PS3 Fanboy review: PlayTV

The PS3 has firmly entrenched itself as not only a games console, but a fully fledged multimedia device. It features blu-ray, media streaming, a web browser and image viewing and printing. Now, with PlayTV, the PS3 adds television to its repertoire. Sony could easily have released a simple TV tuner with only the most essential features, but instead they've developed a product that's incredibly feature rich and integrates itself into the PS3 experience seamlessly.

Setting up your surprisingly light PlayTV box is simple and painless and requires nothing more than plugging an aerial in one end and a USB cable, connected to your PS3, into the other. Once this is done you need only load up the accompanying disc software, which will install the PlayTV client onto your XMB and guide you through the simple setup. After this, you'll have a new "TV" section on the XMB. PlayTV takes advantage of Freeview in the UK, a set of free TV channels and radio stations. Load up the client and you're off.

The emphasis has clearly been placed on being user friendly. The first time you enter any section of the software a splash screen will show you the controls. These can be reviewed again in the help section, along with more in-depth guides. If you'd rather use a remote control than a SIXAXIS controller, your Blu-ray remote will work just fine and PlayTV even comes with an overlay which can be stuck on top to show which buttons do what.

Anyone who's ever used a DVR will be perfectly at home here.There's a guide, which pops up at the touch of the square button and gives you an overview of what's on now and what's coming up on all the different channels. From here you can switch to any channel or set a program to record by simply pressing select. You can easily see how much space you have left on your hard drive and PlayTV will keep you updated via notifications at the top-right of the screen. With a thirty minute video needing up to a gigabyte of free space, you'll want to keep your hard drive free from clutter. No wonder Sony is releasing a 160GB PS3.

PlayTV has many standard DVR features, such as allowing you to pause and rewind live TV, or to record one channel whilst watching another. If you suspect you'd rather control PlayTV using a remote, rather than the PS3 controller, the device comes packaged with a remote control sticker overlay. This can be placed on the official PS3 Bluetooth remote and tells you what each button does when inside the PlayTV client.

While PlayTV is great at turning your PS3 into a digital video recorder, the highlights of the device come from its extra features. For example, videos recorded in the PlayTV client can be exported to the XMB, DRM free, and copied to any other device in MPEG2 format. This means backing up your video collection is much easier, allowing you to save hard drive space.

PlayTV also fully supports remote play. Left the house without remembering to set your PS3 to tape something? Remote play in and set it up from anywhere with an access point. Alternatively, you can use your PS3 as a video streaming drive, allowing you to view all your recorded videos from anywhere with WIFI with your PSP.

Another great extra feature allows for background recording during gameplay. After all, your PS3 is a games console, right? PlayTV will happily record the latest episode of Doctor Who while you're busy painting your friend green in LittleBigPlanet. Simply set it to record and then quit the client and start playing. You'll never have to watch the clock in case you miss your favourite TV program whilst gaming again.

Our favorite feature, however, is definitely the XMB integration. Even whilst watching TV you will receive online/offline and message notifications, meaning you're never disconnected from the PSN. Obviously, some people might not see this as a good thing, but the simple solution is to sign out of the PSN before launching (or from within the in-game XMB). The reason we enjoy this feature so much is that you can send messages back whilst watching telly. Simply call up the XMB and it will overlay on top of whatever program you're watching. You'll still be able to hear it (and see a faint outline) whilst typing out a message.

Imagine, you're watching TV and your buddy messages you asking if you fancy a game of Warhawk. You're notified as you watch the program and reply, telling them you'll be right there. With a press of the select button, the rest of the program is being recorded to your hard drive. You then jump straight into Warhawk from the in-game XMB and are playing within minutes.

Dare we say that if Sony implements cross-game voice chat in the future, this feature could become even cooler. The PlayTV box promises it will be constantly updated via the PSN, so new features could appear at any time. Until then, the smart wee box is already worth the £60 for those of you who enjoy watching TV and playing your PS3. Even at the same time.