Many UK households have a plethora of electronic devices stacked up near the TV - Sky Boxes, Freeview Boxes, consoles, DVD and blu-ray players to name just a few. Wouldn't it be great if you could combine some of these bulky electronics into one, thus saving both electricity and freeing up plug some sockets? Sony's PlayStation3 is already a bit of a multi-tasker with its game-playing, DVD-playing, blu-ray-playing, and BBC iPlay-ing antics - and if you purchase the 'PlayTV' add-on, the console will also be transformed into a Freeview recorder. Sound good? In this review I'll be putting PlayTV through its paces, taking a look at it's pros and cons before forming an overall assessment of the device in my conclusion.
What does the PlayTV unit look like?
PlayTV is simply a small, black plastic box which connects to your PS3 via a USB cable. At around the size of a mobile phone (albeit a rather bulky mobile phone), PlayTV can be placed where traditionally sized Freeview boxes simply wouldn't fit - you could even hide it behind the PS3 itself if you so desired. If i'm being completely honest, it isn't the most beautiful piece of gadgetry that i've ever owed, but due to it's size, it doesn't really matter. Thankfully, PlayTV doesn't need an external power supply, as it draws its energy direct from your console. The front edge of the PlayTV box features a small red LED light that illuminates when the device is in operation, whilst the back of the unit houses the input and output sockets. PlayTV doesn't come with a remote control - it doesn't need one, as you can operate it via your PS3 game controller. That said, although I found using a gamepad to be a perfectly acceptable method of navigation, I generally prefer to use a traditional "dobber" to control my AV equipment - so I invested in the official PS3 blu-ray remote (available for £12.99 from Amazon) which similarly allows full control over the system.
What do I need to do to get started?
To use PlayTV for the first time you'll need to first plug it into your PS3 via the USB cable (provided) - also plug in the aerial cable, and then install the PlayTV software which comes on a disc. The process is a simple one and is explained fully in the easy to understand manual. Once the disc is in your console, select its icon from the Playstion menu and press the 'X' button on the remote or controller - a short video guide will begin playing whilst the software is installed. When the installation is complete, a new PlayTV icon will appear in the Playstation's menu, and it is this that you will need to select every time you want to use PlayTV. The system takes a while to start up; perhaps thirty seconds or so - to be honest, it's quite a slow initiation time for a set top box, but you'll quickly become used to it, and probably won't notice it too much in the long-run.
EASE OF USE, FEATURES, & PICTURE QUALITY
Quite simply, if you have the technical skills which are required to operate a regular Freeview recorder, you should have no problem in getting to grips with PlayTV - once it's up and running it acts in an identical manner to a regular set-top box. The menus are arranged in a slick and intuitive system, allowing you to navigate with consumate ease through the non-complicated options. The seven day electronic programme guide (EPG) is brought up by pressing the square button on your remote or gamepad - it looks great and is very responsive whilst scrolling through it. To record a TV show, you merely select the programme's name from the EPG and then click on it - simples.
Compared to the similarly priced Freeview recorders on the market, PlayTV is generally quite feature-laden; there's the ability to pause and rewind live TV, and due to the fact that it features a dual tuner, you can watch one programme while recording another - you can even play games whilst recording. Unfortunately you can't record two programmes at once - but to be honest, it's very rare that there are two programmes on at the same time that i'm interested in viewing! Other features include the 'find by name' option, which (as its title suggests) lets you search for you favourite program and see when it's next on - plus, there's the standard 'favourites menu' which you can add channels to. One especially good thing about PlayTV is the fact that there are frequently a number of firmware updates available for it, with Sony doing their best to fix the minor bugs which have been reported with the earlier versions of the software.
Picture quality is very impressive - I've noticed a fluidity to fast-paced movement (such as sports coverage), plus colours are nicely saturated and natural looking (although the latter will have as much to do with the quality of your TV as anything else). In comparison to my television's in-built Freevew tuner, PlayTV's quality is far superior - images are certainly shaper, and the menus are easier to read. In terms of the playback quality of recorded programmes - well, to me it looks *almost* the same as did it during the original broadcast. This shows that recordings aren't too heavily compressed (they take up around 1.5GB of your PS3's hard-disk space per hour of video), meaning that you'll be able to enjoy high quality renditions of your favourite shows at a time which is convenient for you.
What could have been improved upon?
In terms of the downsides, well there aren't too many - but PlayTV does have a couple of niggles which prevent it from being the truly exceptional device that it perhaps should be. Firstly, '''PlayTV only allows you to watch in standard definition''' - there are no HD channels available. This may seem a little backward in 2011, but to me it really isn't an issue - PlayTV will 'upscale' your images for you, allowing you to see standard definition Freeview with just that extra bit of clarity and sharpness (assuming you've got an HD Ready TV and have connected up your PS3 via a HDMI cable), and the results are generally impressive. To be honest, i'm not especially dismayed about the lack of HD, as my local transmitter isn't even broadcasting in HD yet. The second negative point is that Play TV only has an RF aerial input, and not an RF aerial output, meaning that you can only forward the aerial's signal on to you PS3, and not to your TV. On paper, this means that when you want to watch TV you'll have to always do it via PlayTV, as you won't be able to use your television's own Freeview or analogue tuner. The problem can be solved via investing in an aerial splitter (they only cost a couple of quid), but it does seem like an oversight on Sony's part.
Should every PS3 owner go out and buy the Play TV system?
Personally, I feel that If you own a Playstation 3 and want a Freeview recorder, then PlayTV should be an essential purchase - that's if (and it's a big 'if') you don't mind watching non-HD content. Of course, PlayTV not being able to broadcast in HD has it perks for buyers - it's one of the reasons why the system is available for such a reasonable price; a bargain price in fact. At the end of the day PlayTV is an excellent device''' which is really easy to use, and features an impressive looking menu system - for the price I honestly believe that it's the best Freeview recorder on the market today - highly recommended.
*It should be pointed out that although the vast majority of the reviews I have read for PlayTV have been positive, there have been a few reports which claim sporadic moments of juddery and pixellated playback of recorded programmes. Whilst I personally I haven't encountered any such issue myself, I feel that in order to make this as thorough review as possible, it should be noted nevertheless.