Imagine giving a 16 year old a rifle and a flak jacket and sending him out to the frontlines of a battlezone without any support. No comrades, no reinforcements coming, no air support. The kid is young, a little unsure of his purpose, but he has potential. As the circumstances stand though, this kid is not going to survive. He will not even manage to penetrate the first lines on the beach.
That kid is the Playstation TV.
The Playstation TV (PS TV for short) releases October 14th in North America and I have yet to hear a single person say they are looking forward to it. I have not seen any substantial advertising, industry buzz, or even excitement among hardcore Sony fanboys. The PS TV is seemingly doomed before it even releases on October 14th.
That leaves a lot of questions though. Why is this device being made? Why has there been no push to advertise it and get the word out? Why is the market seemingly indifferent to it? My goal is to piece together the answers to some of these questions.
First of all, what the hell does the PS TV actually do? It sounds like a silly question, but I am not sure Sony has quite figured out what they were intending. In fact, despite having a PS TV preordered since the day it was announced, I was unaware of certain features until only a few weeks ago. Here are the features of the PS TV in bullet points along with the limitations of each one:
*PS TV allows you to play Vita games on your television via a Dualshock 3/4. This will work for both physical cartridges as well as games on a memory card. There is an obvious limitation to this however because certain games require the Vita's touchscreen. So, it is unclear exactly which games will be compatible until you actually try it (or consult the master list on Sony's support page).
* PS TV will allow you to play any PS1 classic that you could play on the Vita. It appears there are no restrictions to this.
* PS TV can remote play whatever you are doing on your PS4 to whatever television the PS TV is connected to. Let's say you are playing a game and you need to give up the tv. Now, you can just switch to the other room without having a second console. The assumption here is that this will work similarly to the current remote play functionality on Vita. So, this remote play function will be serviceable for most games, but problematic for others.
*PS TV will allow you to stream Playstation Now content to it. This would be more compelling if PS Now's prices were not currently insane.
*PS TV will theoretically support apps. Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, etc, are all confirmed. Other apps will likely be added in for use natively, but even if they are not, you can just remote play Netflix from your PS4 if you really wanted.
In summary, the PS TV does a few things, but none of these features appear to be really essential. That begs the question though: Why did Sony bother making it? If we want to be cynical, then the reason is fairly clear. Streaming devices do not have much market penetration in Japan and so the Playstation TV (called the Vita TV in Japan) had potential to occupy the Japanese market as a pseudo Apple TV. Looking at sales in Japan, it seems like that strategy failed.
That still does not explain why the PS TV is coming to America though. Why bother with a device like this in a market where every device has internet connectivity and streaming capability? I see two reasons, neither of which is immediately evident in the bullet points above. Firstly, the PS TV lowers the barrier of entry to the vast majority of the Vita's library. At $99, this is the cheapest way to access almost the entirety of the library of Vita content that already exists (and the Vita library is much larger than one would assume given its install base). From triple A titles like "Killzone: Mercenary," critically lauded experiences like "Freedom Wars" and "Persona 4 Golden," unloved gems from the PSP days like "Valkyria Chronicles 2," all the way to an endless sea of JRPGs and indies. If you don't own a Vita, then the PS TV is the best value you can get right now.
That value proposition alone is enough to justify the Playstation TV's existence, but that is not why I am getting one. The second reason the Playstation TV is worth a purchase is one much closer to my heart. The PS TV is a return to couch gaming. Many will argue that this is actually a hindrance in that you are constricted to your television, but I disagree. I did not pay for a gigantic television so that I could then sit on my bed hunched like Quasimodo as I try to play a game through tiny speakers. I want it to be bombastic. I want it on my tv screen through my sound system. For as long as the Vita has existed, I have wished to stop being constricted by the alleged "freedom" that mobile provides. Through the Playstation TV, for the first time, I have my freedom. That is easily worth the price of admission in my book.
So, despite the PS TV's limitations, it shows a lot of promise for gamers.
It is because the PS TV seems to have so much potential that I find it baffling that Sony has done nothing to hype it. From its first announcement back in June, the PS TV was treated as an afterthought. It got a whopping 2 minutes of coverage during Sony' E3 press conference, and was then promptly forgotten. I have seen a single ad for the PS TV since June, and that is simply a little link on IGN once in awhile reminding people that "Playstation TV is available for Pre-Order." Beyond that, there have been no billboards, no print ads, no web banners, no video ads, no trailers, no hype reels, no sponsored articles, no major previews, nothing (at least that I have seen).
Actually, that is not true. I saw one other thing about the PS TV recently. Over the weekend, I watched a brief video interview on IGN between two correspondents mentioning that they saw the PS TV at NY Comic Con and that they both did not get the purpose of the PS TV and had no interest in it. That is the opposite of hype. To make matters worse, one of the correspondents in that video was Greg Miller. Greg Miller is the host of Podcast Beyond, the largest Playstation podcast in the world. So, to reiterate, the guy that hosts the largest playstation podcast on the planet only has a vague understanding of the PS TV's value/uses and has no interest in one.
Has Sony given up on the PS TV before it has even released? Have they just assumed that the market would not respond and preemptively made the decision to sink no further money into it? Or do they think that it will sell itself? That the inherent value in the product is so obvious that it can endure even without a media blitz? Regardless of the reasons behind it, it is clear that the market is only vaguely aware of it and why it could be a cool little machine. Sony has failed the PS TV.
So, here we are, a few days out from when the 16 year old kid marches on to the battlefield all alone. This kid had a chance to be something special. This kid could have reinvigorated the stagnating Vita market. This kid could act as a reminder of why couch gaming is still relevant. This kid could grow into a true powerhouse. Instead, this kid is gonna die on the beach all alone.