Sony attempts to 'redefine television' with launch of PlayStation Vue

With 20 million-plus PlayStation 4 consoles sold to date and over 80 million PlayStation 3s in homes worldwide, Sony has plenty of reason to make Vue, its TV-streaming service, a cornerstone of the platform. The subscription-based service, which officially launches today in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, is more than just a Sling TV clone, too. Vue offers not only a mixture of live and on-demand content from cable networks like Discovery Communications (e.g., TLC, OWN, Animal Planet) and NBCUniversal (e.g., Bravo, CNBC and E!), but also broadcast TV from NBC, CBS and FOX. And thanks to cloud storage, PS Vue also features what Sony's calling a "virtually unlimited" DVR. It's the company's take on a streaming experience that "redefines television."

Eric Lempel, who heads up Sony's Network Entertainment division, says the idea behind Vue was to "take the burden out of watching television" by streamlining the interactive elements consumers find so frustrating. Things like DVR management and channel guides have been carefully reconsidered for Vue to give consumers painless entry points to programming. Say, for example, you favorite a show by adding it to "My Shows." Vue will then store a backlog of every episode currently airing, available via Catch Up or On Demand in one fluid stream. That's across all participating networks, too. So if you enjoy watching The Simpsons, you'll have access to episodes (arranged in sequential order) according to their network availability.

One of the many browsable content tabs on PS Vue.

The programming guide on Vue benefits from this thinking, too. Though it may look like the familiar grid you're used to seeing from cable or satellite providers, Vue's implementation actually arranges things a bit differently. Networks are displayed across the top of the grid, while times are displayed along the left side. Lempel says this is because Vue will display the network you're currently watching first, followed by your favorites and then all channels. Further, you'll have the ability to search "back in time" to watch previously aired episodes that are either stored On Demand or via Catch Up. That said, you'll have 28 days and 3 days, respectively, to enjoy that content before it's removed.

It may seem like access to all of that content is too good to be true. Certainly, cable operators like Comcast are notorious for creating roadblocks to streaming content (see: HBO Go on PlayStation 4), but that's a matter of authentication; a problem Vue doesn't have to worry about. "We have individual deals with all of the networks. So we're offering the service. Essentially, we're Comcast in this case -- a lot better than Comcast," says Lempel.

The Explore function on PS Vue allows for advanced programming search.

At launch today, Vue will carry programming from broadcast and cable network groups spanning the likes of Turner, Viacom, Fox, Fox News, NBCUniversal, Scripps, Discovery and CBS. That also includes local news and sports content from broadcasters. AMC Networks, a recent addition to Vue's programming lineup, are due to appear on the service in a month's time. Conspicuously absent, however, is ABC; it's the only major holdout of the Big Four broadcasters. That could change, though, as Sony intends to continually improve and bolster Vue's suite of channels and features.

"We have individual deals with all of the networks. So we're offering the service. Essentially, we're Comcast in this case -- a lot better than Comcast."

"Every product we release, we iterate," says Lempel. "You know, with the cable system ... the cable box hasn't changed in 10 years. We're going to make this better. ... We'll add networks. We'll add cities very quickly. We're in three big cities now; the next part of the rollout will be other big cities. ... We'll also add features and functionality. We're pushing innovation in this space that hasn't existed before."

Explore is a great example of Sony's nuanced approach to curating streaming TV as it allows users to perform what is essentially an advanced search. The sorting option, available as an icon listed on the upper-left of the screen, filters content by category, genre, ratings, content length and networks. What's more, Explore saves all of your previous searches so you can quickly browse through those for content suggestions.

My Shows collects favorite programs from across networks.

Though PlayStation Plus, Sony's subscription-based service for gaming, doesn't have anything to do with Vue at launch, Lempel says that could change in the future. Presumably that means Sony would tie the two services together and create a streamlined billing process or even offer incentives for tiered programming packages; Lempel wouldn't say. What is known, though, is that the PS Plus show Powers, a PlayStation original, will live on Vue. In fact, Lempel says that once Sony's original-programming initiative ramps up, Vue will contain a channel dedicated to PlayStation originals.

There's one member of the current PlayStation hardware family that won't be enjoying access to Vue and that's the Vita. As Lempel explains it, the service is just too complex and so, for now, any plans to bring it to Sony's handheld are merely "in consideration." You will see Vue on the iPad in the coming weeks post-launch, though. And that's part of a greater platform-agnostic push that could even see the service appearing on smart TVs and other connected TV devices, like Roku.

"We really want to listen to our users; wherever they want this. It's really designed around the PlayStation user," says Lempel.

When PlayStation Vue goes live today, Sony's offering users a seven-day trial period after which they'll have to commit to one of three monthly pricing tiers: $50 for Access; $60 for Core; $70 for Elite. The tiers are based on access to additional channel lineups -- not increased remote DVR storage -- with Core adding a sports package and Elite bolstering that with a lifestyle, music and family programming package.

[Image credits: Sony PlayStation]