The PlayStation TV is pretty much the definition of a niche product. Sony’s PlayStation portables have both initially been pitched as bringing home console gaming to your pocket, but with the PS TV we see the Vita’s shifting market position brought even clearer into focus. The PS TV is all about Remote Play.
The UK version of the device – set for release on Friday 14th November – comes in a surprisingly heavy box, with just about enough to get you up and running. Much of the weight comes from the power adapter, alongside a spare HDMI cable, a few bits of paper like a quick start guide, a code for a few PSN games and, of course, the rather diminutive little black box that is the PlayStation TV itself. If you need another controller – to avoid having to re-sync your controller between devices – that’s up to you to provide, and at £85 for the PS TV with at least another £40-odd for a DualShock 4, that brings the overall price rather close to that of an actual PS Vita.
Switching it on, the first thing you’ll see is just how chunky and big the Vita OS is when blown up to fill a TV screen. Relatively little has been done to really adapt it and the set up process will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s had to do the same on the handheld. Navigation is handled by the button-based controls that were added some time ago, since touch is obviously not an option.
Without touch, and identifying itself as a separate device, this means that quite a few games and apps will simply refuse to work. A warning pops up to say that compatibility needs to be patched in for things like YouTube or touch-heavy games like LittleBigPlanet. Sony have said that compatibility is really down to developers and content providers, but it does mean that you’ll need to look before you leap.
Having said that, there is a large list of compatible games that you can check and you can simply plug in an existing memory card to use instead of the meagre 1GB of memory that’s built in and play games straight away – however, you’ll need to be using the same account as your Vita, and you will lose all folders and organisation you once had. Compatibility is also helped slightly by the ability to simulate touch with a menu option and a click of the thumb sticks, and there’s always the possibility that DualShock controls and PS TV support will be added in too games over time. Killzone Mercenary is perhaps the most notable example of this, and it actually holds up rather well on a larger screen.
Considering the hardware in the box, it looks remarkably good, thanks largely to the technical prowess of the Killzone engine, but you can always tell that it’s being upscaled. The PS TV has a few options for resolutions, with 480p, 720p and 1080i on offer. With Vita software, that means they’re upscaled by default from 960×544 to 1280×720, and then potentially upscaled once again when the signal reaches your TV. It’s a shame that, given thee Vita’s base resolution is effectively a quarter of 1080p, there’s no ability to upscale straight to 1080p for a simpler and perhaps slightly higher quality end result.
However, 720p does come in handy for Remote Play, as the resolution at which the PS4’s encoder chip works. As long both console have the same PAN account, getting underway is as simple as setting Remote Play to be active on the PS4 and then searching with the PS4 Link app. It automatically hunts down and connects to your PS4, though if it’s not quite working right off the bat, you can connect manually by inputting a few codes.
The real key is that you need an absolutely stable and relatively speedy connection here. With weak Wi-Fi on either end, you’ll see artifacting and even a complete loss of connection with an error saying that my connection speed was too low and necessitating me to step down a rung in quality, so a strong WiFi network is a minimum. The PS TV seemed to only be able to manage 1 or 2 bars of WiFi which struggled with this, equivalent to a PS Vita Slim but much worse than an iPad and iPhone which both reported full signal. The best option, however, is to connect with Ethernet and Powerline plugs will really come in handy to handle this through your home’s electrical cabling. Of course, that’s another potential expense on top of the PS TV and extra controller, even if Powerline plugs can be relatively cheap these days.
By and large it does a good job, just as Remote Play does to a PS Vita. On a TV screen though, image quality naturally suffers compared to the real deal, with obviously lower resolution, noticeable compression and a difficulty with processing really high motion that’s identical to that which you can see when watching a PS4 stream of capturing your own Share button footage. Bearing in mind that this is intended for secondary, often smaller TVs, 720p and these compromises might well be good enough.
The potential enjoyment killer, depending on the game, is with input lag, and I found that even with the best connection I could manage, this was noticeable. It might be good enough for most single player games and cooperative play, but if you’re wanting to play a game online that’s centred around ultra responsive controls and 60fps, then 720p30 is a big step down.
To try to get a feel for the added input latency, I used Battlefield 4’s Test Range as my testbed. Counting frames from the point at which the trigger clicks to the first report of the gun (a somewhat imprecise measure, I know), I found the differing possible connections gave somewhat different results. The standard input lag natively on the PS4 came in at 83-100ms, with a full Ethernet connection not far behind at 133-166ms. That was the best case scenario yet was already at up to double the input latency, with a direct WiFi connection to the PS4 at 166-200ms, PS TV on WiFi and PS4 on Ethernet at 233-266ms, and with “normal” image quality to get a stable WiFi connection via my router, I managed 200-250ms.
Going back and forth, the difference in responsiveness will be rather pronounced, but it is something that you can dull your senses and become accustomed to, to a certain degree. It’s the same kind of issue that people will have when it comes to using SharePlay, indulging in a PlayStation Now rental (for which the PS TV will also be usable when this arrives in the EU next year), but this latency pales in comparison to the much more refined experience that you get from a Wii U and its Gamepad.
Still, though it’s not something that really fits with my particular circumstances, I do keep coming back to that situation where the main screen is occupied and you want to play a game. It could be that a friend is over, where the ability to hook up multiple controllers, log in to separate accounts and play a few rounds of FIFA will come in handy, or the living room’s just too noisy and you want a little peace and quiet to enjoy a game’s story. Sneakily getting a few bounties done in Destiny while on the bog will probably remain the preserve of a Vita, though.
Remote Play’s hook is quite a compelling one and a great selling point that Sony seem to be doing quite well out of, but it’s something that must necessarily be tempered by circumstance. Though the minimum bar for entry isn’t all that high, you could quickly find yourself spending around the £150 mark to get the best playing conditions out of the PlayStation TV, but even then, you’ll need to able to adapt to more noticeable input lag and a focus more on single and cooperative play.