Are you a cord cutter who's generally happy, but longs for a little more access to live TV? Are you a current cable subscriber who is looking to cut the cord but fear relying on a half dozen streaming services to get your TV content? If you fall into either of those camps, then PlayStation Vue could be the television option you've been looking for.
Playstation Vue is a streaming video platform that is built as a more modern version of the cable package you're probably used to. Unlike competing television streaming services like Hulu or HBO, Vue is all about live TV and is best at keeping up with shows that are airing right now, not having a show's entire archive available at any time. Personally, I generally like this and Vue has replaced Hulu for me, but I've kept my Netflix subscription going for it's exclusive content as well as the many full series found on the platform.
I don't think PlayStation Vue is for everybody, but it's very, very good at what it sets out to do. Keep reading to see if it solves the problems you personally have with streaming services, because if it does I think you're really going to love the execution.
The Guide: Your classic live TV experience
Vue has a bunch of different tools to see what's on and keep up with your favorite shows, but you can always fall back to The Guide, which will feel very familiar to cable subscribers.
It's not crazy, and I honestly feel the interface could be modernized a little as it is a little hard to browse at a glance, but it works. I personally treat this interface like the app honeycomb screen on the Apple Watch: I only use it if I absolutely have to.
One nice thing about this guide is that you can set your favorite channels (see below) and they will show up bunched together at the front of the guide interface, so you don't have to scroll through the entire damn thing to find your favorite channels. You have your commonly watched channels up front, and then you can venture into your less-watched channels if nothing is on.
Ultimately, this interface is here for people who like the traditional guide interface they're used to, but it's not the best way to browse what PlayStation Vue has to offer. Thankfully Sony has a better, more modern idea for how you are going to find the content you want, and that all begins with setting up some favorites.
Setting favorites (shows and channels)
When you first jump into your Vue account, you'll be prompted to create a list of "My Shows" and "My Channels" which will help customize the experience to feature your favorite things. You can skip this if you want, but your experience really hinges on you keeping your favorite things in these lists.
The My Channels list is simple, it groups all your favorite channels together at the front of the guide interface. So while your Vue plan may include 60-100+ channels, you can have your 5 favorites up front for easy access. You can also find these in the top level "My Channels" menu when first jumping into the Vue interface.
The My Shows section is more familiar for someone like me though, who's more into specific shows than networks. You can add any TV show on any network to this list and this makes these shows easily accessible via a top level menu. This feels more similar to the experience you get on something like Hulu where it knows what you watch and lets you catch up on recent episodes. It also tries to keep track of what you've already watched, and throws a "New" tag on any show that you have missed.
A wonderful feature here is that you can have multiple users on your Vue account and have them all select their own favorites. That means I can have my own interface while my wife can have hers. It's a small thing, but welcome.
This brings us to one of the coolest features of PlayStation Vue.
I've actually never had a DVR before so pardon my naiveté, but from what I've heard from other people the Vue's DVR is top class. All of the shows you save to your My Shows list are automatically recorded for you whenever they air, and the recorded version is accessible within moments of the recording finishing. This is a nice change from Hulu, where I used to watch most of my TV, since Hulu typically doesn't have shows up until the next morning.
This isn't new to long time DVR users, but what probably is new is Vue's unlimited DVR. A limitation you often hear is people needing to clear off some of their old episodes of Show XYZ so they can record something new. Parents have their kids' shows DVRed and then can't watch their own shows. That sounds like a headache, and it's one you don't have to worry about with Vue because you get a legitimately unlimited amount of DVR space.
Unlimited means I can record all my shows, whether I watch them live or not, but my wife can also record shows like House Hunters and have literally hundreds of episodes saved in a matter of days. Nothing gets bumped, and there is no issue with recording multiple shows at the same time. If I wanted to DVR the entire block of TV from 7pm-10pm on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, FX, and AMC, there's nothing stopping me from doing that.
The "unlimited" tag is a little misleading though, as while there is not a storage limit, your shows don't stay in your DVR forever. You get them for 28 days. and they're gone after that. This is definitely going to be a problem if you're the sort of person who saves an entire season of a show and watches it all at once. It doesn't bother me with my use, but it's something to keep in mind.
The DVR functionality could use a little improvement as well. The recorded version of shows does not cut out ads or anything, so you can fast forward through them, but there is no 30 second skip button, so you have to time your fast forwarding carefully. There also does not seem to be a way to DVR a particular show without adding it to your My Shows list. So if I want to DVR just this week's episode of Frontline, I need to add it to My Shows before the episode airs, and then remove it before the next one is on.
Finally, the timing of when the recording starts and stops is a bit off. It will start recording 5 seconds before the scheduled stop time, and end 5 seconds before the end time. This means that I always see the last few seconds of some show I don't care about, and miss the last 5 seconds of the show I actually wanted to see. This isn't a problem for some shows, but many (especially these damn HGTV shows) go right up to the last second, so sometimes we'll miss something important. I see what they're trying to do, but I'd rather miss the first couple seconds of something than the last few.
Also, some types of content are blocked from the DVR, like live sports, so don't think you can record the football game and watch it later. In my experience, every non-sports show records perfectly. Sony does note in their FAQ that certain providers can limit functionality, but it seems very few do.
Overall, the DVR functionality of Vue is stellar. I don't have to manage anything or worry about something not working, it just works and is great.
Catching up and going on demand
Now lets say you want to watch something totally outside your normal routine. Vue offers a DVR-like feature called "Catch Up" which lets you go back and watch any previously aired show even if you didn't DVR it. There's also some shows marked as "On Demand" which is similar.
The advantage to shows that are accessible in either of these formats is that they can stick around longer than 28 days. Like the DVR, rules for how long shows stick around is a little inconsistent. Here's how many episodes of a few shows are currently available in Catch Up or On Demand:
- Black-ish - 5 episodes
- The Good Place - 6 episodes
- Atlanta - 10 episodes
- Mr. Robot - 12 episodes
- Halt and Catch Fire - 0 episodes 😞
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine - 6 episodes
- The Simpsons - 17 episodes
So it's a little all over the map, but it's usually safe to assume the last few episodes are available, and sometimes entire seasons.
There are a couple technical limitations on these shows compared to the ones you have in your DVR, but they're not too bad. First, Sony removes the ability for your to fast forward through the episode. You can pause and rewind, but you can not fast forward through the ads or even through the episode itself. It's not the end of the world, but it's definitely unexpected the first time you come across this limitation. My guess is they don't keep track of where the commercials are and don't want you skipping over those.
The second limitation is that these shows are not available as quickly as they are if you had them DVRed. It usually takes 30 minutes to an hour for them to show up. It's not a big deal, but was a minor pain point for me once or twice.
Still despite these quirks, the Catch Up and On Demand features are a nice fall back option for those shows you only watch once in a while.
Finding something to watch
This is a little thing, but something I appreciate regularly. Sometimes you will launch the app and before you're shown the guide, there's a full screen promo for a popular live even happening right now. For example, during the MLB World Series, it would give me a screen essentially saying "hey, this is a big deal and is on right now. Do you want to watch?" Selecting the "watch now" option takes you right to that channel and you're in. It thankfully does not come up all the time, and it really does seem to be only major events that get this treatment. It's been mostly sporting events I've seen thus far, but I hope to see other things like the Oscars suggested in the future.
The other way to browse is by what's popular right now. Vue seems to be aggregating who is watching what channels live and displays the most popular live shows in a sub menu (right next to My Shows). It's usually a mix of sports, news, and movies, so if there's anything good on, you'll probably see it here.
Vue has anywhere from 50-95 channels on offer, depending on the plan you select. I pay for the Access plan, which is the cheapest option, but it has more than I need. Here's what comes with the most basic subscription:
This is far better than what I see in competing services like Sling.
If you would like, there are some standalone channels you can add on top. HBO can be added for $15/month (same as HBO Now), Showtime, Cinemax, Epix, NFL Red Zone ($40 once for the season), and a Spanish-language add on with 9 channels.
Even at the entry level price of $39.99, that's about in line with what I could get from Comcast, but you have to consider there are no taxes added on top of that price, it will not go up in 12 months after a "promo" price expires, and if I want to cancel I don't have to deal with any "retention support team" who will try to guilt me into keeping service.
One thing that has surprised me about PlayStation Vue is how lenient they are in letting you watch on multiple devices at once. Vue runs on my PlayStation 4, iPad, iPhone, and Mac, and I have been able to stream live TV on all 4 devices at once without any complaints. The limit is 5 simultaneous devices, which is pretty damn impressive.
It seems my internet provider will run out of bandwidth before Vue stops me from streaming on another device.
Where to watch
Speaking of devices, Vue runs on a bunch of different platforms. As of November 22, 2016, Vue is available on:
- PlayStation 3 & 4
- Apple TV (4th gen)
- Android TV
- Amazon Fire TV & Stick
- iPhone (w/ Chromecast support)
- iPad (w/ Chromecast support)
- Android (w/ Chromecast support)
- Fire tablets
The experience is essentially the same on all devices (although I have not been able to try the Android TV or Roku), and I have not experienced any issues with syncing across all devices.
One thing to note is that the UI is basically the same on all platforms, which is a good thing for consistency's sake, but not great for less powerful hardware. The UI moves wonderfully smoothly on a PS4 or Apple TV, but it is clearly pushing the hardware a little too far on the Amazon Fire TV Stick (newest 2016 model). It's a solid UI that gets you where you want easily.
The final thing that is nice about Vue is that there appear to not be any blackouts for special events. I've become almost used to football games and the like being blacked out on other streaming services, but nothing has been blocked for me. I've watched plenty of regular season football games, as well as the entire MLB playoffs (go Cubs!) on Vue and have never had issues.
Even the DVR and Catch Up functionality works without issue on these shows.
The Vue FAQ does mention there are certain areas where some sports may be blocked out, but it appears to be only in areas where Fox and NBC are not available via over the air.
PlayStation Universal Media Remote
The PlayStation Universal Media Remote is a universal remote that Sony sells that you can use to control your PlayStation 4 and is supposed to give you a more traditional TV experience than using the PlayStation controller bundled with the PS4. It's definitely more traditional, and the build quality feels great, but it's not great overall.
The biggest problem us that it is a Bluetooth controller, which means it has to turn itself off after a certain amount of time to conserve battery life. This means that your have to press a button to wake it up every time you want to use it. Remote controls are meant to be fast and easy, and the PS Remote is only okay at both of these.
Another annoyance is that the remote has different modes, one for your TV and another for the PlayStation. You can control everything from the PS4 mode, but volume does not change. This means changing the volume on your TV means hitting the TV button at the top of the remote and then hitting the volume rocker at the bottom. And just remember to go back to PS4 mode after you change the volume, otherwise you'll change settings on your TV next time accidentally. It makes me miss the Apple TV remote that lets you control your Apple TV and TV volume without mode switching.
Overall, I wouldn't pick up the PlayStation Media Remote. It's not expensive, but it doesn't generate the intuitive experience you would want to get from a media remote.
PlayStation Vue is a really solid streaming television service, but it's an opinionated take on streaming. All the features it has are well executed, but they may not be a perfect fit for everyone. It's a great service for me, and anticipate I'll be a happy paying customer for a long time.
Maybe you're a true Millennial and the concept of live TV isn't a big thing for you, but for those of you like me who grew up on live TV being everything, this is a comforting middle ground for where we are right now.
You can get a free 7 day trial and take advantage of all of Vue's features, so if anything above is interesting, feel free to give it a shot.