Sony’s latest effort to turn your Playstation into a set-top box comes in the form of Play TV. Citizen Game investigates.
PlayTV allows you to watch, pause, rewind and record digital television on PS3. That is what it says on the box, but the real question remains; is it any good?
PlayTV is possibly the most underwhelming piece of hardware design to be branded with the SONY name. The unit is extremely light and has an unsatisfying hollow sounding thud when the unit is knocked. The box features a single aerial port, USB port with an ugly looking power light. Regretfully the unit doesn’t even replicate the PS3’s glossy laminated finish.
Installation is simple yet time consuming. The compact unit is only has two cable connections. A conventional RF TV antenna connection and a USB connection which powers the unit.
So far so good, although using up a USB is a pain if you have a current model with only two USB front mounted ports. It would be nice from an aesthetic standpoint if a USB port was located at the rear of the console, so the PlayTV unit could be hidden discreetly.
The system software takes up a surprisingly large 600mb of space, and the installation seems overly long with the install taking around 10 minutes. After the lengthy software install the channel search proceeds. Dependent upon your location and signal strength you should be able to receive up to 48 digital TV channels and 24 radio stations with no subscription.
The Menus have an impressive style and have taken more than a little inspiration from the Lumines game. All menus have a faux glass form that is present through all menus.
The simple home screen contains all menus: Live TV, Guide (EPG), Schedule (programmes you have queued for recording), Library (Programs recorded), Find and record (a search function), Manual, Settings and Update. Moving from option to option is animated in a rotating motion, with selections exploding into the next menu.
When you are not watching TV programs your attention will be on the EPG. Two versions of the EPG are viewable. A full screen multilayered option or a smaller in program option which allows you to scroll through channels in a smaller menu at the bottom of the screen. Recording is simple and instantaneous, where a single button click programs immediately start to record. A 2nd click will present you with a conformation screen asking you if you wish to stop. Scheduled to record programs turn the box red, and behind the text a bar indicates how far you’ve got through the programme. Recorded programs approximately take up 1GB per hour of recorded content which could present a problem for users with the 20 or 40GB version Playstation. Recordings are always recorded at the highest possible clarity with no options to reduce recording quality to save hard disk space. One minor complaint about recordings is that there is no feature to record subtitles (Closed Captions) or audio descriptions even if they are turned on prior to recording.
There’s also the option of an on-screen remote but this is clunky, dominates the screen and frustrating to use. The units dual tuners for watching one show while recording another is well spec’ed but the inability to simultaneously record two channels is disappointing.
The lack of an RF output on the box is a questionable omission, unlike most set-top-boxes and DVD recorders it means you can’t route your aerial’s signals onwards to another device, such as your TV. Another missing feature although slightly more obscure is a conditional access module (CAM) which would allow viewers to access additional premium channels (Setanta sports, TopupTV etc) with the use of a subscription card. But the biggest disappointment with playTV is the missing feature normally standard on all digital video recorders. The series link feature synonymous with Sky+ and Tivo is notable by is absence, true you have the ability to queue up to 25 programs in your Schedule but missing a ‘Set and forget’ series link feature is a sorry omission.
The really interesting feature and unique selling point is the ability to watch TV on your PlayStation Portable from anywhere in the world using PlayTV, turning the PS3 into a Slingbox. The live TV streaming is crisp and smooth. Viewing recorded content was occasionally less stable and when used locally, seemed to lack a little of the range of the live content, but was still easily viewable. You can already watch videos stored on your PS3′s hard drive but with PlayTV you can now watch live TV, programmes you’ve recorded to the hard drive or schedule programmes to be recorded in the future.
Because WiFi coverage is still limited to occasional hotspots, it would be nice to have the ability to directly copy content onto the PSP for viewing on the go. Unfortunately, various legalities prevent this from being reality so there’s no function to export your recordings to your PSP. However, content can be exported to the PS3′s XMB and for the technically aware with the use of various media converters a little research and time you can achieve anything.
An impressive buffer management system has been integrated into the remote access feature of playTV. If you are likely to say on one channel for a lengthy period of time you can increase the buffer size to improve the picture quality. This feature is a must for televised sporting events or programs with continually changing pictures.
During reviewing I played many Playstation games released and as of writing this review have not noticed any significant issues during recording. PlayTV was designed to ensure that game play would always take priority as the Playstation 3′ is first and foremost a games machine.
With a RRP of £69.99 Play TV is perhaps a little expensive and the hardware RF unit feels and looks cheap, but it’s useful, especially if you looking to de-clutter and minimise your entertainment centre.
Firmware reviewed – 1.02 (released 12/01/2009)
For more information about freeview and the channels available in your area visit – http://www.freeview.co.uk/.
Storage capacity – Hard disk (Via PS3)
Controller input – PlayStation controller or BD Remote
Connectivity – USB 2.0, Coaxial
Dimensions – 140 x 70 x 39.5mm
Weight – 113g
Site Name – Kilvey Hill
Region – Wales
NGR – SS672940
Avg Aerial Height – 232
Aerial Group – AV
Multiplex 1 BBC
Multiplex 2 Digital 3&4
Multiplex A SDN
Multiplex B BBC
Multiplex C NGW
Multiplex D NGW