Review: Playstation 3 + PlayTV Australian Combo, Why Would You Buy A TiVo?

PlayStation 3 PVR add-on PlayTV hit Australia in late November 2009, and since I was in the market for both a PVR and Bluray player, it made complete sense to buy one.

Three days in I've played enough with the combo now to give a half decent review, and so far the biggest question is why would anyone buy a TiVo in Australia?

Cost

When the TiVo debuted in Australia it came in at a whopping AU$699, although seemingly coinciding with the introduction of the PlayTV into Australia, you can buy a TiVo here for AU$599. For that you get a 160gb PVR that doesn't support physical media, doesn't play serious games, and doesn't have a web browser (the last point is important, but we'll get to that in a moment.)

The PlayStation 3 + PlayTV bundle here is currently available for AU$588; not cheap, but within that you get the 250gb Slim PS3 + PlayTV bundle. Add AU$33 if you want a dedicated remote, so you could argue that it's a little more expensive, but it does so much more.

First Impressions

Years after launching, I'd never played with a PS3 before, although I own an AppleTV and Wii. Setup was as easy as plonking in a HDMI cable into the rear (not included,) the power cord, the USB cord from the PlayTV into the PS3, and an antenna into the PlayTV. If I had one obvious gripe so far: the PS3 only offers 2 USB points, both on the front, so it doesn't make for a neat combination, but that's minor.

After switching the machine on, it was a little frustrating...well for a Mac user. One system update after another to even start the most basic service. A lot of the additional services offered from the main menu aren't installed either, so each one requires a download and install. It's just like using Windows...sort of. What's even funnier is how many times you have to accept terms of use after each install: surely Sony could just offer a catch all for the first use.

Once you get past that it's mostly plain sailing.

PS3 Options

Australian default, some options available in other countries + some standard features.

Vidzone

Vidzone according to Wikipedia is "the largest online music video VOD service in the world," which sounds great upfront, but they only include two of the four major labels. Besides the ridiculously long setup, it doesn't have Crowded House, so it failed my first test. It does offer preset lists (as I type this I'm playing their "Australia Day Mix" which isn't bad.) Sound quality is good, video clips are hit and miss; older stuff hasn't been redigertised, so quality is like YouTube expanded to full screen. Don't buy the combo based on Vidzone, period.

iView

One of the better promises of the PS3 in Australia is the inclusion of ABC's iView TV on demand service. What they don't tell you is that it's not a native implementation of iView; instead, it's just an icon on the screen that takes you to the iView webpage...which you could do through the browser anyway. The icon though is handy, and I've already watched a couple of shows using it, but as an AppleTV owner , I was expected something like YouTube on the AppleTV.

General Gaming

Also owning a Wii (well, my son has it) I'd come to expect fairly quick game play, but the PS3 is much more like Windows here: that is, each game has to be installed before play. In this case, it's probably worth the wait. On a 1080p "Full HD" Sony Bravia, the gaming visuals are just staggeringly amazing. Gran Turismo 5 Prologue is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, and other games a mighty fine as well.

You'd buy a PS3 because of the gaming (be it the games are expensive) and because it does the other things. If you've got a Wii, you won't be disappointed, and the controls aren't that hard to get use to.

Internet Browser

The built in internet browser in the PS3 is one of, if not my most favorite feature. The important thing to note is that it supports flash: and that means streaming video from ANYWHERE on the net. No longer am I stuck watching shows on my laptop, because now I can view them via the PS3 on the TV, something I can't do easily on my AppleTV.

The only thing of note is that without a keyboard, typing can be a little slow, so you're not going to use this feature an awful lot for general surfing (unless you buy a keyboard,) but for video, you will.

Life With PlayStation

This is a 3D world render with news, and a few other features. Very unexciting, and the news was days out of date when I used it the once.

PlayStation Store

The PlayStation Store offers a variety of downloadable games, including free demos. It's extensive, but unlike iTunes there's no easy way of determining free stuff (least that I could see.) Demos are fairly quick to download, although take up some fairly decent hard drive space.

PlayStation Home

PlayStation's sort of limited version of SecondLife, a social avatar based network. Visually it's stunning, taking full advantage of the hardware on offer.

Don't get too excited though: it's fairly limited in exploration space, it costs you real money to buy even basic items for your space, and if you're in Australia, you are placed into the European version and not the U.S. one. In the 4-5 times I've visited, most people were speaking German.

There are other bits that could be reviewed and noted (such as it not seemingly being able to pick up music on a Mac) but that's for another day.

PlayTV

As noted above, hardware installation was simple, although the unit looks a little unsightly given it has to be plugged into the front of the machine. Software install was as simple as a game, be it with the same waiting time. Startup time can be a little annoying; if you want to watch TV as quickly as you would on a straight TV, you can't with PlayTV.

The channel scan in Melbourne on digital was accurate, and although you can determine favorite channels, I cant seem to reorder them unfortunately.

PVR

From the start the possibilities of the PVR become obvious. The software automatically picks up listings well ahead of what the digital signal is giving out (current and next show) which is a nice feature if you're coming from a standard digital TV. I'm not sure on how long, but I'd suggest it at least matches one week ahead on the Australian version of the TiVo.

Recording is as simple as going through the guide, picking your show, selecting it for a record (and notably with the ability to set extra record time given how shows go over) and hitting ok. Shows can be set for weekly or daily recording.

The only limitation is that PlayTV can only record one program at a time despite the dual tuner, but that's hardly going to be an issue for most people.

Some reviews have claimed issues with the quality of the picture; I've not seen that yet, and the recordings so far have been brilliant quality wise.

General Viewing

I still find the ability to pause live TV as cool, but that might just be me. It works as advertised, and rewind isn't a problem either.

There's been a lot of attention in Australia to the crippled Freeview standard that prohibits ad skipping, a spec the TiVo also suffers. Yes, it does suck, but likewise it's not hard to fast forward the ads on a delayed view or recording. I grew up with VHS, this is far simpler.

Overall

For the price you can't go wrong with the PS3 + PlayTV combo in Australia. You get a current generation gaming machine with amazing quality. You get a full blown Bluray player vs the XBox 360 which only offers DVD. With the PlayTV you get a fully fledged, decent PVR.

The only thing lacking vs the TiVo is video on demand, but Sony says that this is coming next year, and besides, you've got a full blown web browser, there's nothing stopping you streaming video on demand via the web. If you compare the features of the TiVo offered in Australia to the PS3/ PlayTV combo, the PS3 has to come out in front.

It's a little pricey vs the Wii or XBox 360, but given it offers so much in the one package, it's worth the buy.

8.5/10.Pros: does everything except slice bread.Cons: sometimes it feels like using Windows + you have to download just about everything available the first time out.