Sony's game-streaming service, PlayStation Now, is here, bringing with it a massive library of the PlayStation's back catalog to devices never designed to play them.
With the subscription and rental-based PlayStation Now, PlayStation Vita owners will be able to play games like The Last of Us on a handheld. Bravia TV owners won't even need a dedicated console. The service could boost the PlayStation 4's library with thousands of new and old titles, essentially bringing much-needed backwards compatibility to the new console.
Even better, based on our hands-on time with PlayStation Now, it works.
Performance in games like The Last of Us and God of War: Ascension was impressive. Lag input was noticeable, seemingly more so on Vita when moving The Last of Us' Joel and waiting a beat for him to respond, but more than playable. Even the higher frame rate, faster paced action of Ascension was playable, though compression artifacts and more muted colors were present.
But the technology is striking, to say the least; these are capable, playable versions of PS3 games without the need for a dedicated console. Despite the small amount of latency, PlayStation Now already feels like a viable game-streaming option.
At CES, Sony showed PlayStation Now working on a Bravia TV and PlayStation Vita, with a handful of PlayStation 3 games playable: The Last of Us, God of War: Ascension, Puppeteer and Beyond: Two Souls. Sony reps said those games aren't necessarily indicative of what titles PlayStation Now will launch with later this year, but confirmed that the focus, at least initially, is on bringing PS3 games to the service.
Jack Buser, senior director of PlayStation Digital Platforms, told Polygon that a wide variety of titles are planned for PlayStation Now, but he wouldn't confirm whether both first-party and third-party titles would be available at launch — though it certainly sounded like they would be.
Buser also couldn't offer details on how the Gaikai-powered streaming technology would work, declining to say whether Now users would be playing on dedicated, remote PS3 hardware or virtual machines that emulate PS3 hardware. Also unclear is just how rentals and subscriptions will work, or whether they'll be part of Sony's PlayStation Plus service. Reps declined to comment when asked.
Reps could confirm that people who play multiplayer games on PlayStation Now would be able to play with others using more traditional means. A PlayStation Now subscriber playing The Last of Us multiplayer, for example, can be matched with others playing the same game on a PS3 Blu-ray disc, a Sony rep said.
PlayStation Now on non-PlayStation hardware, like the Bravia TV on display at CES, will work with DualShock 3 controllers. They'll require a one-time sync over USB, but should connect via Bluetooth for further play. On PlayStation Vita, a graphical overlay displayed at the top of the screen shows that the handheld's back touch panel will be split into four quadrants to compensate for the fewer number of buttons.
Expect to see PlayStation Now for yourself starting later this month, when Sony plans to roll out a limited, external beta. The service is slated to release sometime this summer.
PlayStation Now is targeting PlayStation devices (PS3, PS4, Vita) first, then other Sony devices, like Bravia TVs and tablets. Support for non-Sony devices will come afterward.