvious reasons, there’s no gyroscope, nor is there a camera or microphone on the unit.
Of course, the Vita’s touch-sensitive surfaces are also absent. You can click your controller’s analogue sticks to bring up a cursor then use that, but that’s a tedious process, especially in games like OlliOlli where touch input is required after every slam. You can also use the touch pad on the DualShock 4 to click menus, but it’s simply too fiddly to be practical for the precision clicks many games require.
Inside the PS TV are the guts of a Vita, including the 1GB of internal storage found on the PCH-2000 model of the handheld. Also inside is integrated 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.
Even a paired controller wired into the device doesn’t switch the PS TV on, but a press of its power button boots it up quickly. The UI is the same as that of the Vita, which as you’d expect is a bit ugly on the telly, and not at all well-suited to be navigated with a controller. As PlayStation Now isn’t a thing in our territory, and app support is non-existent beyond a Network Media Player, the PS TV is literally all about the games here in New Zealand. The games that are mostly second-tier Vita offerings, JRPGs, or PSone classics, that is.
As such, judged as a Vita games machine, the PS TV definitely fails to meet the needs of the mainstream majority. Due to its lack of touch and camera controls, titles like Wipeout 2048, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, LittleBigPlanet Vita, The Walking Dead, Soul Sacrifice, Tearaway, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Trilogy don’t work on PS TV at all.
However, there are certainly people who own a Vita solely for the depth of its JRPG library, and these people will be most happy that the likes of One Piece Unlimited, Persona 4 Golden, Freedom Wars, Final Fantasy VII (but none of the others), Danganronpa 2 (but not the original), Disgaea 4, and Demon Gaze are available to play on the biggest screen in their house. There’s also a smattering of bigger-name games in Minecraft, Child of Light, Broken Sword, God of War, FIFA and so forth, but the library of compatible Vita titles is pretty limited. Sure, you can play PSP, PSone classics, and Minis too, but like JRPGs, these are a niche proposition these days and available elsewhere anyway. Why you’d play PS mobile games on your TV I don’t know.
What’s maddening is it’s difficult finding a definitive list of which games are actually compatible with the PS TV. This list hasn’t been updated since it was first posted in September, and while many games accessed through the Store app on the console indicate compatibility status once you click through to their description, a decent number don’t.
Besides which, just because a game works on the PS TV, that does not mean the gameplay experience makes the shift to a bigger screen intact. The Vita’s small but lush 960×544 screen made most games look great, but not everything remains flawless when upscaled to 720p or 1080i and blown up to several times its original size. Of the free games that come with the unit, OlliOlli and Velocity look decent, while Worms looks utterly balls.
There are also interface problems: Killzone Mercenary holds up well graphically, and it seems like using a DualShock would confer a significant comfort and aiming advantage in multiplayer, but switching to a secondary weapon using the touchscreen pointer is far too slow. Borderlands is excellent, although it was one of a handful of games specially updated for the PS TV.
With all this in mind, it’s not surprising that Sony is keen to emphasise the PlayStation 4 Remote Play capabilities of the PS TV. Its PS4Link app setup is a breeze, and in no time at all you are looking at and remotely controlling your PlayStation 4, albeit scaled down to 720p and broadcast in stereo. Sony recommends you use a wired connection for both consoles when using Remote Play and it’s easy to see why, as switching either or both to Wi-Fi noticeably impedes performance – even when the router is nearby.
As you would expect, even with both consoles connected to a router via Ethernet cables there is some input lag present. Its overall impact on enjoyment really depends on the game. For example, after a 10 minute adjustment period, playing games like Transistor and Tomb Raider is fine, but the twitch combat of Sleeping Dogs or Injustice: Gods Among Us renders those games practically unplayable. Platforming in LittleBigPlanet 3 is do-able, but not particularly pleasant.
When things get frantic, there are also very minor frame rate issues with the more graphically-intense games like Killzone Shadow Fall as the game stream struggles to keep up. Frame loss happens occasionally, but a more common complaint is texture blur. Despite this, the device performs better than expected, and again, it’s just a matter of choosing the right game to stream.
The PS TV is a device that cannot be recommended without large caveats. It plays Vita games but is missing some crucial titles, and the performance of some others is compromised. It streams PlayStation 4 games but only to an acceptable standard when both consoles are wired to a router, and even then only when playing certain games.
Sure, if you own a PlayStation 4, there are obvious benefits: you already have a controller, you can stream some games if you have a second TV, and you can also take advantage of Cross Buy titles. Likewise, if you own a Vita, PS TV allows for ad-hoc multiplayer. But in the latter instance you already have access to the device’s biggest selling point – Vita games – and that, ladies and gentlemen, brings us back around to my initial question.
Do you want to play JRPGs on the telly?
PlayStation TV is available now for NZ$160.