Handheld gaming has become a sort of paradise in recent years, with an endless parade of quality JRPGs and other forms of classic gaming, while still carrying the muscle to provide us with servicable ports of the games we play on our consoles. There’s just a single problem: they’re handhelds. Although gaming in general seems to be taking a noticable turn back toward the brand of gameplay that never went away from the pocket platforms, there are still plenty of classics that would risk being left by the wayside, relegated to handheld platforms, if Sony hadn’t taken particular notice.
Enter the PlayStation TV, marketed as the PlayStation Vita TV in Japan.
What is it?
The PlayStation TV is essentially the PlayStation Vita hardware with all of the bits that made it a handheld stripped out. What you’re left with is an actual game console roughly the size of a wallet, compatible with the DualShock 3s and DualShock 4s you already own. (A deluxe pack is also available with a DualShock 3 and an 8 GB memory card, which is what you’ll need at bare minimum anyway.) Here in the North American market, it’s being sold as a remote play and streaming device, ready to stream your PlayStation 4 games to any other TV in your house equipped with one of these devices, and it does indeed do that. However, that line of marketing does the device itself a grave disservice, not just because a mess of essential streaming apps are missing at launch, but because it does something else, too, and it does that something else rather well.
Why should I care?
Although the PlayStation TV has some compatibility woes even with a rather embarrassing list of PS Vita titles (more on that in a moment), it does have full compatibility with any PSone and PlayStation Portable title that is already Vita-compatible, arming it with a what’s what collection of the early PlayStation years from the onset. Of particular note is that every Final Fantasy game from the original (as part of the PSone’s Final Fantasy Origins) all the way up to Final Fantasy X-2 (as part of the X/X-2 HD Collection) is playable here, alongside such other JRPG masterpieces as Grandia, The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and Hexyz Force.
That isn’t to write the PlayStation TV off as a dedicated JRPG box, even though it certainly excels as one and serves as an essential piece of hardware for anyone who loves the genre. Other great classic PlayStation selections include R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, Twisted Metal 2, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Me and My Katamari, and CyberSled. For those curious, Sony has compiled a complete PSTV compatibility list over at the official website. In some cases, these games will be debuting on your TV with this system. In others, you’re just getting a nice opportunity to condense your PSone library into a smaller, digital form at a price you can at least call reasonable. It also plays all of these games without any of the aspect issues that plagued the combination of a PSP and component cables. If ever there was a time for Namco to roll out a North American release of the PSP’s Ridge Racers 2, this would be it. Are you guys listening?
There is a major problem, unfortunately, and it lies in the hardware. In making the PlayStation TV, Sony felt that some sacrifices would have to be made in order to consolize their current handheld, and that came at the cost of the touch screen and the touch panel and any compatibility thereof. It apparently never occurred to their hardware division to take advantage of the DualShock 4 or the PlayStation Move to simulate this functionality, which leaves us unable to play any PS Vita titles that rely in any meaningful way on touch controls. This is especially nasty, as the Vita initially pushed touch controls as a prime method of menu navigation around the time of its launch. Many of those games didn’t allow you to even start up without touching the necessary on-screen icon or option, and as a result, are not playable on the PSTV, and most developers are probably unlikely to find it worth going back and patching those games for PSTV compatibility, but we’ll see.
Hindsight is 20/20. Whoops.
One more important note is that streamers must tread lightly, as well, because the PSTV features the same hardware-based HDCP as does the PS3, which can be a nightmare for those looking to capture video off of those systems. In a way, it’s worse in the PSTV’s case, as there’s no component video option even though the system maxes out at the 720p/1080i mark. There just wasn’t enough real estate on the box to cram the old proprietary PlayStation A/V port on there, so you’re stuck using an HDMI splitter if you’ve got one.
What makes it worth my time and money?
Your mileage may vary on this one, perhaps more than anything we’ve discussed on this site in awhile. If you’re looking for a dedicated JRPG system, you’ve certainly found it. If you want something that’s just a little more “PlayStationy” than the PS3 was for quite some time, or than the PS4 has had time to really become, you’ll be pleased with your purchase. You can even buy the deluxe edition that includes the controller, a memory card, and a game, then treat yourself to the top-of-the-line 32 GB memory card, and still pony up less than you’d pay for any eighth-generation console available. You might also want one because it’s cheaper than putting multiple PlayStation 4s in your house in the event someone’s occupying the main TV. To that end, it does make a cheaper and more suitable remote play device than the actual Vita, even if it’s hampered by some of the same proximity restrictions.
Still, the reason to get the PlayStation TV isn’t for what the PS4 does do, but for what it doesn’t. Even with its compatibility woes, the PSTV can hold an immense library of great games over the PS4, and arguably go toe-to-toe with the PS3’s offerings. Like any game platform, the PSTV’s worth comes down to its software, and this is a selection with a very distinct identity that may or may not appeal to you, but absolutely fills gaps in what’s out there on the console market today. At the very least, you can get in on it at a very reasonable price knowing that there’s no shortage of great games to be played, but hopefully Vita developers are mindful of the PSTV moving forward, or long-term support might be a question.