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Sony PlayTV Hands-On
Post by MikeBantick @ 11:16am 14/01/10 | Comments
Mike Bantick takes Sony's PlayTV PVR (Personal Video Recorder) for a spin. Read on for his full thoughts...

So you have your PlayStation 3 sitting in the place Sony envisaged, as the entertainment hub in your living room. But until PlayTV arrived, it really wasn’t the central device it could have been. Now the PS3 is a PVR (Personal Video Recorder), well not a fully fledged PVR, but for the price, it does the job.

PlayTV is a small, unobtrusive box (160mm X 70mm X 39.5mm 113g) with a single red power indicator, an RF Aerial input and a mini USB output to the PS3 - there is a 1.5M supplied USB cable. Due to its light weights, the box can be squirreled away just about anywhere your home entertainment aesthetics’ dictate.

Running through the set-up is straight forward; a friendly Sony voice guides the connectivity whilst the software quickly installs. Once installed the PlayTV icon appears below the TV segment of the XMB Menu, right near the ABC iView icon if you have that installed.

Launching PlayTV is a somewhat lengthy process, but configuration is also quick; select a Language, Country and City and then it is time to scan for digital stations - in Melbourne this took approximately 10 minutes with the PlayTV picking up 26 TV and four radio channels.

Once complete, a digital TV picture springs to life, the quality is good, most of my signal strengths showing around the 80 percent mark.

The PlayTV box includes a sticky overlay for the Sony Blu-ray remote control, or you can easily make do with the PS3 SixAxis Controller. The first most noticeable plus chalked up for PlayTV was the channel changing speed, compared to the tuner built into my Bravia LCD, the one second it takes for channel selection is a God-send.

After a quick EPG load, Software update and PS3 reboot, I was ready to explore the PVR capabilities of this $160 device. In a nutshell, PlayTV is a pretty basic PVR.

A positive is the crisp clear interface; Sony has used colour, fonts and icons to get information about a program delivered to the viewer efficiently. At a flip of the analogue stick or a press of a button I can quickly see program, time shift, recording and guide information in a relatively small amount of screen real estate. It would have been nice though to have the option to give graphical overlays a level of transparency.

Though it sports dual tuners, only one program at a time can be recorded. You can happily watch (and buffer) a second, but for some reason cannot record the second program.

This is not a big issue, except when it comes to setting up some timed recordings. In this country it is inevitable that programs run overtime, if you are experienced with PVRs you know to edit a recording made within the EPG, adding 10 to 15 minutes at the end. If this means overlapping with a new recording on a different channel, PlayTV will prompt you to make a choice between the two, completely discarding the unchosen recording. This occurs even if that program is currently recording!

PlayTV will launch any set recording timer so long as the PS3 is at least in stand-by mode.

Timeshift, that is, the ability to pause and rewind live television works ok. By default the TV buffer is only activated when the TV is paused. A much more useful day to day setting is to alter this setting to be always on and reset only when channels are changed. This option change is highly recommended.

The Skip (backward and, thankfully for those who hate ads, forwards) is a little flaky on just how far it shifts time each button press, the fast fwd/rwd functions work as expected and smoothly.

Once you have a library of programs to watch, one option is to show an animated thumbnail of each file, the file selection panel shows the first 15 seconds of the program to ease choice. Once play has begun, PlayTV will remember the point of playback for later watching.

If you own a PSP the remote play is an interesting option, one I was able to take full advantage of by minding the children in the pool, while checking out Top Gear via a connected PSP and wireless network setup.

There is one other option during set-up of the PlayTV (and changeable later) which has ominous overtones, a toggle to allow program recording even when the PS3 is otherwise occupied playing a game or Blu-Ray disc.

The set up warning indicates possible lowering of quality of both recording and game play/Blu-Ray playback. So I thought I better try that out.

Setting up to start recording in five minutes, I sat back for a game of Avatar and sure enough once the recording kicked in there was a slightly noticeable effect on frame-rate, and a kick up in the fan speed from the PS3. Checking playback of the recorded program, however, revealed no noticeable drop in picture quality.

There are plenty of better dedicated PVRs on the market, but for those blessed with a PS3 Slim and increased HDD capacity, PlayTV may be a low cost PVR solution.

For those of us with original 60GB machines (or even 40GB) the choice is not so clear. With the size of saved files on the PS3 so huge, my 15GB available for PlayTV does not look so big for HD content when compared to the 250GB, or 500GB of dedicated PVRs. Thankfully, the Sony forethought in making a HDD upgrade so easy may sway the PlayTV back into consideration.