It's perhaps indicative of the PlayStation TV's place in Sony's overall hardware portfolio that we decided to delay our review of the microconsole during the busy Christmas period while we focused our attention on the onslaught of PlayStation 4 software instead. Announced in Japan over a year ago, there was a swell of enthusiasm surrounding the Japanese giant's first foray into the crowded set-top box space, but early reports of sell outs overseas quickly gave way to a general lack of enthusiasm from both consumers and the manufacturer alike. Still, despite a petite install base in its primary market, the firm ploughed ahead with the release of the diminutive device in Western regions all the same, leaving us scratching our heads as to why.
Don't get us wrong: this is an occasionally awesome unit – but its audience is so scarily specific that it makes the handheld upon which it's based look more mainstream than Taylor Swift's new CD. Essentially a PlayStation Vita without a screen, the credit card-sized console has been sturdily built, with its matte black plastic exterior feeling alarmingly robust despite its microscopic size. Unfortunately, the unit is light as a feather, which is impressive at first, but quickly leads to frustration as you attempt to get it to sit in place with a series of heavy cables inserted into its rear. Ports include everything from HDMI through to your standard LAN socket, as well as a memory card slot and a USB input for charging your controllers.
The device operates with either a DualShock 3 or a DualShock 4, and depending on which package you purchase, you may or may not have to supply your own input solution. This is arguably the first sign that Sony's not entirely sure who the device is intended for, as its low price point indicates that it's targeted at more casual consumers, but the absence of a controller as standard suggests that it thinks existing fans may appreciate it more. In truth, only a very small subsection of either market are likely to be satisfied – and even then, the unit comes with its fair share of quirks that you're going to have to tolerate until the firm actually enhances the experience with some real post-release support. Given the reportedly soft sales, you may be waiting a while.
The first of the major problems is that selling this product with the PlayStation TV moniker seems like a violation of the trade description act. Yes, the device technically outputs to a television screen – in 720p or 1080i only, we're afraid – but that title carries expectations these days, and the manufacturer has failed to meet them. At the time of typing, the likes of Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and even YouTube are all incompatible with the unit, and in fact, your only real media streaming options come courtesy of Sony's own Video Unlimited storefront or a new DLNA application which will allow you to stream content from a home server. Considering that there are fridge freezers with better media support, the options here are staggeringly shoddy for a mass market appliance.
Fortunately, the product's gaming aspect fares a little better, but it's still riddled with inconsistencies across the board. Of the Vita games that are compatible, you're going to have to deal with a slightly blurry picture due to the image being upscaled, but controller response is fine, and there's even an option to map any touch screen commands to the DualShock's analogue sticks. The problem is that there's no real rhyme or reason to the kind of content that's accessible; the likes of Freedom Wars and Killzone Mercenary work perfectly with the unit, but others like WipEout 2048 and Uncharted: Golden Abyss – which seem like they could be easily patched – don't. Worse still, we bought Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed on the understanding that it would function, but it doesn't.
The library is boosted by the addition of PSone and PlayStation Portable support, but exactly how much mileage you're going to get out of either of those will depend entirely upon your tastes. Remote Play is the more mainstream Trojan horse that Sony will be banking on to get the box into a meaningful number of homes, then, and that's evidenced by the big sticker on the packaging that gleefully states that the unit is capable of streaming PS4 games. To be fair, this works well, but your experience will hinge heavily upon your home network setup. Using a wired LAN will prompt the best results, but may prove impossible in most households. As such, you may have to make do with a wireless connection, which generally works fine if you don't stray too far from your router.
Either way, you're going to experience a noticeable degree of latency, which can make or break some games. We found that the likes of Child of Light and Valiant Hearts performed spectacularly when streamed to another room, but there was too much input delay for us to really progress in DriveClub or Grand Theft Auto V. This observation is at least consistent with the rest of the PlayStation TV experience: not everything works, but the parts that do operate adequately. Comically, the same can be said of the user interface, which is clearly more suited to touch (the soft keyboard in particular), but it gets the job done, and actually looks rather cheerful when blown up to the size of a big screen.
This all leaves PlayStation TV feeling a little confused; it's almost as though it was produced by a popular team within Sony's internal R&D department, and no one had the heart to tell them that it wouldn't cut it as a commercial product. With a lack of supported software and a dearth of entertainment options, the Japanese giant's first foray into the microconsole space is unlikely to turn on many – especially when a second-hand PS3 can be purchased for a somewhat similar fee. The few that can see its allure, meanwhile, will still find a flawed format, but if you're aware of the risks and reckon that a full-screen version of Freedom Wars is worth it, then we suppose that this is a natty little curio – just don't expect it to ever be much more than that.
Are you in tune with our PlayStation TV review, or do you reckon that we've been watching a different channel to you? Pump up your volume in the comments section below.