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March 18, 2016

My love affair with PlayStation Vue: a cautionary tale

by John_A

You have to appreciate the irony: I’d intended to write this as a ringing endorsement of PlayStation Vue, Sony’s cable-like streaming TV alternative. The service, available on PS4, PS3 and iOS, did just launch nationwide earlier this week after a year of select market testing, of which I was a part. But when I got home from the gym a few nights ago, ready to watch a DVR’d episode of The Real O’Neals (any opportunity to watch Martha Plimpton in prime time is a good opportunity, okay?), the service shit the proverbial bed. It could just have been a case of launch week jitters, the sudden influx of PS Vue subscriptions stressing Sony’s servers. But, for me, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

Here’s how it all fell apart. Initially, the PS Vue app wouldn’t launch at all on my PS4. Then, when it did finally load, it was as if I’d never used the service before — all of my personal settings were gone. None of my favorite shows were listed; I couldn’t access the program guide — it kept telling me I needed to add channels — and, without that, I had no way of changing to another channel. My screen was frozen on a comically unflattering shot of Lisa Vanderpump, the perpetually pink-clad proprietress of Vanderpump Rules on Bravo, as error message after error message filled with nonsense strings of letters, numbers and underscores popped up. It was as if I’d just discovered a faithful lover had cheated on me for the first time. I was angry, but I wasn’t entirely ready to give up.

I took a breath and closed the app from the system settings, hoping a reboot would change things. It didn’t do much, but at least now, after a minute or two of impatiently waiting, my DVR’d shows appeared. So I selected the new episode of The Real O’Neals, opened a bottle of ginger-lemon kombucha, and sat back to enjoy an episode of… Fresh Off the Boat? One of these things is not like the other. One of these things does not star Martha Plimpton.

In frustration, I turned to Hulu for my TV fix and, finding no new episodes of The Real O’Neals, resorted to sampling that new JLo cop drama Shades of Blue. Which, by the way, is a much darker show than I expected.

To be clear, this had never happened before. PS Vue has been pretty much rock solid for the entire year I’ve been using it. In fact, out of all the streaming services I subscribe to (i.e., ad-free Hulu, Netflix, Amazon), the only one I ever rely on anymore is PS Vue. Exclusive original content like House of Cards aside, Sony’s streaming service gives you access to pretty much everything you can find on those other standalones. The channel offering is now robust enough to rival cable or satellite offerings, as it includes live broadcast (in select markets) and premium cable networks like Showtime. There’s still no HBO, but eh, who doesn’t have a login for that?

The tiered packages — Access, Core and Elite — are all reasonably affordable at $40, $45 and $50, respectively, thanks to a recent price cut. Plus, there’s that unlimited cloud DVR which stores every aired episode of a favorite program. And scrubbing, the ability to fast forward or rewind, has been beefed up, so you can zip past ads at 32x speed.

PS Vue’s the reason why I’ve altogether abandoned my DualShock 4 controller in favor of the PS4’s Universal Media Remote (apart from the occasional bout with Bloodborne, I don’t really game on the system). It’s a great service, but like everything connected to the internet, it’s bound to fail. And fail it did… hard.

The service has since bounced back to normal — it pretty much resolved itself overnight — but the sting of that interruption, albeit brief, still lingers.

Before this hiccup, I only ever encountered an issue with PS Vue once. It was last April, just one month after PS Vue’s soft launch and I’d been away from home at the time, so I wasn’t aware of the service interruption. What tipped me off was an email from Sony apologizing for an outage and a $10 billing credit. I thought nothing of it until I went to watch my DVR’d episodes of Will and Grace — nearly an entire season was unwatchable. Nothing had been recorded. I shrugged it off at the time as an early launch bug. I’m an early adopter, after all, so this sort of thing is par for the course.

But it’s not so forgivable when the general public cuts the cord and climbs on board.

Image credits: Sony PlayStation

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