EDITOR: I recently attended the press launch for Sony’s new Play Station 3 (PS3) PlayTV Digital TV accessory and ABC iView PS3 integration. The PlayTV looked worth reviewing but I haven’t used a PS3 myself so I arranged for Sony PR to send a loan unit to my friend and PS3 fan Tony for him to try out and review.
EDITOR: ABC iView is a free internet broadcasting service that offers a range of ABC TV programs streamed in high resolution. Integrated access to it within the PS3 brings the convenience of ‘catch up TV’ traditionally enjoyed through a PC, to the comfort and convenience of the living room TV, for a more immersive entertainment experience.
ABC Director of Television, Kim Dalton, says ABC TV’s focus is on making content more accessible.
“The television industry is in the middle of a revolution, as Australians increasingly want more choice and flexibility in how they watch their favourite programs and discover new content. Integrating access to ABC iView within the PlayStation platform is the start of an exciting phase for us as we develop new ways to share our programs; and it’s one we’re sure audiences will greatly benefit from.”
Watching iView through PS3 will be unmetered by those Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who currently offer unmetered access for ABC iView – the full list of which can be found at ABC iView.
I was thrilled to be contacted by Neerav Bhatt recently to be a guest reviewer of the Sony PS3 PlayTV. Neerav and I have been connected on social networks like Twitter since late 2008 and regularly meet to discuss and share our mutual interests at the various conferences and networking events in Sydney.
Thinking about it, we probably first met at the BarCamp “unconference” in November 2008 where I presented on Digital Media and the Connected Home I thank Neerav for the opportunity to write today’s review of the new PlayTV digital television recording solution for the Playstation 3.
For about a year now I have owned a PlayStation 3 (PS3) which I use primarily for watching high-definition Blu-Ray DVDs, and as a media centre. The media centre and Blu-Ray player capabilities of the PS3 are so compelling and useful they will be the subject of future reviews, so stay tuned for those.
The PS3 also excels as a gaming console of course and most people buying a PS3 probably have gaming front-of-mind. The PS3 is much more than that, especially now with the release of PlayTV.
Sony PR lent me the following items for review:
- New slimline 2nd generation Sony Playstation 3 with 250gb hard drive. I was pleasantly surprised as its about half the height and weight of my current Playstation 3. See the comparison photos below
- PlayTV – includes digital tuner case, and installation DVD
- Bluetooth Remote Control (optional extra – not necessary to operate PlayTV but a worthwhile accessory)
What is PlayTV?
PlayTV allows you to watch and record digital television on your PS3. It’s the latest entrant into the growing “PVR” market in Australia, where consumers are spoilt for choice.
Now we have the PlayTV which I believe will drive growth in the PVR market as well as additional sales of the PS3 in the lead-up to the holidays.
The PlayTV handles all free-to-air channels available in your location. Note that pay-television including Foxtel and Austar is not supported.
Setting up PlayTV
PlayTV is a small external digital television tuner which can sit out of sight or comfortably on top or alongside your PS3. It is slightly larger than a sunglasses carry-case, and requires two cable connections: 1. a standard RF Aerial cable to connect to your aerial wall socket at home (not included but you would already have this for your current television) and 2. a standard USB cable to connect to the PS3 (included with PlayTV)
It’s all very simple to set up so far – just connect the aerial and the USB cable. Its worth noting that I would like the PS3 to have at least one rear USB port, so there would be no need to see any cables in the set up. It is handy to already have two front USB ports on the PS3 (to charge your controller, add external hard drives etc) but without a rear USB port you have no choice but to permanently use one of the two front USB ports for the PlayTV device.
Next step is to take the included installation DVD, insert it into the PS3 and follow the prompts. It was extremely simple. The software takes a few minutes to install, then you’re straight into a guided menu to search and store available television channels. I was very impressed at the ease of this.
Starting and using PlayTV
Finally, the fun stuff: seeing the PS3 in action displaying and recording TV. You start up your PS3, scroll across to the new menu item “PlayTV” and away you go. The first time you switch on your PS3 and start PlayTV there is a delay of about 20 seconds, then you’re watching TV. Whilst the PS3 is switched on, the PlayTV will continue to display and record television.
The first thing I noticed (and this will depend on the quality of your TV – (I have an HD (1080i) 42″ Fujitsu plasma television with an HDMI port) is the clarity and precision of the television image. Using the HDMI connection to the TV, it is just stunning. All the free-to-air channels are available and there is the ability to nominate your favourite channels – a handy feature which lets you filter the list of all available channels when displaying the Electronic Program Guide (EPG)
The functionality and options provided on PlayTV are comprehensive – they will be familiar to experienced users of PVR/DVRs. I will cover off the important ones as I see them, assuming that most users will not have much experience with PVRs.
Recording Television Programs
The two tuners provided by PlayTV allow you to record a program on one channel whilst watching live TV on another channel. Note that you cannot record two channels simultaneously. I would like to see this feature added in future versions of the product (it is a common feature on other high-end PVRs – however the pricing of PlayTV is very reasonable in comparison)
Recording a program is simple – you can call up the TV Guide, see what is on right now and ahead for about a week, and simply point and click at the shows you want to record. Another more advanced option is available: select “Find and Record” then you can search by keyword, channel, and even set repeating times (for shows on at the same time every week, for example)
Watching Television Programs
At any time you can select Live TV and watch what is on right now, and change channels, freely. This is surprising to new users of a PVR – whilst recording a show on another channel, you can pause live TV, and change channels.
Over time you will build up a number of recordings (only limited to the size of the PS3 storage – I recommend at least 120GB and prefereably 250GB) Once this occurs you will start to see the real benefits of PlayTV ownership: there will always be something you want to watch, when you want to watch it. You can fast-forward through the commercial breaks. This raises an important point about “time-shifted viewing” What this means is you can record a program on right now, then in a little while start watching it from the beginning, before it has finished recording. The advantage: no commercial breaks. You gradually catch up to the live TV broadcast by fast-forwarding through the commercials.
I’m really enjoying using the PlayTV – it’s fast at changing channels, scrolling and searching the guide for programs, and generally navigating around. The menu system, controls and options will be familiar to experienced PS3 users. The optional Bluetooth remote is nice (no mute button though) and easy to use, but anyone experienced with PS3’s wireless remote controller (supplied with the PS3) will be comfortable using that.
I’d recommend buying the Bluetooth remote though, as non-PS3 users (family, visitors) are likely to use the system and they will find it easier. Whilst the PlayTV is recording, you are still free to play games and watch Blu-Ray DVDs at the same time.
I noticed the media centre capabilities of PS3 were unavailable whilst PlayTV is active. Advanced users may find this frustrating as you must quit PlayTV first.
I’d like to see further advancements to the recording system, such as the ability to search and auto-record based on keywords, or recording TV series. For example, search for “Seinfeld”and always record the program that matches that. Currently you must manually select each program for recording, even after searching for it.
I hope future versions allow the simultaneous recording of two channels – we are spoilt with free-to-air television in Australia as there is plenty of good content, often on at the same time due to the competitive nature of these networks.
Owners of the popular Playstation Portable (PSP) or Sony Ericsson’s AINO mobile phone will be thrilled to find they can watch, pause and record Live TV wirelessly from their portable device. This is a great feature – I wonder if Sony will support other devices (iPhones/iPod Touch comes to mind) but meanwhile PSP/Aino owners are spoilt by this.
There will be plenty of software updates to PlayTV which means your investment is protected. Just as there has been to the PS3 software itself this will ensure continued improvements to an already impressive first release of PlayTV.
Anyone who already owns a PS3 should consider PlayTV – it’s a very reasonably priced add-on. If you have Foxtel or Austar, you will not be able to record those programs on PlayTV. RRP at time of writing is $169.95
If you do not have a PVR, and have free-to-air television, the PlayTV is a highly compelling option. I noticed one site this week offering a web-only price of $139.00 so do shop around.
JB HiFi currently have a deal for $599 – includes the 250GB PS3, PlayTV, an HDMI cable and one game (Assassins Creed) Cleverly this is the same price as the TiVo (excluding delivery) Remember, you also get media centre, Blu-Ray and phenomenal game playing capability with the PS3.
The PlayTV will remain a valued member of my television set-up at home.
This guest technology review has been written by my friend Tony Hollingsworth (@hollingsworth on Twitter). Tony is a Sydney-based experienced technology executive and Family Man. Passionate about Technology, the Internet, fine food and coffee. Information and gadget geek. Early adopter.
If you’re a blogger or an expert about a topic I cover on this blog I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your guest article here including generous attribution and back links back to your website as thanks for your contribution