Now we have PlayStation TV – a tiny box that allows you to replicate your PS4’s screen on another TV in the house by streaming it over your home network. It'll play a truly massive selection of Vita, PSP and PSone games, too.
So is it the PS4’s first must-have accessory, or a missed opportunity?
Livin’ la Vita loca
PlayStation TV is essentially a Vita without the screen, onboard controls or battery, which means it’s very small. You plug it into your telly using the supplied HDMI cable and use a PlayStation controller (DualShock 3 or 4 will work) to navigate its Vita-style menus.
The anonymous black box isn’t much to look at but it makes Sky’s Now TV box or Apple TV look decidedly chunky, plus it weighs just enough that you won’t think you’ve spent £85 on a box full of random wires and magic fluff.
Sony recommends you use ethernet to hard wire it to your network. While we tried it like that (see box out) we figured most people don’t have their router very close to their second TV and even fewer have ethernet pipes plumbed into the walls, so we’ve done most of the testing unplugged and over Wi-Fi using a Linksys X3000 Wireless-N router. If PS TV is supposed to be a gadget of convenience it should be treated like one.
With the network doing minimal heavy lifting (some simultaneous web browsing, a FaceTime call, playing music from Spotify) it streams from the PS4 without much fuss, although it frequently takes more than one attempt to make the initial connection. There’s a barely perceptible hint of latency but nothing that makes games unplayable. We were able to play FIFA 15 against the computer without it affecting our finely tuned one-touch passing game too much.
Online we had more trouble. Playing FIFA against a friend it felt a bit like we’d had a few pints, with reaction time of the players to our inputs noticeably slowed down. Then again perhaps it was our players that had been down the pub. It probably didn’t help that a film was being streamed on Netflix elsewhere in the house but that’s real-world testing for you.
Switching to a game that relies on fewer inputs, we fired up GTA V’s new first-person mode (above) and set about causing chaos in Los Santos. Aside from the downgrade to 720p graphics, the responsiveness is such that you’d be forgiven for thinking the PS4 was connected directly to the TV, even with two videos streaming on another computer. Driving is twitchy (as it is when you play on a PS4) and when you come off a bike you can almost feel the warm asphalt connect with Franklin’s face.
Basically it’s a no-go for competitive multiplayer but if someone interrupts your Far Cry 4 campaign and you really can’t wait to keep playing, you can happily switch to PS TV without your saved game suffering - just try not to use too big a TV or you’ll have to take a more noticeable graphical hit.
READ MORE: Far Cry 4 review
I'm lucky to have a flat with ethernet in every room, plus a fairly outrageously speedy internet connection, and that's obviously the way I tested out the PS TV when Mr. Wiggins allowed me a few days with it.
In fact, I tried it fully wired, then through a Netgear Powerline AV500 setup, and finally tried the Wi-Fi connection. And I'm actually very impressed by how consistent the performance was.
Like Tom W, I found the lag to be largely unnoticeable across all three connections. With Wi-Fi there seemed to be the odd flaw in the smoothness of the playback (as if occasionally a frame was dropped), but it's still a much more solid experience than you get with Remote Play on the Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact and even the Vita itself.
I'd still recommend going for a wired or Powerline setup if you can, though. That extra smoothness and reliability can be a matter of (virtual) life and death.
As a standalone micro console it does a decent enough job. There’s a slot for any Vita games you might already own, a whole catalogue of old PlayStation games available to download and it comes with a voucher for three free games: OlliOlli, Velocity Ultra and Worms Revolution Extreme. Fun, but hardly the kind of games that make PlayStation TV a must-buy gadget.
Without any work to port them to a device without a touchscreen the transition isn’t entirely seamless either. We downloaded Hotline Miami, which we’d previously bought for the Vita, and it made references to ‘dragging the screen’ which didn’t have much effect when we tried it on our seven-year-old 19in TV.
You can’t argue with Fez, Spelunky and the aforementioned top-down massacre ‘em up but when installing just two of those games takes up over 600MB of the PS TV’s 1GB onboard storage you’re going to run out of room before you can say “thankfully it’s got a memory card slot for expandable storage”.
But when all of these games are often just as easily played on a PS3 you do have to wonder if it’s worth buying a second-hand one instead, especially considering the Blu-ray skills and huge catalogue of still brilliant games available for it.
Sweet streams aren’t made of this
As a streamer it’s also far too limited right now. There’s no Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, iPlayer or any of the terrestrial catch-up services, meaning you’re restricted to what’s on the PlayStation Store. Oh, and it’s standard-def only. Try to fire up Netflix or iPlayer from the PS4 and you’ll get an error message telling you they’re not supported. In order to stream in HD you’d have to access the store via the PlayStation 4 and then stream it to the PS TV, and that just feels like a step too far for a few extra pixels.
It’s not the end of the world but you can get far more choice and better value for money from much cheaper boxes, albeit ones that don’t stream games from your PS4. Sony told us they were looking into making the existing PS4 versions of the apps compatible with Remote Play, or getting device-specific apps ported over for the new box.
Either way it’s impossible to shake the feeling that PlayStation TV has launched without really being quite ready. For something that’s been available in Japan for a year already that’s just not good enough.
PlayStation TV verdict
Playstation TV’s USP is second-screen gaming and on that front there really is nothing else out there like it.
If your main TV is regularly contested territory and you have a sturdy network this is a much easier option than unplugging your PS4 and decamping to a different room whenever you don’t win custody of the living room.
Whether that’s worth £85, though, is a different matter entirely. The performance is impressive but there's just enough compromise for it to be avoided when playing multiplayer, and the drop in resolution is noticeable if you're on a second-room TV that isn't tiny.
If it also had a load of video streaming services built-in we'd be very tempted, but as it is this pony has too few tricks for a wholehearted recommendation.