What is PlayStation Vue?

PlayStation Vue. Sony

If you’re like me, more and more of your friends are ditching high-priced cable and satellite dish services for what is commonly called "a la carte viewing." Think about it. Add up the cost of Netlflix, Hulu, your favorite On Demand service like Vudu or Amazon, and you can even add HBO Now in April, and you won’t get close to a cable bill in most major cities in this country. It feels like companies like Comcast and DirecTV, who have long charged exorbitant prices to offset the channels that don’t get as many viewers, are going the way of the dinosaur. What’s going to be the tipping point? The one thing that’s missing from the current dynamic of a la carte viewing is the ability to watch live TV. You can’t watch March Madness on Netflix. But what if you could watch live TV on your PS4 or PS3? Would you ditch the cable bills and make the jump? Sony sure hopes so, as they’re rolling out PlayStation Vue in select markets this month, boasting a cloud-based TV service that is clearly designed to replace your cable box and DVR.

Will it work? As with all technologies, there are going to be some growing pains, but the technology here is interesting and has a ton of potential.

The basic set-up of Vue is simple. Download the app from the PS Store and you can now access it from the smart part of the XMB in which you access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. The key feature, at least for now, is live programming, which is the same live programming you would get with a cable box. In other words, you will watch the local feed of CBS, right down to your local news and local commercials. You can pause live TV, and it did appear that the live TV was a few seconds behind DirecTV after a quick test watching March Madness on both devices and comparing how in sync they were.

The live TV is neat and comes with an excellent, user-friendly interface but modern viewers need bells and whistles, and Sony has a few. You can tag your favorite shows while you’re watching them and the system will “Record” them for you for the next 28 days. Sony also claims that the last three days of popular programming are available without the need to schedule. So you forgot to schedule “The Daily Show” last night? It’s still going to be there the next day. The interface also works like social media in the way it pushes you to other content you may like. While watching “Dateline NBC,” you can browse through other recent true crime shows that have been digitally recorded or will be on soon.

Here’s the first big problem: Not everyone is on board yet. So, there’s no ABC or Chicago-based WGN, for example. But the line-up is pretty robust for a start-up service, including FX, AMC, Sundance, Comedy Central, and the Turner networks (TBS, TNT, etc.). The problems come down to what you watch and what you may be missing. If you watch “Scandal,” and you need to see it live, Vue isn’t quite ready for you yet, but one imagines they will be soon. And you could use Vue as just part of you’re a la carte viewing and catch “Scandal” on Hulu, for example.

How much? $50, which may seem like a lot for people in smaller markets where cable bills are still affordable but may seem like very little in major markets like Chicago where it’s damn near impossible to get under three figures a month just to watch TV.

Finally, there’s something modern audiences don’t care about nearly enough but is a concern for me and so may be for you. I watched a number of shows on Vue and none of them looked above 420p. The HD streaming quality just isn’t comparable to even Hulu. It’s likely something that will improve over time (I’m old enough to remember when Netflix looked like VHS tapes when it started streaming), but it could be a growing pain.

That’s the best way to look at Vue overall. It’s just getting started. Is it something that I could see PS4 owners using regularly in the future? Absolutely. The interface is gorgeous—it’s intuitively designed and easy to use. And most of the problems I see with the service now are the kind that can be fixed—more networks, better streaming quality, etc. Cable companies, take notice.