Who'd ever think the deciding factor between two video game consoles wouldn't be their system-exclusive games, features or controllers but the way they commodify cable television?
It all started back when Microsoft's Xbox One sided with cable companies by including an HDMI passthrough port, letting users connect their cable box to their TV using the console. Sony, on the other hand, didn't build the PS4 to work with cabledirectly, instead opting for a recently unveiled over-the-internet streaming service called PlayStation Vue.
After seeing Vue first-hand at Sony's offices in San Francisco last week, I can safely say that while the Xbox One might have started off as the all-in-one entertainment system, PS4 is about to give it some serious competition.
So just what is PlayStation Vue? It's a streaming TV service with access to both basic and more robust cable channels that's similar in form and function to Sling TV, except it's only available on PlayStation products and iPad, and in three US cities - New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. That means like Sling, Vue is in direct competition with cable and, from everything I've seen, it's going to give gamers five good reasons to cut the cord and jump on the internet TV bandwagon.
What is it? A streaming TV service on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and iPad
When is it out? It's available in three US cities - New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia - and will be available in more metropolitan areas in the coming months
How much will it cost? Pricing starts at $49.99 per month for the basic package (45 channels) and goes up to $79.99 per month for the premium package
1. PlayStation Vue is like TiVo, but enhanced by the cloud
TiVo, if you've never used it, is a godsend. It keeps tabs on your favorite shows and records them for you to watch at a later date. But as cool and innovative as TiVo was 10 years ago, the only aspect of the service that's changed in the past few years is its pricing.
PlayStation Vue comes packaged with the power of TiVo. Tell it your favorite shows and it will record any instance of them on any channel whether the system's on or off. Oh, and while TiVo was limited by internal storage, Vue uses Sony's cloud servers to store any number of shows and episodes for free for up to 29 days.
"So, wait," you might be thinking. "I can tell it I like a show and it will record every instance of that show on any network and I can watch it whenever I want? That's crazy talk, Nick."
Darn straight it's crazy talk. But Sony's just doing what any normal company would do to keep up in these crazy times.
2. Vue can recommend shows you actually like
Look, you know what shows you like. I know it. Sony knows it. But you only know what you like because you've watched it before, right? What if there are shows out there that you don't like - but you might like - because you haven't watched them and only would if something like Vue recommended them? Makes sense, right?
PlayStation Vue is a lot of things but on a list of words I'd use to describe it, the word "smart" would be the first. Vue, like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, knows what you're watching. It also knows what shows are similar in nature to the shows you're watching and when they're coming on. So if you're watching American Dad at 9 p.m. on TBS, for instance, it can intelligently recommend Family Guy on Cartoon Network at 9:30 or an episode of The Simpsons on Fox happening right now.
So how does it know all this? Each show has a set of metadata attached to it. Metadata may include a show's genre, its actors and actresses, its creators and producers, and what channel it appears on. This metadata is then mixed in with crowd-sourced data - what other users who like the same stuff watch - and the results are spit out for your viewing pleasure. Like I said, smart.
But crowd-sourced recommendations are only one piece of the, "You might like…" puzzle. Sony will also give individual channels a spot to recommend content in the Vue app. Comedy Central can list shows it thinks its viewers might like, which allows you to quickly bookmark them and record episodes in that series going forward.