PlayStation TV: Gamer's Guide

Putting the word “TV” at the end of a product name creates a certain expectation that it’ll be a capable media device, but don’t let that fool you: the PlayStation TV is a gaming machine first, and even then, it’s one that might struggle to find its place.

The PlayStation TV is a stripped-down PS Vita. All of the internals remain the same (GPU, RAM, etc.), but there’s no controller, screen or touch input. Instead you get HDMI output, Ethernet, and a single USB port. In that sense, it’s a tiny home console, much like the Ouya. It also includes a PS Vita game cart slot as well as a slot for Sony’s proprietary memory card.

To operate the PSTV you need a PS3 or PS4 controller, or a TV and remote compatible with HDMI-CEC input (this would let you use a regular TV remote for basic navigation of the operating system and apps, but it’s not suitable for gaming).

Since it has a cart slot and all the Vita internals, the PlayStation TV is designed for playing Vita games on a big screen, and most PSV games work well with a SIXAXIS or DualShock 4 controller. Touchscreen input can be emulated with the DualShock 4’s touch pad.

It’s not a media player. Despite its name suggesting otherwise, the PSTV is woefully inept at media playback, lacking any ability to stream media from an online source or even a local drive connected via USB. To play video or music, or view still images, you’ll need to either copy them from a networked PC/PS3 or a USB-connected drive to your device, where it’ll sit and take up space on your precious (and pricey) PSV memory card. Really the only streaming capability it has is that it can connect to a local DLNA server (usually a PC) and stream any shared content from there.

There is no Netflix, Hulu, BBC, YouTube, or support for the PSTV, and from the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like that support is coming any time soon (or at all, according to Netflix). You can use the system’s built-in browser to view online videos, but that’s about it.

One of the PSTV’s biggest weaknesses is that Sony simply took the PSV interface and dumped it on a TV. There’s been no effort made to adapt the touch-based interface to one controlled via a gamepad, and the bulbous design looks childish and oversized on any TV. Small tasks like app-switching and even navigating through the diagonally-aligned interface are a chore; there’s nothing intuitive or easy-to-use about the OS design when it’s presented in this format.

This is where we look at the real question: why would you buy a PSTV? Its price is the most attractive part, putting it in the same league as an entry-level Android mini-PC, although it’s far more powerful and is more capable in terms of gaming. In terms of media playback, though, it falls behind by miles.

That starting price is deceptive, however. In order to use the PSTV for what it’s truly designed (gaming), you will need a decent-sized memory card. Currently the 32GB card retails for about $ 56, which, together with the RRP of a PSTV/DualShock 4 bundle, amounts to $ 232. For another thousand rand (or less with some retail specials) you could buy a PS3 or a Wii U, both of which have equal or greater libraries of games, more storage, and vastly superior media playback capabilities.

To make the PSTV an attractive buy, you’ll either need to have a rock-hard budget, or a very specific need for its uses as a home gaming console.

Since it’s a PSV on the inside, the PSTV has access to the entire digital catalogue of PSOne and PSP classics, as well as all PSV digital downloads, which makes it a great choice for those who want a retro gaming console on the cheap. Just be aware that PSV games are not designed to be viewed at this size; many titles show their low-spec restrictions (especially when it comes to texture size) when viewed on a 32” or bigger TV.

Additionally, should you have a PS4 connected elsewhere in the house, you can use the PSTV for Remote Play.

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