Playstation TV coming this fall to the US and EU: will it fix Vita TV’s mistakes?
I know many Sony fans here asked for it: Sony just announced at E3 2014 that the Vita TV, which until now was a Japan/Asia exclusive product, is finally coming to the US and Canada (Update: Also Europe, thanks to @Wargio for the confirmation), probably around October or November this year. It is rebranded as the Playstation TV, an interesting point on which I’ll dig a bit more in this article.
What is the Playstation TV?
The Playstation TV, or Vita TV, is more or less a Playstation Vita without an integrated controller or a screen. It plugs into your TV, and you control it with a PS3 or PS4 controller (Dualshock 3 or Dualshock 4). It features the possibility to remote-play your PS4 in another room, compatibility with “most” PS Vita titles (I’ll get back on that), and apparently will have Playstation Now (video game streaming service) compatibility.
I initially claimed the Playstation TV was Sony’s best product idea in years. When I finally got my hands on the device about a year ago (I live in Japan), the product terribly disappointed me (see my review here). It was below average as a gaming system, and below average as a TV set top box: limited Vita compatibility, lack of support for the main video services (No Netflix support, no youtube app!!!),… etc. And the Vita TV software in Japan hasn’t improved much over the year, neither did the games compatibility: we got a tiny update this year with a few more games added on the Japanese device.
New features: will Playstation TV be better than the Vita TV?
The Vita TV in Japan was an experiment. The Playstation TV in the US will most likely bring new exciting features, and will hopefully be a more polished product, for the US audience which already has an overcrowded set-top box market.
Playstation Now, Sony’s new game streaming service, is supposed to be compatible with the Playstation TV. That would make it a killer gaming platform, letting you play PS3 titles, and potentially PS2 titles in the future as well. (I wouldn’t put too much hopes on PS4 titles. Not that it wouldn’t be technically doable, but I would expect Sony to try and sell actual PS4 hardware a little bit more before pushing for a PS4 game streaming service).
The Playstation TV will also let you play the PS4 remotely, allowing you to play on the PS4 even if someone in your household is already using your main TV. This feature was added recently to the VitaTV in Japan as well, it is a nice feature but is not new. The Vita itself does that as well.
The lack of Netflix support on the Japanese Vita TV was understandable (Netflix is not officially available in Japan, although the scene has shown that Netflix actually works fine on the Vita TV), but the PS Vita in the US already has Netflix compatibility, so it should be available on day one on the Playstation TV for the US. What about Youtube? Youtube was available on the Vita in Japan, but not on the Vita TV. There’s a risk the same problem happens on the US Playstation TV.
Actually, the PlaystationTV page is extremely fuzzy on what Video/Music applications will be available for it, only pushing their own services (Playstation Store for movies and Music Unlimited for music). What about Pandora, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, etc…? We’ll have to wait and see, but there’s a risk some of those won’t be available at launch.
The last concern is obviously gaming. As Sony’s CEO carefully stated, the Playstation TV will play “most” Vita titles. This means the same type of whitelist that exists on the Vita TV in Japan will probably exist on the Playstation TV in the US. In other words, “most” titles is a blank statement. In Japan, Vita TV supports only 17% of the Vita titles. “most” means 50% or more in my vocabulary, so I’ll be waiting to see if Playstation TV holds its promise on that. My bet: it won’t.
Gamers have already suggested solutions to Sony about this: let the gamers make the decision to run the game instead of enforcing it on the device. Show a disclaimer message in the form of “this game hasn’t been marked as compatible with the Playstation TV. You may run into glitches or impossibilities to complete the game, if some features such as the touch screen are required by the game”. This would be perfectly acceptable, in particular since the PSN store does not prevent Vita TV owners from purchasing a non compatible game today: it just gives a message along the lines of “this game is not compatible with the Vita TV. Do you wish to proceed?” . The experience to launch the game should basically be the same as the one when purchasing it. Warn the user, but let them try it.
The Playstation TV will most likely bring a more polished product to the US market than the Vita TV was last year on the JP market. Will it be a game changer though? Not unless it ships with enough games and applications to make it both a good set top box AND a good console, not below average on both fronts, like the Vita TV was.
Is the Playstation TV going to have a slot for Vita cartridges?
Early rumors after E3 said that the E3 presentation did not mention anything about Vita cartridges support, and that the videos carefully avoided showing the slot position, which can be found on the Japanese Vita TV. Because of that, some people assumed the physical Vita games support got removed from the US Playstation TV.
It would make sense, from a cost reduction perspective on Sony’s side, and depending on how strong they feel about the digital market in the US. However, it is also known that Sony is trying to not irate the physical distribution market (their partners), and removing physical cartridge support from a new Vita product could lead to a bad reputation that’s not worth the cost.
The official specifications of the Playstation TV will put an end to these concerns, as they do mention the physical Vita cartridge slot, so unless this is a typo on their end, it is safe to assume the Playstation TV Will support physical cartridges.
Will the Playstation TV be any different from the Vita TV in terms of hardware/firmware?
Now that the cartridge slot issue above is addressed, one question I have (and that probably many VitaTV owners have today, especially those who imported it to the US), is if the Playstation TV will be in all points similar to the Japanese TV. The underlying question here is, with the VitaTV see a firmware update bringing it compatibility with US accounts, US games, Netflix, and Playstation Now? That would be great for me and a good reason to not throw the device away.
From a technical perspective it would make sense for Sony that the Playstation TV is exactly the same hardware as the VitaTV. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to switch my VitaTV to a US account by the end of the year 🙂
Why Playstation TV? Why not Vita TV?
To me the most important part of this announcement is the name of the device. Sony deliberately chose to not name the Device “Vita TV” like was the case in Japan. I can’t see any approach that makes this sound good for the future of the Playstation Vita. It means Sony is trying to push their “Playstation” branding more than the Vita, and I see this as acceptance that the Vita is a failure from a market perspective, an additional sign that the device is really not doing that well, and that the Vita brand is going to be deprecated. Coupled with the limited announces related to the Vita at E3, I can’t say that I see a bright future for the PS Vita here, so this choice of name is making me worried for our beloved portable device. Funny, for a console which name is the opposite of being dead.
The Playstation TV sounds to me like it will fix some of the VitaTV mistakes by bringing more games through Playstation Now, and hopefully more video services to accommodate the US market. Still, I can’t see how it will fix *all* of the VitaTV issues, so it might turn out to be an OK product.
Are you waiting for the Playstation TV?
more details: Sony Playstation TV official page