Just in time for the Christmas period, Sony Australia has launched the much delayed PlayTV accessory add-on for the Playstation 3. This little device contains twin HD DVB-T tuners (Digital Television terrestrial receivers) transforming your beloved Playstation 3 into a PVR machine, similar in functionality to a TiVo; further developing on Sony’s vision of the PS3 becoming the central multimedia hub for your home theatre. With full Freeview certification, PlayTV users can record; schedule and view the free 7-day EPG guide broadcasted by the networks and will work in the European and NZ regions.
Inside the box the PlayTV adapter, USB connector cable and the PlayTV software is included. You will need to source your own TV aerial cable and splitter/booster because the PlayTV box does not have an RF loop built in so you cannot connect your TV and PlayTV tuner at the same time.
TV Tuner Performance
Once popping in the PlayTV installation disc, users must watch a tutorial before you install the software, set your region and scan for channels. PlayTV is Freeview compatible which means it is able to receive the Freeview 7-day EPG and tune to all Standard Definition and High Definition channels available in Australia. This does however come at a cost with the 60second ad skip being disabled, fast forwarding has been limited to 30x max speed and you are unable to export to the XMB (and thus copy to an external hard drive). The “Other” region setting is probably the purest display of the PlayTV functionality, lifting the Freeview restrictions but you are unable to view SBS channels. You do go through another channel scanning process but that only takes a few minutes and you are then able to export your previously recorded content (while you were in the Australia region) to your XMB.
I did not encounter any issues with the TV tuner performance; it was on par with my Panasonic plasma’s internal DTV tuner. Thankfully, with an antenna and amplifier installed, using a line splitter to share the antenna between my TV and PlayTV I was still able to achieve 90%+ signal strength. Channels change fairly quickly and you are able to scroll through EPG data before switching channels. A strong signal is recommended as users on various forums have complained of jittery/stuttering performance when signal strength (which is shown during the initial channel scanning process) is not over 90% so for those in rural or hilly regions, you experience may vary.
Although there are twin HD tuners you cannot record two channels at the same time. You can schedule one tuner to record and use the second tuner to watch another channel. Channel switching is pretty snappy and channels transition in and out smoothly and the information bar pops up showing you the EPG description if available. You are also able to scroll through EPG data before selecting a channel to watch.
Finally, the total time from turning on your TV to actually watching your TV is quite lengthy, at least a few minutes since you need to auto login into your PS3, navigate the XMB to select the PlayTV application then wait for PlayTV to finally launch.
The PlayTV package includes a sticker overlay which re-labels the official PS3 Blu-Ray remote with PlayTV specific button mappings. The Dual Shock 3 controller will probably be the default (free) option for most users and using the controller is not too cumbersome. Channels can be changed sequentially using the L1, R1 shoulder buttons, the select button is the record button while the square button brings up the EPG list allowing faster channel switching. The L3 button brings up an onscreen remote, where a numeric pad and the red, green, yellow and blue buttons are selectable however it doesn’t appear to do anything so the only way to change channels quickly is to bring up the EPG menu (using the square button), then using the d-pad to scroll through the various channels. I was not able to test out the PS3 Blu-Ray remote but you are unable to control the volume output through PlayTV. There are options which normalize the sound output so when switching channels you do not encounter extremely loud and extremely soft channels, often due to different sound codecs being broadcasted.
Bringing up the main menu suspends PlayTV and allows access to functions to browse your recorded shows, maintain your recording schedule, modify options and software updates, search the EPG to create a manual recording entry and access the manual. When using the dualshock controller to control PlayTV, I did notice the controller didn’t go into a hibernate mode so expect to have to charge your controller more often. The only issue with using the dualshock controller is that it is fairly clumsy and may be hard for users to get used to, so an investment in a PS3 Blu-Ray remote or a Logitech Harmony remote solution would be well advised.
To schedule a recording you will either need to browse through the 7-day EPG or use the search functionality in the main menu to locate the program you want to record. You are able to start the recording up to 10 minutes earlier and finish 10 minutes later than the EPG entry for that program and also able to create daily, weekly repeats up to a maximum of 25 daily/weekly repeats. Unfortunately PlayTV lacks a series link functionality unlike Foxtel IQ or TiVo, probably due to the EPG information being broadcasted lacking this information.
As mentioned previously, only one HD tuner can record at any one time but you are able to play PS3 games and watch TV whilst recording but I have noticed some occasional stuttering in both the live TV and on the recorded show which is disappointing but there is hope future PlayTV software updates improve the recording performance. SD recording is fault free and this issue is mostly likely limited to Australia since in Europe they are currently only using SD broadcasts unlike our HD channels we have here.
Another much needed feature is the ability to control the file sizes of your recorded shows. Since PlayTV simply saves in the same codec of whatever the show was broadcast in, expect massive differences when recording HD and SD broadcasts. One hour of HD content is roughly 4+ gigabytes, depending on the TV station while SD is roughly 2gigabytes for a one hour broadcast, so if you have less than 250gig hard drive space you should be looking at expanding that if you want to keep more than one day’s worth of recordings. The ability to archive or compress your library recordings is very much needed. Hopefully a feature to be added in future PlayTV updates.
One redeeming feature is that the Playstation 3 will turn itself on to record a show then turn itself off. You are also able to turn on the Playstation 3 properly and start playing games while it records the shows in the background. Thankfully it won’t turn off the PS3 after the show is recorded while you are still using it.
PlayTV does come with a few gimmicky features, the ability to pause live TV and replay sections is a useful feature, especially for those watching sports and wanting to replay a fantastic goal/moment etc. You will need to delve into the options to enable this since this may be a cause of stuttering and jitter some users have experienced.
Integration with the Remote Play functionality works quite well with little fuss, following the onscreen instructions you will be able to use your PSP to turn on your PS3 remotely (via Wi-Fi) and watch TV streamed through the internet or your local home network. Controls are similar to using the dualshock 3 and the PSP’s LCD screen provides great picture quality with little artifacts or stuttering. You are also able to set up recording schedules in Remote Play mode and turn off the PS3 once you are finished. You cannot use your PS3 while using remote play on your PSP nor use the twin tuners where you watch one channel on your PS3/TV and one channel on your PSP however.
When using the “Other” region to unlock the media export functionality, you are hampered by the PS3’s limitation of only being able to use FAT32 external hard drives. This brings in a 4gb file size limit which at best, is just long enough for a two hour SD movie or one hour HD show. So while you can export media, it really isn’t that useful since you are restricted by the FAT32 file size limit and you cannot compress your recordings.
Ultimately, whilst PlayTV is only $169 AUD RRP and can be easily gotten for $149 AUD, you should reconsider all the additional costs in turning your PS3 into a PVR. At a minimum, the 120gb Playstation 3 should be considered the minimum hard disk size and owners of the older 20-80gb PS3’s should consider spending an extra $60-100 to buy a 500gb hard drive. Installation is very simple and does not void warranty. Factor in a remote solution such as the PS3 Blu-Ray remote ($39.95) or a Logitech PS3 adaptor ($99.95) and Harmony remote ($65 - $185) for the less tech savvy users and the additional coax cables and line splitters you might need (~ $20 all up) the real cost of turning your PS3 into a fully fledged PVR would be approximately $200-300 on top of the initial PlayTV purchase price.
Once you have gotten it set up to your liking however, PlayTV works well, is fairly plug and play and soon you will be able to record all your SD/HD channels and being able to integrate with your PSP is an added bonus. For those that do not have a Playstation 3 yet, Sony Australia is running a promotion that includes a free PlayTV (or other selected games) with any purchase of a 250 GB Playstation 3 till the end of April 2010 which presents a better value proposition.
Overall, PlayTV is an example of the flexibility of the PS3 hardware and it achieves its purpose with fuss free recording of your digital TV shows, functional scheduling options and Freeview compatibility allowing users to tap into the 7 day EPG information available. While there are some performance issues when recording HD streams the PlayTV add-on is recommended for those wanting to enter the PVR world and at $169 AUD RRP, is a cheap solution for light PVR needs, and if you already have a Playstation 3, is a cheap premium to further unlock the potential of your machine. Just be warned that it is quite easy to start buying accessories such as Harmony remotes and bigger hard drives and sooner or later, the costs increase to almost what a standalone PVR would be.
AAG SCORE: 7/10
+ Freeview 7 – day EPG compatible
+ PSP remote play works well, allows your PSP to watch TV away from home, managed recording schedules remotely.
+ Cheap price to convert your existing Playstation 3 into a PVR.
- Stuttering issues when recording some HD streams, unable to utilize both HD twin tuners for recording
- Might require a hard drive upgrade for those with less than 120 GB in their Playstation 3s.
- Freeview compatibility removes PlayTV functionality, unable to 1 minute skip, locked to 30x fast forward and unable to export
Reviewed & Written By Danny Yee