updated 07:10 am EDT, Wed June 11, 2014
The PlayStation TV is a genuine STB contender with real gaming chops
One of the surprise announcements at E3 is the news that Sony will be bringing its diminutive PlayStation TV to the US, Europe and other markets. The device already is on the market in Japan, where it is sold as the PS Vita TV, launching in the middle of November late last year to help appease Japanese customers disappointed at missing out on the international launch of the PS4. In Japan, the PS Vita has proven to be a hit with handheld gamers. The PlayStation TV is effectively a STB version of the PS Vita, but with a few compelling tricks up its sleeve, especially when compared with a device like the Apple TV.
The system architecture of the PlayStation TV will be very familiar to Apple TV users. The Apple TV runs on an Apple A5 SoC comprised of a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU clocked at 1GHz with 512MB of RAM and a dual-core PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU. The PlayStation TV, like the PS Vita, is much more powerful. At its heart lies technology from the same generation as the Apple TV (iPhone 4S era), except it runs both a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU with 512MB of RAM and a quad-core PowerVR SGX543MP4+ with 128MB of dedicated VRAM. Clock speed has not been revealed. On board storage is limited to 1GB built-in, but it does support Sony's proprietary (and expensive) PS Vita memory cards in sizes up to 64GB.
However, like the Amazon Fire TV, the PlayStation TV supports gaming and will in fact come bundled with a wireless PS3 controller when it launches locally. It also supports the PS4 controller as well. Unlike the Amazon Fire TV that supports Android mobile games, the PlayStation TV boasts hardcore gaming chops supporting titles purpose-made for the deeper gaming capabilities of the PS Vita. It is effectively the most powerful micro-console to hit the market, while it also enjoys built-in media streaming and playback capabilities of most other STBs. Perhaps its biggest strength (and making it something of a Trojan horse in the battle for lounge rooms) is its ability to act as an extender for the PlayStation 4 supporting full 'Remote Play' capabilities.
We have spent some quality time with the PlayStation TV and have come away very impressed by its potential, although this won't be fully revealed until the full extent of its streaming media deals are in place. Needless to say, Sony already has an extensive collection of movies and music that will be supported by the PlayStation TV, meaning that if you have already purchased movies and music from Sony's Music Unlimited or Video Unlimited services, these will also be readily available through the PlayStation TV. It will also support PlayStation Now for remote streaming and rental of PS Vita, retro PS gaming titles and even PS3 titles, which we weren't able to test on this occasion, but we will examine in a full review of the PlayStation TV when it launches.
We were able to test out a few PS Vita gaming titles, which worked quite well on a larger display 55-inch display, although PS Vita titles are only programmed to support a 5-inch 960x544 qHD display. As a result, games look more pixelated on a larger display, while the PlayStation TV currently outputs at 720p or 1080i as maximum resolution settings. This does not affect their playability or the quality of the sound effects, which still come across strongly. What remains to be seen is if any game developers actually develop titles that will better support larger displays, or are designed to run natively on the PlayStation TV. With the now global expansion of the micro-console, it is not out of the realms of possibility that the economies of scale could be favorable.
One of the early limitations of the PS Vita TV when it launched was that it only supported the PS3 controller. This meant that some games did not work, or did not have the full functionality enjoyed by PS Vita users who can also control and interact with games through the front touchscreen and rear touch panel of PS Vita. However, now that it can support the PS4 controller, this should open up the way to much wider compatibility with the PS Vita catalog. However, as mentioned earlier, the icing on the cake is the ability of the PlayStation TV to support PS4 'Remote Play.' At $140 including wireless PS3 controller and included The Lego Movie game, there will be millions of PS4 owners who will be sorely tempted to give the PlayStation TV a try. We can report, that the functionality works just as brilliantly when playing the PS4 in 'Remote Play' on the PS Vita handheld.
Sony is definitely getting its mojo back and the decision to launch the PlayStation TV worldwide is an excellent move by the company. Those in the market for a regular STB may consider the gaming value-add to be a worthwhile differentiator. Meanwhile, very few people are going to buy it in place of a PS3 or PS4, but there are likely to be plenty of people who own a PS4 and/or a PS Vita who will be keen to get their hands on one when it launches this fall.
By Sanjiv Sathiah