Having appeased its core crowd of PlayStation gamers (so far, anyway), Sony is looking to cram everyone else into the proverbial living room—all while doling out more goodies to its devotees. At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the company revealed plans to release a new version of its PlayStation “micro-console” in North America later this year.
Although the PlayStation TV looks like just yet another $99 Web TV box, looks may be deceiving. Depending on what you want out of your streaming thing of choice, Sony’s PS TV packs more bells and whistles than much of the competition and—should it live up to its pre-release hype—stands to please hardcore, casual and perhaps even non-gamers alike.
Let’s take a look at how it stands up to its current competition.
Sony PlayStation TV: $99
The PlayStation TV (PS TV) is a handsome little streaming box with a lot going on. The tiny gaming console doesn’t need to connect to a PlayStation 4, but if you own one, it will enable you to beam your PS4 play to a different TV in the house—a pretty neat trick for settling battles over sofa real estate.
The PS TV will make good use of Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Now cloud gaming network, with plants to support “hundreds” of PS3 titles as well as most PS Vita titles and PS1 and PSP classic games, thanks to the respectable specs it shares with the PlayStation Vita handheld console. Beyond that, the PS TV is expected to come equipped with streaming stalwarts like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, TuneIn and others, all already available on the handheld PS Vita, though its broader multimedia talents have yet to be confirmed.
The console works with PlayStation DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 controllers, and will sell as a standalone device or as a $139 bundle that includes a DualShock 3 controller, an 8GB memory card, and a virtual copy of the Lego Movie Videogame.
Amazon Fire TV: $99
For living room streaming, the Fire TV is a compelling, if standard, choice. Naturally, it works best in Amazon’s own ecosystem with Amazon Instant Video, but it also stocks the now-standard streaming line-up (Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Pandora, Vevo, etc.).
With its own custom-designed gaming controller (sold separately for $40), the Fire TV might be the only other an hybrid media streaming/gaming box that can be taken seriously. Still, you’ll mostly be stuck with mobile games you could play on a tablet, like Minecraft Pocket Edition. Amazon is working on more original gaming content like Sev Zero, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Roku 3: $89
Technically, the Roku 3 lets you play games with its motion sensing remix of a classic remote, but with a limited selection and no dedicated controller, the feature comes off as an afterthought. For streaming TV and video, the Roku remains an elegant choice—for gaming though, not so much. Roku also sells the pared-down Roku Stick for $49, but you won’t be doing any motion gaming on it.
Apple TV: $99
The Apple TV still makes plenty of sense for anyone neck-deep in Apple’s iTunes and App Store ecosystems. Unless Apple ups its gaming game (and it may), the only way to “play” games on the device is to play compatible titles on an iPad, iPod or iPhone and mirror them on the big screen via AirPlay.
The Kickstarted Android-based box was an enthusiastic experiment in indie console gaming, but these days, things aren’t looking so good. The Ouya comes with a dedicated controller and lets you hack stuff like Netflix onto it, but in 2014, it’s purer in theory than execution.
Steam Machine: Price variable, starting at around $549 (Alienware) up to $6,000
Valve’s small army of third-party Steam consoles, now delayed until 2015, will run SteamOS and offer a custom controller for its stable of major league, console-level digital games. While the goal of emancipating PC gaming from the PC is noble enough, the pricing makes any Steam Box a truly niche device for dedicated console-averse PC gamers.
Google Chromecast : $35
If you want a price can’t be beat and just need the core set of streaming entertainment apps, there is no reason whatsoever to not buy a Chromecast. It’s $35 and streams music and video from a growing selection of compatible mobile apps to your TV, but it’s no game console.
See also: Google’s Chromecast: Complete Coverage
The PS TV looks to set a new bar among streaming boxes with smaller dreams, but we’ll have to see it to believe it. Unfortunately, that means waiting until this fall while Sony builds out PlayStation Now and refines its little micro-console.