While the PlayStation 3 may be slowly but surely reeling in the Xbox 360 in the global sales stakes (while the Wii builds a seemingly insurmountable lead as number one), there is one key area in which Microsoft's console may just have the edge - and that's when it comes to media hub credentials. Yes, Blu-ray may be the winner of the next-gen DVD format tussle, but films on the fledgling media are still expensive and the PS3's gains to date seem largely based on the games line-up.
The Xbox 360, on the other hand, thanks to compatibility with PCs, and of course the highly evolved Xbox Live, is already home to literally lashings of downloadable video content - from big name movies, through TV shows to music videos. Sony, however, are working hard to narrow Redmond's lead, and while Blu-ray's march to victory continues the firm has also confirmed plans for a US video store this year; while PlayTV is now available in the United Kingdom (the rest of Europe will follow in the coming months).
PlayTV is a neat little box which attaches to the console, and it turns Sony's fancy bread bin into something akin to a TiVo. PlayTV is combined video recorder and digital TV tuner, and it is designed to get the PS3 involved in every aspect of lounge entertainment. Not only does the system let you view, pause and record live television; you can also set it to record specific programmes or even whole series' - which will be duly saved to the PS3's hard disk.
Perhaps one of the cleverest features is the way PlayTV integrates the PlayStation Portable, whereby recorded shows can be transferred over to the Portable for taking on the road. Through this combination of features, Sony are understandably hopeful that this gives them another media-focussed advantage over the Xbox 360.
The unit uses the (Freeview) Terrestrial Digital Video Broadcasting format (and because of this is unlikely to be released in North America), and incorperates a full 7 day programme guide - allowing you to easily set up recording functions. This guide is somewhat more attractive that the menu system on my old Philips digibox, and its a little quicker to use pleasingly. This system works with the standard sixaxis controller, not to mention the Blu-ray remote. Also unlike my Philips digibox, PlayTV offers full support for 1080P high-definition broadcasts, allowing me to record the very best pictures where available.
Back to the PSP, briefly, and the fact that no cables are required some of the time is also a convenient bonus. Instead, PlayTV makes full use of the much-touted 'Remote Play' feature, to deliver live television to the PlayStation Portable via WiFi. Using this functionality you can also set PlayTV to record, or if you want to transfer recorded shows you can do by simply attaching the PSP via USB cable.
Cleverly, the PSP can even remotely wake up the PS3 from standy-by mode - meaning that you can set PlayTV to record your favourite programmes via WiFi connection from anywhere in the world, a handy feature for bored office-types no doubt. Users can also stream recordings from the library over the web to the PSP - although this clearly relies on a steady internet connection, so aeroplane travelers, for example, will still want to copy files over to the Memory Stick old school-style.
Like any half decent digibox, PlayTV also incorporates on-screen menus, which can be used to quickly snap-up status updates, programme details as well as allow you to modify settings - switching between standard and HiDef, for example. Finally, because of the PS3's PlayStation Network connectivity, Sony promise that PlayTV will never be out of date - the system staying one step ahead of the latest digibox's because of the firm's ability to add new features on the fly.
So... should you get PlayTV? Well, perhaps the biggest consideration in this department is the hard-disk space avaiable on your PlayStation 3 - especially if you plan on recording HD programming - which will rapidly consume megabytes. Then again, those with plenty of storage space might be tempted by the better-than-a-digibox functionality; which certainly helps make Sony's console a one-stop media shop. The PSP linking functionality, in particular, is very impressive, if perhaps something of a novelty. None the less, we're eager to see how PlayTV evolves and of course how the PS3 expands as a media system in general. There could be exciting times ahead...