The idea of taking a portable console and letting players hook it up to their television certainly wasn’t a new one. Nintendo had the Super Gameboy and a device that let players play Game Boy Advance games on their Gamecubes. Sony took that one step further and allowed players to literally hook their PSPs up to TVs and have the image output on the screen, much like a wired version of what Nintendo did with the Switch so many years later. Their approach for doing this with the PSTV was a little different, though.
The PSTV was meant to do three things; to play Vita and downloadable PSP and PSone games on TVs, allow people to use apps, and to allow PlayStation 4 owners to stream their games to PSTVs nearby. This focus made it a pretty unique, compelling device that would surely be a cornerstone of Sony’s brand. Only, it wasn’t.
Design-wise, the PSTV was a Vita without the screen or gyro capabilities. Sony got around this by converting touchscreen implementation into analog stick movements. While somewhat wonky, it was certainly functional and allowed players to play through most games without issue. The console could also output games at 720p or 1080i. Although, Vita games on larger screens tended to not look so good, with large amounts of jagginess present. The UI in general also didn’t look all that good on TVs, diminishing the console’s usefulness.
However, there were more problems with the micro-console right off the bat. First and foremost, it was $100 and the unbundled version didn’t include the controller needed to play it. If the customer didn’t already have a Sony console with accompanying controller, they’d have to buy one or the thing wouldn’t even be usable. Luckily, Sony had a $140 bundle ready to go with a controller and a couple of downloadable games.
The name was also confusing. While the micro-console was launched in Asia as the PlayStation Vita TV, the name was shortened for the West, making it that much more unclear. I recall being unsure of what exactly the console did upon first hearing about it. That went a long way towards damaging the public perception of the product. What should have been clear and easy was made murkier to the public due to Sony’s less-than-stellar marketing.
People who already owned Vitas were also going never going to be super enthusiastic about buying another console. Convincing a Vita owner to spend $140 to play games they already own on their TV was a pretty hard sell. Double-dipping in that manner simply isn’t generally worth the investment.
To add insult to injury, the PSTV couldn’t even play all of the Vita’s games. It had the capability, sure, but Sony had to manually approve more games, so even if a someone purchased the PSTV just to play Vita games, they were likely to be gravely disappointed. The PSP game functionality was the same. Even if you owned the digital PSP game you wanted to play, that didn’t mean you could play it. Thankfully, any and all PSone games played on it without issue.
How do we know the capability to play all those games existed? Well, hackers removed those limitations via a software mod that made is so every Vita game could be played. Astoundingly, PSTV owners couldn’t even play Uncharted: Golden Abyss, despite that being one of the Vita’s flagship titles. When you have to modify a console just to get access to its most basic promised feature, somebody really messed up.
The Vita’s library led to a rather different issue as well. One of the Vita’s greatest strengths was how it allowed for modern games to be played portably with a negligible loss in quality, leading to many of the Vita’s games being basically the same as their PlayStation 3 counterparts, but with worse graphics due to being designed for much smaller screens. This meant that PlayStation 3 owners already had access to the vast majority of the Vita’s offerings, making it less likely they’d be willing to purchase one just to play the Vita’s exclusives.
Suffice to say, the PSTV was not selling very well. The console launched in North America on October 14, 2014. One year later, the console’s $100 MSRP was slashed to $20 and the product was discontinued. I specifically purchased mine because I had been able to get one of the $140 launch bundles for just $30, which was definitely a great price, seeing as a new PS3 controller went for that much by itself. I sold a couple of the games online and was able to recoup a surprising amount of my initial investment, which definitely aided in me buying a console that I would only be using for a few games. Over two years after having purchased mine, I bought 4 games, only one of which I ended up playing.
Is all this meant to say that the PSTV was bad? No. It’s definitely a solid piece of hardware that works as intended for the most part, but it just wasn’t sure who it was for, leading to an extremely quick failure. I think I’ll likely play mine again one of these days, as I still have it sitting between my PS3 and PS4. And, hey, if it sounds like you’re one of the few people whose alleys it might be up, you can probably still pick them up for really cheap. At the very least, you can stream your PS4 games to another room.