If you're looking for a comprehensive design analysis then you've picked the wrong gadget: it's a black plastic box. It's about the size of a pack of cards, slightly curved we suppose but still pretty ugly. On the top of the box lives the PlayStation logo and a power LED. On what we'll call "the front" is a mini USB port and a single antenna port — unfortunately there's no passthrough so you'll need to either make the PlayTV the last part of your antenna chain, or invest in a coaxial splitter (about AU$8). There's no remote in the box so you can either use the Sixaxis controller — a bit clunky for normal television watching — or invest in a Blu-ray remote.
The PlayTV is wall/desk mountable, but seeing as how the unit needs to plug into the front of the PlayStation via USB anyway it lacks the discretion of other AV components.
The PlayTV is a dual-tuner PVR addition to the PlayStation 3. With dual tuners you can record one show while watching another or while playing a game or a Blu-ray. While the system warns you of gameplay issues if background recording is turned on we experienced very few. You can't record two channels at once, though.
The PlayTV is Freeview compatible and features a seven-day program guide. The device lacks any sort of "Series Link" recording, though PlayTV's developers promise it's in the works.
NB: even if you have one of the new 120GB PS3 Slims we'd suggest upgrading your hard drive to 500GB or higher, otherwise it'll get full of HD programming real quick. Don't even think about adding a PlayTV to a 40GB model without upgrading. An hour of HD material will take up 10 gigs of space, and if you only have a 40GB PS3 you'll get less than three hours on average of material. Plus there is no way to change quality settings to squeeze more space out of your drive. You may also want to back up your trophies as well, and to do this go to Game > Trophy Collection. Press "Green Triangle" > Sync with server.
Set-up of the device is fairly straightforward — we simply plugged it in, put in the disc and the wizard walked us through it. If you can get digital reception in your area then the PlayTV will work fine. The device comes with a seven-day EPG but like other devices it takes a bit of coaxing to get it to update all the channels — ie, you'll need to go to each of the main channels in turn to update the first grid.
We found that the carousel-like interface — while different to the usual XMB-style Sony usually employs — was still relatively intuitive. The guide itself was easy to use, and users can set up their own favourite channels and get a tailored guide if they wish. We were a little miffed to find that the guide and channels don't loop — you start at One (1) and end at Go (90) and need to scroll backwards if you want to go back again.
Changing channels is easy and involves the L1 and R1 buttons, and on the BD Remote these are located directly below the D-pad which is convenient (even if they are marked CH+/CH-). Fast forwarding and rewinding isn't as convenient as you need to hold down L2 or R2. The skip buttons will take you forward or back 10 minutes at a time — no ad skipping unfortunately.
As part of our testing with the Sony Aino, we used Remote Play which lets you operate the multimedia functions of the PS3 remotely, and found that it worked very well with the PlayTV. Even on the relatively small screen we were able to easily read the EPG and watch live TV and previously recorded shows. Quality will of course depend on the strength of your relative connections but via wireless on the same network it was very watchable.
The device is a little obtuse when alerting you to the fact that you may be recording something — only if you enter the guide will a red bar show up on the channel involved. Otherwise you can try recording something and it just won't work due to its inability to record more than one channel at once. However, there was no depreciation of either channel when channel surfing on the other available tuner. We did find there was a problem if shows overlap: the second show just won't record, and you can't delay the start of the next recording unless you set up a manual recording. In addition, if they start and finish at the same time sometimes it won't work either — GRRRRRRRRRRRRR.
Unless you set the device to background record you can't play a game and record something, and this can be annoying the first time you try it — we think the background feature should be on by default to save frustration. The manual warns that if you play a game and record then you may have some stuttering issues. While we didn't experience any when playing games, we did find there was some initial stuttering when you press Record.
We did have some glitchy issues from time to time — EPG data not appearing, the unit flickering between Play and Pause — but it was mostly a seamless experience. Recordings were of good quality too, and the tuner was the equal of the one on-board our test TV, the Panasonic G10. We did find our recording had more MPEG noise than the equivalent one we made on Foxtel iQ2 — but this could be due to a number of issues including differences in broadcast signals and because the PS3 was getting to the end of the disk.
One small nuisance is in the amount of time the program takes to run — it takes about 24 seconds. This can be annoying if you want to catch the start of something or simply need to exit the program to change a system setting and then want to get back in again.
If you don't own a PlayStation 3 already, then we'd suggest getting the 250GB version because the PlayTV is included in the price and is a great incentive. But if you already own a console, the PlayTV is hardly a compulsory purchase due to a couple of operational quirks and some recording quality issues compared to a dedicated PVR. But if you want a recorder on the cheap, this is perhaps the most affordable option yet.