Sony's PlayStation 3 is a multimedia powerhouse, juggling the playback demands of Blu-ray, DVD, and DivX with ease. But while on-demand content is growing in popularity, there remain a vast number of people who watch regularly scheduled, over-the-air broadcasts. With many companies selling equipment to watch TV on your PC, Mac, or any number of portable devices, it's not surprising to see Sony enter the market with PlayTV, a new device that will let you watch digital TV on your PlayStation 3.
Utilising a USB tuner, plus the included software, PlayTV will allow users to play, record, and stream free-to-air digital programming. These types of broadcast are common across Europe, where the open DVB standard has been incorporated into such services as TDF in France and Freeview in the UK. We sat down with a prerelease version of the device at a recent Sony event and used the occasion to put our questions to Cambridge-based developer Mark Bunting.
All models of the PlayStation 3 are compatible with PlayTV, although the more hard drive space you have, the more you'll be able to record. Whatever size hard drive you have, 6GB of space will be reserved exclusively for game-related data. The PlayTV adaptor plugs into any free USB socket on the front of the PlayStation 3. The unit itself isn't as small as some PC-based models and, instead, takes up about the same space as an original Nintendo DS handheld. However, it contains two separate tuners so you can watch and record different channels. Also, it does not require an external power source. While you can control PlayTV with a DualShock3 or Sixaxis controller, a more traditional remote control is useful if you want to navigate Freeview's many channels at speed.
PlayTV really comes into its own if you have a PlayStation Portable. By enabling remote play on your PlayStation 3, you can watch TV on your PSP locally via wireless or from anywhere in the world that has a Wi-Fi connection. If you want to use PlayTV from a remote location (if you have a PSP, you're definitely going to want to), then you're going to need a router and a broadband connection to hook it up.
The PlayTV package includes the PlayTV USB tuner and a disc that installs new software on your PlayStation 3 hard drive. The installation adds a "TV" icon to the PlayStation 3's XrossMediaBar, and selecting it allows you to jump straight into the PlayTV software. Assuming you've connected an aerial antenna and you're in a digital area (UK users can check on Freeview's site for availability), automatic tuning of the channels takes about five minutes. From there, you're ready to watch some TV!
The interface for PlayTV is pretty slick, sporting the same colourful menus and rounded icons of the main PlayStation 3 XMB menu. You can navigate the menu system using either a DualShock3 or Sixaxis controller, and Sony claims that it has made the controls as simple as possible for people who don't have a Blu-Ray remote. While changing channels and pausing playback is simple enough, you have to use an onscreen remote if you want to input channel numbers or text pages. There are seven icons on the main menu, with the default option being "Live TV."
Selecting Live TV from the menu takes you straight into the live video or audio stream currently being broadcast. PlayTV supports both digital TV and radio, which you can flip between using the onscreen guide. The PlayTV box actually includes two tuners, so you can record one channel while watching a completely different one.
You can also pause the live TV at any time, allowing you to leave the room and come back to resume exactly where you left off. Because this buffering puts a constant strain on the hard drive, it's only activated when you press the pause button. You can force PlayTV to buffer the live TV stream all the time if you want, but it's not activated by default because of the increase in hard drive activity. While Sony says that its laptop drives are robust enough to cope with buffering, the high rate of return for Sky+ boxes has encouraged Sony to disable it by default.
One of the nicest visual touches of Live TV is the dissolving effect as you move between channels--a touch of gloss that's missing from most digital TV devices.
PlayTV: Digital TV on Your PlayStation 3
Discover how to watch and record digital TV on your PlayStation 3 with PlayTV.