Friday, January 30, 2015

Buy PlayStation TV

Buy PlayStation TV




I think that I might genuinely love the PlayStation TV.

That being the case, you might be wondering why I've given it a 3 star review. Well, there are reasons for that. Hang in there and I'll get to them. But to begin with, maybe I should explain just what the PlayStation TV is, as there seems to be some confusion surrounding the purpose of the device.

In a nutshell, the PlayStation TV is a stripped down version of the PlayStation Vita. It runs the same OS, it has the same interface, and it plays the same software (with some caveats. More on that later.)

For a person like me, there are two major draws to this microscopic games console: it's between $100 and $150 cheaper than the Vita (depending on the model you buy) and can be connected to a television via HDMI. This is very important to me because I'm not keen on handheld gaming in general, especially when the device in question relies heavily on a touch screen interface. I have trouble keeping touch screens clean, and the Vita itself never feels particularly comfortable in my big Rock Bitter hands.

Because I'm not much of a mobile gamer, I never take the Vita out of the house and would greatly prefer to play my games on a TV. This console allows me to do that. The system is equipped with ports for both Vita memory cards and physical Vita game cards, so whether you prefer to buy Vita games digitally or physically, you're all set to play. The system is also capable of playing PS1 Classics and PSP games, although in this regard it only supports digital content as the system lacks a UMD port or a CD drive.

It's worth noting that the unit comes pre-packaged with an HDMI cable, which is something that was woefully missing from previous gen console releases. It doesn't come with a charger cable for the DualShock 3, but I got the version sans controller and game, so that's not too surprising. I suspect the bundle will probably come with the cable.

Unfortunately, the system continues to use Sony's proprietary (and expensive) memory cards. The upshot of this is that if you're a pre-existing Vita owner and you've already got a memory card full of content, you can pop it into the PlayStation TV and, after associating the console with your PSN account, continue to play that content immediately. The only downside is that when the PlayStation TV "rebuilds" the data base at first launch, any wallpapers you have set up or folders you have arranged on the Vita are gone. You'll need to re-organize everything manually. On the plus side, once you've done this you never have to do it again. I moved the memory card back and forth between the Vita and the PlayStation TV several times, and both systems kept their intended wallpapers and folders.

If you've ever used the Vita, then you're already familiar with the basic interface and functionality of the PlayStation TV. Given the lack of touch screen, the DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 is utilized to navigate the system's bubble-themed content screens. I was initially worried that Sony didn't redesign the UI to be more controller friendly, but it's surprisingly intuitive given that it was designed specifically with touch screen in mind.

At this point, you may be wondering how the games look when blown up on an HD television. The Vita's native resolution is 960 x 544, but the PlayStation TV upscales the image to 1280 x 720. This upscaling hardware was built into the original OLED Vita -- presumably they had intended to release a kit that allowed you to connect the Vita to your TV, as had previously been done with the PSP -- but it was stripped from the redesigned Vita when the decision was made to release a micro-console instead.

[UPDATE: I've been fooling around with the system settings and I've discovered that it's possible to play Vita, PSP and PS1 games at a resolution of 1080i. You have to manually select the resolution, and my TV display reports that the games do indeed output correctly while playing. The increase in quality is minimal to these eyes, but I thought it was worth mentioning all the same.]

So how do the games look? It depends on what you're playing. Vita games tend to look extremely nice. The first game I tested was Persona 4 Golden, and I was really impressed by how sharp and vivid the image quality was. I booted up the PS2 version of the game and looked at them side by side, and the Vita version looks significantly better on my 40" HD TV than the PS2 version, which is crazy when you consider the size of the Vita's screen. The PS2 is designed to output images at 640 x 480, so the Vita already natively outputs a better picture than the old non-HD consoles. There is some unappealing motion blur when wandering around the game world, but that's present in the PS2 version as well.

The next Vita games I tested were SteamWorld Dig and Muramasa Rebirth. The beautiful hand drawn art goes a long way in making these games look really good on the PlayStation TV. In the case of SteamWorld Dig, the resolution obviously isn't as good as that of the PS4 or PC version, but if the only version you can play is on the Vita, you're not going to notice the difference. Similar 2D titles -- Hotline Miami, Retro City Rampage, Dragon Fantasy Book 1 -- hold up well, too.

I then moved on to Ninja Gaiden Sigma Plus. I didn't play the game for a significant amount of time, but it holds up stunningly well given that it's a fully rendered 3D title. It's gorgeous to look at. Textures are smooth and clean, and character models are particularly impressive. There seems to be at least some level of anti aliasing at work, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Team Ninja were made aware that this game would one day need to be upscaled to TV sizes. In terms of performance, it runs just as it does on the Vita handheld but with the benefit of playing on a full size controller. For me, that makes a world of difference.

On a whim, I tried to boot up The Walking Dead: Season 1, fully expecting it to be incompatible, but was surprised to see it fully functional. The PlayStation TV emulates the touch screen and touch pad using the L and R stick. Clicking L3 brings up a pointer hand that can be used to select on-screen prompts, while clicking the R3 button brings up two pointer hands that represent your left and right index finger for use on the touch pad. It works well enough, but I wouldn't say it's the ideal way to play games like this. Hotline Miami is another example of a game that you'd probably be better off playing on the actual Vita or PS3, as the emulated touch screen cursors just don't feel right.

PSP games fare slightly worse than Vita titles. Unlike the Vita, PlayStation TV has absolutely no filtering options that I can find. This means that some games look significantly rougher than others, especially during cut scenes. In game text is often pixilated as well. I'm honestly not sure why the Bilinear filtering option has been stripped. Perhaps it will be restored in a future update.

I've only had time to test out Persona, Persona 3 Portable, Final Fantasy IV and Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Most of these games look passable on a 40" HD TV, but it's nothing to write home about. The hand drawn aesthetic of Lunar helps it a lot, but the pre-rendered cut scenes are blurry and the in-game text is jagged. Persona 3 Portable suffers from the same problem regarding text and art, but whenever you're in a dungeon or in combat -- the only time the game uses full-on 3D rendering -- the game looks a little bit better. Final Fantasy IV is the one stand out, looking as gorgeous as I've ever seen it even when blown up to 720p with no filtering. There's something to be said for well done, hand drawn sprites. They hold up.

Given that the native resolution of the PSP is 480 x 272, and given that the PlayStation TV seems to do more upscaling than the Vita itself, I'd say that this is about as good as we could ever hope for PSP games to look on an HD TV. They certainly look better than when using the original PSP's TV hookup kit.

PlayStation Classics look exactly the same as they do on the PS3, having been upscaled from their native resolution to 720p. Game play wise, using the PlayStation TV is an improvement over the Vita because the DualShock controller natively supports the use of the L2 and R2 buttons, whereas on the Vita you have to map those buttons to the touch screen or touch pad.

A good example of improved controls can be seen in Final Fantasy VIII: during combat, you have to hold down the select button and tap the triangle button in order to boost your Guardian Forces. On the Vita, this is a serious chore due to button placement, but on the PlayStation TV the layout is exactly as it was on the original DualShock controller. That helps a lot.

Now we come to one of the caveats I mentioned earlier in the review: not all games are compatible with the PlayStation TV.

Sony has released a list of compatible titles that number in the 700 range. That's an impressive launch library of Vita, PSP and PS1 games, but it doesn't hit all the major releases. Certain Vita titles that rely heavily on the touch screen and touch pad are not compatible with the PlayStation TV. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Soul Sacrifice, Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention, and Silent Hill: Book of Memories are but a few of the games that I was unable to test due to lack of compatibility.

There are some inexplicably incompatible titles in the PSP library as well. As of this writing, Final Fantasy III is unplayable on the PlayStation TV. Given that every other PSP game I own will play just fine, this one is a head-scratcher. I've also read that Sony has removed some PSP and PS1 games from their original compatibility list, including Metal Gear Solid and Valkyria Chronicles 2, and I can't seem to get Plants vs Zombies to play despite still being on Sony's list. So be sure to do a little research before purchasing a game.

Sony has promised that most upcoming Vita releases will work with the PlayStation TV -- Freedom Wars and Tales of Hearts R are both confirmed compatible -- and they will be trying to bring compatibility to some older titles as well. Ys: Memories of Celceta, Soul Sacrifice and Disgaea 3 are unplayable at launch, but the Japanese versions of these games received patches making them Vita TV-friendly earlier in the year. It is to be hoped that the North American releases will receive the same treatment.

Another key feature of the PlayStation TV is its ability to stream PS4 games to other TVs in the house. This is a great idea in theory, but how much you use this feature will depend on the quality of your Wi-Fi setup and whether or not you're willing to take a resolution/frame rate trade-off for the convenience of not having to move the PS4. The remote play feature only allows for output in 720p and 30fps regardless of whether the game you're streaming is capable of 1080p and 60fps. The sound also takes a quality hit, as the PlayStation TV does not support 5.1 surround sound. Your games will always be down mixed to stereo.

I haven't been able to test this feature myself as I do not yet own a PS4, but I plan to pick one up in January and will update my review accordingly once I've had time to try it.

Some people have asked whether the PlayStation TV would make a good replacement for set-top boxes such as the Roku or Apple TV. In its current state, I wouldn't recommend it for strictly movie/TV watching purposes. There just aren't enough apps. Netflix is supposed to be available on the system, but as of this writing it will not boot. That's immensely frustrating, as a part of the reason I wanted the system was to be able to move Netflix into other rooms of the house without having to move a console or PC.

Other notable multimedia apps -- such as Hulu Plus, Vudu, Amazon Instant, WWE Network and HBO GO -- are woefully absent. Perhaps as time goes on the PlayStation TV will grow to rival other streaming set-top boxes, but that time is not now.

So at the end of the day, is the PlayStation TV worth the $100 investment? Perhaps. It depends on what you expect to get out of the system. I'm a gamer who greatly prefers playing games on a TV rather than on a handheld, and with but a few noticeable exceptions, the PlayStation TV lets me do that. There are some holes in the library that desperately need filling, and the multimedia functionality could really stand to be beefed up, but if you're interested in Vita games but aren't interested in the handheld itself, the PlayStation TV is a middle-of-the-road solution that will allow you to experience some stellar games without cracking the bank wide open.