A few months ago I was a bit worried that there would be no decent PlayTV alternative releasing along with the next generation of game consoles. PlayTV’s a good service (or at least it was in its prime – we’ll get to that later) which allows users to watch, record and even pause or rewind live TV much like any other Freeview+ box available, without the need for another big box getting in the way, aided instead by the PS3’s power and hard drive.
I thought that one of the biggest problems I’d have later this year would be either having to keep my PS3 (yet another device) aside my new consoles or lose my TV recording capabilities entirely, having to part with more money to get a different box thing to connect to my television.
You think that I’d be happy, then, with yesterday’s Xbox One reveal – they appeared to relieve a worry of mine by integrating TV right into the core of the console, making it even easier to watch the shows I want with minimal fuss, featuring instant switching between games and other media, simple Kinect commands and even a full Xbox One powered guide.
That doesn’t ring true at all, though. They’ve taken the beauty of PlayTV – using the consoles power but not actually interfering with the games at hand – and smashed it with a big hammer, mixing the pieces back up with integral components of a game console in the process.
I don’t want to watch TV while I’m focusing on my games. Rather, I want it to be there, ready to launch in the background without having to change a cable or flip the channel over. I want it to be a standalone application, not something I reach by shouting commands at my console. I want games and TV, not games and TV.
PlayTV got it right. The application sat completely separate from the games I was playing, its only visible presence coming from the handy recording notifications as it worked away in the background without interruption. It only ever took up my hard drive space, not my gaming time.
It all worked through the one HDMI cable and – for the most part – the one box. I found it a revelation at first. I had only ever experienced low resolution built-in TV before and I had never actively recorded shows for myself, being forced to put up with monotonous adverts, eating up my time as I had to find the right moment to watch TV live.
Now though, PlayTV is a poor shadow of itself, often dropping recordings and at times skipping them altogether; freezing as I enter the library and crashing when I try to delete items. I won’t be glad to be rid of a TV recorder but I definitely won’t miss the deteriorated, outdated shell of a piece of software that it has evolved into.
In fact, now I find myself only using it as background noise on a rainy afternoon, a device to visualise the news as it happens, an occasional (extremely occasional) tool for live sporting events or to watch the latest episode of Doctor Who as it airs.
I’ve watched more and more through Netflix recently; a similarly separate but much more solid application which also works through my PS3. Perhaps the next generation of TV apps could take a few hints from this and early PlayTV; we don’t need anything fancy, just a service that works, plays in HD where possible and sits away in the background, far from interrupting the game you’re playing.
So, Sony, all I ask of you is a more stable, more robust – yet functionally the exact same – PlayTV HD, not only integrated separately without fuss but announced that way too. When you take to the stage in a few weeks just focus on the games, please. After all, that’s why I bought my consoles in the first place, everything else is just a bonus.