Review: PlayStation Vue

We checked out Sony’s new TV streaming and cloud DVR service and were quite impressed

PlayStation-Vue-screenashot-2

The main menu allows access to settings, search functions, favorite shows (DVR) and more.

PlayStation Vue, Sony’s new TV streaming and cloud DVR service, is here and it has the potential to replace cable TV for people with that goal in mind.

With three subscription models — $29.99 for 55+ channels, $34.99 for 70+ channels and $44.99 for 100+ channels — and the ability to add packages like Showtime for an additional cost, there’s something for everyone.

I tested out the 100+ channel Elite Slim option, but even the 55+ channel Access Slim option has plenty to offer.

Before I go any further, let me explain that my apartment complex includes cable with our rent. We have basic cable and the ability to pay for premium services on top of it. So, Vue isn’t something that would really benefit me right now, but, in the future, I could see it as a great alternative to cable, especially if it ever becomes available on more devices. Being able to watch live cable on an Android phone, for example, would be pretty great.

These packages are called “slim” because they do not include local TV yet. Sony says it has plans to add that eventually, but I’m assuming that would come with a jump in price. Regardless, I think it’s a viable service to replace cable, especially because it includes unlimited cloud-based DVR storage.

Getting Started

Setting up a trial of the service was a little rough. Now this may be something that was isolated, but I wanted to mention my issues with the service to help anyone who may run into similar problems.

I opened the app on my PS4 and clicked on the start free trial option. Sony requires a credit card on file with PSN in order to use the service. This may cause some anxiety for some users because I know a lot of people are still weary after Sony was hacked a few years ago. Hopefully the company will offer the ability to pay with PSN cards and/or PayPal, but for now, one must have a Credit Card attached to the service to use it.

Once the credit card is on file, the service asks the user to customize his or her profile by entering date of birth, zip code and gender (optional). It then creates a default profile named after the PSN account used. I ran into a problem where the app would not let me choose the profile. It gives two options: choose said PSN profile or create another (this works like Netflix so you can customize content for each family member), but no matter what I did, the app kept freezing when I would select my PSN profile name.

I restarted the app, restarted the PS4 and even uninstalled and reinstalled the app before contacting support. I was told I may have an issue with my port forwarding and that I may need to call my internet provider, but I ultimately figured it out. I had to click the option to create a second profile. Once I did that, I was able to switch back to my PSN profile name and it worked as intended going forward.

As I said, I’m not sure if this was an isolated issue or something Sony needs to patch, but I wanted to bring awareness on how I got it to work for those of you who may experience a similar issue.

User Interface

Once I finally got past the profile selection screen and into the app, I was pleasantly surprised. The app defaulted to the Pop Network and was playing an episode of That 70s Show, one of my favorites.

One thing I’d like to see added is a screen that shows the controls before progressing to this section of the app because it took me a few minutes to figure out what all the buttons did, and I ended up fast forwarding and then pausing and doing a few other undesired things before I got the hang of it.

Since this service is intended for non-gamers as well as gamers, I would think it would make sense to make the controls a bit more clear. Of course, Sony does sell a media remote for the PS4 and PS3, and that would be a lot more self-explanatory than a gaming controller, but a simple screen showing the controls prior to throwing users into the app would be nice.

psvueguide

The guide works like a a guide on a cable box service and allows both live TV and on-demand content to be selected.

Once I had the controls down, I started exploring the service. The Options button pulls up the guide. This works just like a cable box where all the channels are listed and the channels can easily be navigated from here. I switched over to a movie on Free Form and then back to That 70s Show with ease. The L1 button takes the user to the DVR menu and the R1 button sets a show as a “favorite”, which will then record that show to the DVR.

I began my trial on Friday and by Saturday morning, several episodes of The King of Queens, which I had clicked R1 on, were ready for me in the cloud.

The triangle button pulls up the main menu (different from the guide as this features an overview of the app, including links to the settings menu, search bar, etc.) where users can access various features and sub-menus.

The directional pad fast forwards (right) and rewinds (left) and the up and down buttons can pause or play the current show. There are on-screen buttons for closed-captioning, information on the show (this lists a description of the episode, its original air-date and more) and a button that allows the user to skip back to the live point of the show. The circle button functions as the “back” option for any of these menus.

The X button can also be used to play or pause the current show and, of course, is used to select various menu options throughout the app.

Overall, the user interface is intuitive, fast and smooth. If you’re familiar with playing videos or using services like Netflix on the PlayStation systems, the UI should be familiar. As mentioned, for those not familiar, it would be nice if there were a screen somewhere to explain the controls in full.

I was unable to try Vue on iOS, Fire Stick or Fire TV, but I did try it on the PS3 and found that the app and the streaming of TV shows, much like the PlayStation Store on PS3, was frustratingly slower than on PS4.

The biggest issue with using it on PS3 is that when pulling up menus, there was stuttering in the streaming of the show I was watching where on the PS4, the show continued to play smoothly. At one point the channel (Free Form) completely went out and was replaced with a loading screen. I’m not sure if this is an issue with Free Form or the PS3 though, because this happened once on the PS4 while watching Free Form as well.

Hopefully Sony can optimize Vue on the PS3 a bit in the future, but judging by the PlayStation Store performance on the PS3, I don’t see that happening.

It’s interesting that Vue doesn’t work on Vita or PlayStation TV (which was recently discontinued) because I think it would be a great service for on-the-go TV binging.

Channel Lineup

Despite the current lack of local stations, the channel lineup is impressive. As mentioned previously, I did the trial of the 100+ package, but I think it actually has a lot of unnecessary networks and that the 55+ channel lineup is sufficient for my needs as it includes most of the channels I get with my current cable package.

Of course, channel preferences will be subjective, but that’s why Sony has several options. For more information on the channels included with each package, visit Sony’s official PlayStation Vue website and take a look at our screenshots below.

 

Additional channels are available at an extra cost, and while PlayStation Plus members are not offered a discount on the main packages, there are Plus discounts for these standalone channels. For example, the Showtime/Epix package is $13.99 a month or $11.49 a month for PlayStation Plus members.

In addition to live TV and DVR, there are also several on-demand channels and many shows can be watched on-demand after they’ve aired as well. One more thing I’d like to add is that the stations are all on east coast time (from what I gathered) so shows that would normally air later in the evening for those of us on the west coast are shown earlier on Vue. This can be a good thing for some shows, but maybe not so much for others.

Quality of Stream

Streaming quality, for the most part, is very good. I compared a few channels to the same channels on my native cable service and couldn’t notice a difference in performance at all. I did notice some stations didn’t offer HD like they do on my cable service, however. Perhaps this was a result of my internet service not being able to handle them smoothly, thus, Vue downgraded them to SD. Still, it was a bit frustrating.

On the PS3, as previously mentioned, the stream was quite a bit slower and had some stuttering issues, but overall was close to the quality of the PS4’s version of the app.

On the PS4 app, the fast forwarding and rewinding was smooth and responsive as were the guide and the other features. Audio syncing was flawless as well and sound was on par with my cable service.

The best part is that Vue doesn’t demand a lot of bandwidth. I had my wife browse the web on wireless while I watched Vue on my PS4 (which is wirelessly connected) and there was no lag for either of us.

Overall, aside from a few hiccups here and there, the streaming quality was near perfect.

DVR and Other Features

explore

The Explore feature allows users to set several criteria and Vue will find content based on these choices.

The cloud-based DVR is certainly one of the better features of Vue. It’s nice having unlimited space, and being able to simply tell the app that a show is a favorite and having it record a bunch of episodes for you is a pretty nice feature.

I think the DVR service can be improved in a lot of ways. I like the control I have over what records (like only new episodes vs. all episodes) on my cable DVR, for instance. Still, the DVR service makes Vue an extremely viable replacement to cable, especially since no local drive space is used by the shows a user records.

It’s also nice being able to watch recorded shows across several devices. When I pulled up the app on my PS3, Vue knew what show I was last watching on the PS4 and all my stored shows were available to me immediately.

The app also features a menu called “explore” where users can enter in several criteria and Vue will find content that matches. I put in that I wanted to watch a movie and then selected the comedy category and it instantly listed tons of hilarious movies I could watch on-demand and/or that were airing on TV that evening.

PlayStation 4 features like the share functions are obviously disabled when using Vue, and, for those of you who care, unlike Netflix and other services on the Xbox One, there are no trophies for using Vue.

I’d like to see more settings options added in the future like sound controls, display options and more of that type of stuff, but overall, the app has just the right features and this helps keep it intuitive without being overwhelming or confusing.

Overall Thoughts

PlayStation Vue is one of the best TV services I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had cable from several providers over the years and I’ve used Tivo, DirecTV and other such services.

Vue offers plenty of content, a friendly user experience and, well, it just works. Its availability across multiple devices mixed with its cloud-based unlimited DVR service and plethora of on-demand content will make this a viable replacement for cable to many people who are looking to “cut the cord.”

 

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