A year after its release in Japan, the PlayStation TV (also known as the Vita TV) is available for the Western market. While the mini-console finally gives players the opportunity to play Vita games on a big screen, its release is held back by a problematic game lineup and absence of some important features.
The PSTV is an adorable little console, roughly the size of a deck of cards. It is both thinner and shorter than the Vita, making it even more portable than the handheld device – the PSTV is basically a Vita without the screen or controls, and with a video output instead of the Vita’s mystery port. The PSTV has ports for a power adapter (which is different from the Vita’s), USB for controller syncing and charging, Ethernet in, and HDMI out. It also has slots for a Vita memory card and Vita game card. Unfortunately, there is no headphone jack, so if you have lackluster speakers, you’re stuck with them.
One of the biggest advantages of the PSTV is that it provides Vita owners the opportunity to play games they already have on a TV or computer monitor. You can take your memory card right out of the Vita, pop it into the PSTV, and load up whatever game you want (assuming it works). The PSTV up-scales to 720p or 1080i, or down-scales to 480p – I’m not sure why this is an option but the native 544p is not. On a 32-inch television, I didn’t notice any difference between the 720p and 1080i, but the 480p was fairly blurry and instantly reminded me of the Wii’s visuals. Any screenshots (hold the PS button and Start at the same time) are taken in the Vita’s native resolution, so I can’t give any visual examples of the differences between the Vita itself and the up-scaled PSTV.
What I can tell you is that the Vita looks a lot better, mostly thanks to an OLED screen with great color saturation and a high pixel density. Even if you have a good TV or monitor, the difference in pixel density is immediately noticeable. Here’s one example from Persona 4 Golden:
Depending on the size and resolution of the screen you’re using, you may be able to see the sharp edges on the character models. On the Vita, this is hardly noticeable, but the increased size utilized by the PSTV means that these visual details are more pronounced. Regardless, Persona 4 Golden definitely looks a lot better on a TV than the PS2/PS3 version of the original game.
On the other hand, PSP and PS1 classics look far better on the Vita. As one example, Persona 3 Portable doesn’t look awful when it’s on the Vita’s small screen, but blown up on a TV it looks terrible, much worse than Persona 3 FES on the PS2 or PS3. The difference in original resolution is made more obvious by quadrupling the number of pixels, and the actual up-scaling hardly helps.
For the sake of comparison, I tested out both versions of Atelier Rorona Plus for the PS3 and Vita. The results were very straightforward – the PS3 version and Vita version (on the Vita) looked comparable in visual quality. However, the Vita version on the PSTV is clearly worse than either, with weaker colors and a slightly blurrier image.
While visual quality is about what I expected, the greatest flaw of the PSTV is that every Vita game will not work. And even those that do “work” don’t function at 100%. Initially, I expected that only those that require touch controls wouldn’t be supported by the console – as it turns out, that’s not the case.
Surprisingly, the only two games I own that would not open on the PSTV are Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth 1 and Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment. I have no idea why they aren’t supported – neither of them even use the touchscreens substantially.
What the PSTV does to manage touch controls is a bit odd – you need to click in the analog sticks, and then use them to simulate the front and back touchscreens. So, with the above image, the white hand is controlled by the left stick and simulates the front touchscreen, and the red hand is controlled by the right stick and simulates the back touchscreen. After clicking in the sticks and bringing these onscreen, holding L2, R2, or X will activate the “touching” and then they can be moved around as necessary.
While this might work on paper, it is woefully inadequate, and it only took one game to realize that. In the rhythm game Hatsune Miku Project DIVA-f, there are “scratch” notes that are triggered by sliding your finger on either of the touchscreens. On the Vita, this is simple enough, but it is utterly impossible on the PSTV. You need to switch from the face buttons to clicking an analog stick and then attempting to move it back and forth accurately enough to match the timing. And in order to get back to using the face buttons, you need to close the touch controls, otherwise X will only activate the touch feature instead of corresponding to onscreen X notes. So basically, it’s impossible to manage effectively.
Another big issue is the apps that are not available as of right now, such as Netflix or Amazon Video. While Sony intended for this to be a competitor of devices such as the Roku and Apple TV, they seem to have forgotten what the most popular video service in the world is. Well, besides YouTube.
Sony’s other selling point for the PSTV was PS4 and PS Now streaming. Since I don’t have a PS4 and am not willing to pay for an overpriced beta, I obviously can’t test these out. However, Sony recommends either connecting the consoles directly via Ethernet or at least having them relatively near each other for best results. So if you have a PSTV with a laggy connection, it’s most likely the result of a stressed network or a weak connection, either in proximity or strength. Or you just have a faulty product and need to exchange it.
As a whole, the PSTV does almost everything it’s supposed to well enough. While it was revealed ahead of time that some of the software would not be compatible, the absence of things as basic as a Netflix app or the vast majority of Vita games is extremely disappointing.
What Sony needs to do is let the player use a Vita as the controller for a PSTV. This could eliminate any issues with touchscreen-using games, hopefully allow every program and game to function properly, and would create an even greater incentive for Vita owners to double-dip. Both the PSTV and Vita have Bluetooth capabilities, so I’d imagine that this is a possibility – it just depends on whether or not Sony think’s it’s worth pursuing.
Price – You can get the console itself for 99 USD or a bundle with a Dualshock 3 controller for 139 USD.
Recommendation – If you’re looking for the Vita experience on the big screen, are interested in PS4 streaming to other televisions, and simply don’t have any use for a handheld console, this is for you. However, with the limited library and flawed functionality of certain controls, you should get the Vita instead. Then, if you want the TV experience, get the PSTV.
Basically, the Vita is excellent (besides the price of memory cards), but the PSTV is a step back with a few changes that, while nice to have, aren’t completely necessary. Sony should have just had video output on the Vita to begin with.
Here is the “full list” of compatible games, according to Sony. As a few exceptions, I noticed that Atelier Rorona Plus: The Alchemist of Arland, Minecraft PS Vita Edition (the demo at least), and Hatsune Miku Project DIVA-f aren’t on the list, although they worked for me. For Project DIVA-f, I have a Japanese copy, so I don’t know if that makes a difference.
Weird extra note – Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed works on the PSTV… sometimes. I don’t know if it’s something on my end or not, but the first time I opened it I had no issues, the second time I got the error message, and the third time it opened again. It’s not on Sony’s list, so I’d recommend that you assume it does not work.
It seems like hitting the “update” button might be what triggers it, but it doesn’t affect the other two games that don’t work. So if you run into the same problem, at least try that before writing it off as a complete failure. I don’t know what the deal is, but I’m just glad I get to beat the crap out of people and strip them on a bigger screen.
Update 11/4/14 – Akiba’s Trip is now working naturally, and Sword Art Online is working after hitting the update button. Hyperdimension Neptunia still will not work at all.