Gaming for $100 – Your Best Choices in a Nutshell
Can you get a decent game console for $100?As the little brother to the PS4 the PlayStation TV is definitely the most gaming focused of this group. Inside this is basically a PS Vita that connects to your TV which gives you access to a full library of games. It works with PS3 and PS4 controllers and you can get the console by itself or the bundle which comes with a PS3 controller and a few extras. Next up we’ve got the Amazon Fire TV. This might seem like a weird choice butte Fire TV is outfitted with some pretty decent specs including a quad core processor. This is a better rounded set top box with plenty of video and music apps on top of the games. It only comes with a remote out of the box however there’s also a Fire TV controller available. Last but definitely not least there’s the Nexus Player. This is the first device running Android TV which is based on Lollipop. The Player is packing some serious firepower as well with a quad core Intel Atom processor and like the Fire TV you can play some games with the included remote or you can also pick up the Nexus Player gamepad.
Now let’s crack these open. Inside the PlayStation TV bundle you’ve got a PS3 controller, Mini USB cable to charge it, eight gigabyte Vita memory card which is basically a necessity and a code to download The Lego Movie game. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find the PlayStation TV itself, an HDMI cable which is a nice addition and the slightly bulky two piece power adapter. The hardware is absolutely tiny and it’s rocking a decent selection of ports including Ethernet and a slot for Vita memory cards and game carts. Now let’s jump over to the Fire TV. Inside you’ll find a small power adapter, the Fire TV itself which is pretty decent looking in person and finally the Fire TV remote. Around back you’re looking at HDMI, Optical Audio, Ethernet and a USB port. Slide open up the Nexus Player and right up top you’ll find the Player itself. The hardware fits right between the others in terms of size however it’s fairly light on ports. You’ve got power in, a Micro USB port and HDMI out all tucked away on bottom. It’s nice to keep cables clean but that means the Player is Wi-Fi only, albeit with rock solid 802.11ac wireless. You’ve also got a remote which is pretty basic; it sports a microphone for voice search and a couple buttons. The Fire TV remote looks almost identical but has a few extra buttons and a nicer feel in the hand.
Turn on the PlayStation TV and you’ll see this is a game console first and foremost. Titles like Need for Speed Most Wanted show that games that look decent on a five inch handheld don’t quite make the transition to the big screen very well. Games like Nidhogg look basically identical to on the PS4 though, nicely running at sixty frames per second and being awesome fun at the same time. Minecraft isn’t quite as robust as on the bigger consoles though, it’s basically the full game but the frame rate is more than a little choppy at times. Arkham Origins: Blackgate does a good job of bringing a lot of what’s great about the full console game into a lighter version however here I ran into one of my first big problems, the lack of a touchscreen. Most Vita games work just fine on the PS3controller but if they use the front or back touchpads you’ll have to dive into the menu and enable the touch pointer by pressing down the left or right thumbstick. This is a decent workaround but you’re still going to run into some games where this won’t be very practical. Vita games are great but one of the best parts of the PlayStation TV is that it can play a huge variety of games. You’ve got a good selection of PS1 Classics and PSP games you can download from the store as well as PS3 games using PlayStation Now. This is streaming based so you’ll need a decent internet connection but once you’re up and running it can be a cool way of playing some of the best PS3 games out there like The Last of Us. There is some latency which can be minimized if you’re connected via Ethernet but for $20 a month it’s a cool way of adding some top notch games to the PlayStation TV. You’ve also got PS4 Link to connect to your PS4 as long it’s on the same network as the PlayStation TV. There’s a fair bit of latency with this right now so its nota perfect solution but it can be handy if you want to play PS4 games on multiple TVs in your house.
Controller wise you can use either the bundled PS3 gamepad or the much better PS4 controller. This combined with the ability to play physical Vita games onto of all the digital titles makes the PlayStation TV hard to beat for $100, but it’s not quite that simple. The Amazon Fire TV has some gaming chops as well. Games like Asphalt 8 don’t quite measure up to console quality but it’s not too far off. Since the Fire TV is Android based you will find some actual console ports like GTA: San Andreas on board which you can run in HD with higher detail than the original, if you don’t mind PS2 like frame rates. Interestingly Minecraft runs better here than on the Vita, likely because it’s the Pocket Edition instead of a port of the console version. There are also a few exclusives like Sev Zero which is a hybrid tower defense game and first person shooter which is really surprisingly fun.
The controller is pretty decent; it mimics the layout of an Xbox gamepad and includes few media controls. If it’s not your thing though the Fire TV works with other Bluetooth controllers including the one from the Nexus Player. Since it’s running Android TV which’s fairly new the game library on the Nexus is a bit sparse right now. It comes with Badland preinstalled which is a really fun side scroller that not only looks awesome but could easily pass for a top notch console title. Leo’s Fortune is another mobile game that scales nicely to the TV; it runs smoothly and brings a solid plat former to the Nexus Player. Real Boxing is a very arcade style boxing game but it’s one of the better looking gambeson any of these consoles. Riptide GP2 has been around for a while but it’s still one of my favorite racing games for mobile and amazingly enough, it works well on the Nexus Player. Unfortunately only a tiny fraction of Android games have made the jump to Android TV and Minecraft is one of the big holdouts at the moment. I’m also not a huge fan of the controller, not only is it a fairly hefty $40 but the layout feels a little cramped to me, luckily just like the Fire TV though it is compatible with other Bluetooth controllers.
While all three have plenty of gaming creed it’s not enough to just play games in this group. Spend a few minutes with the PlayStation TV and you’ll find one of the big drawbacks, it’s limited to 720p compared to 1080 on the others. This would be a major problem for watching video, if that was much of an option in the first place. Download the YouTube app and it’ll let you get as far as opening it before reminding you that it’s only for the Vita. Try to download Netflix or Hulu Plus and you won’t even get the option of downloading. You can watch TV shows and movies from the PlayStation Store but if media is a big deal for you the PlayStation TV just doesn’t cut it. The Fire TV is much better rounded. Not only does it have the basics like Netflix and Hulu but you’ll also find apps like HBO Go, Twitch, Amazon Video and even solid music apps like my personal favorite, Spotify. The OS is nice and responsive and allows you to listen to music in other apps although there is a slight drawback and that is YouTube. Since Google doesn’t officially support Amazon’s version of Android you’ll have to settle for the web version of YouTube which works decently but tended not to play videos in 1080p for me. You do have a handy voice search option using the remote which is faster than manually typing but it’s pretty limited in what it looks for.
Android TV on the Nexus Player has hands down my favorite of the bunch. Just like Lollipop everything stays smooth at 60 FPS and it’s just quick to do basically everything. Up top you have your recommendations from YouTube and the Play Store with a slightly more useful voice search that pulls from lots of sources and, okay come on. The YouTube app is the best I’ve seen for the big screen and it also works like a Chromecast if you want to stream media from a phone or tablet. That’s important because like with games Android TV is still missing a few key apps like HBOGo which can be casted and Spotify which can’t be, leaving Google Play as your best option for music. Alright so that was a lot of information. The question is, are any of these actually worth it?
If gaming is your number one priority the PlayStation TV is hard to beat for $100.You’re getting a huge library of PlayStation games going all the way back to the PS1 through the PS4 and Vita. Android TV on the Nexus Player is right up there with the Xbox One in terms of looks and speed of the UI which I really appreciate but the app and game supports just a bit too limited at the moment. I doubt this will be a problem for very long but as of today the Nexus Player is more about promise than anything else. That leaves us with the Amazon Fire TV which really surprised me. It’s hands down the best media box herewith Ethernet, Optical Audio and basically every streaming service out there and the game library really isn’t half bad. It might not be quite as slick as the Nexus Player and have the huge titles of the PlayStation TV but for your $100 the Fire TV might just be the best of both worlds. So which would you go with?