The future is Now
One day, when you're sitting on your holo-couch (thanks, science!) playing video games with your mind, your children will ask about the old days of gaming. More specifically, they'll ask what it was like to use an electric box--and a controller no less--to play them. "You had to put a DISC inside a CONSOLE to play a GAME?" they'll ask, emphasizing every other word to make it known how perplexed they are by the very notion. And you'll tell them what it was like, how simple it all seemed--until Sony came along in 2014 with their fancy video game streaming service and changed everything forever.
Actually, the above scenario is just a theoretical Sony advertisement (no doubt in the works) meant to describe the far-reaching possibilities of its upcoming service, PlayStation Now. Announced during Sony's 2014 Consumer Electronics Show keynote, PlayStation Now is, in fact, the publisher's promised video game streaming service. And it's coming sooner than you might think! So, what exactly is it, and how will it work? Well, we don't have all the info just yet, but here's what we know so far...
Gaikai = PlayStation Now, rolls out summer 2014
First thing's first: PlayStation Now is the result of Sony's 2012 acquisition of Gaikai, a cloud-based game streaming service from the mind of Earthworm Jim creator David Perry. We've known for quite a while that said acquisition would likely lead to a Sony-branded Netflix-like streaming service for video games, as hinted during the PlayStation 4 reveal all the way back in February 2013.
The official PlayStation Now announcement came during Sony's 2014 CES keynote, where it was revealed that the service will enter closed beta by the end of January. An official launch is slated for the summer months of 2014. So depending on your definition of summer, expect it between June and September.
It'll allow streaming of PSOne, PS2, and PS3 games
So what kind of games can you expect to stream, exactly? In the long-term, a lot. Eventually, PlayStation Now's library will include classics spanning all Sony consoles. Want to dig into an old school PSX game? No problem. A PS2 favorite? Sure. Or, maybe you never quite got around to playing The Last of Us (you know, the best game of 2013)--now you can!
According to the PlayStation Blog, however, it seems PlayStation Now will be focused solely on the PS3 library. So while Sony's master plan is to bringing every legacy title from its console's gone by to every single Internet-enabled device, it's not quite there yet.
You can stream to almost any device with an internet connection
Ready for one of the best announcements bout PlayStation Now? It's (almost) device agnostic. Because its streamed games are running on Sony's Gaikai server farm--and not on the device you're actually playing the games on--you can stream to just about anything with an HD display.
That means you can play games as gorgeous as Tomb Raider on something as tiny as a smartphone or tablet--and, of course, the PlayStation Vita. Even the newest 2014 models of Sony's Bravia smart TVs will come with the capability to launch the PlayStation Now service, so you can play games without ever needing anything other than your TV. And, because it's all cloud-based, your saves will carry over across all devices. Neat, eh?
It supports online multiplayer and trophies
Okay, so what if you already have a PlayStation Network account and are big into Trophy hunting? What happens if you play a game through PlayStation Now? Don't fret; assuming the game in question had Trophy support to begin with, you'll still get credit for all your hard work.
The same goes for multiplayer. If you're using PS Now to play a PS3 game that has an online multiplayer component, you can still go head-to-head with strangers and friends alike. How's that possible? Well, again, look to Gaikai's server farms. However, it's yet to be seen how Sony will overcome that creeping horror known as latency...
Latency may still be an issue
Excited about the possibilities of streaming games? You should be, this is really cool stuff! Our pals over at CVG have had some hands-on time with PS Now, and it seems as though it works fairly well. But we'd be remiss not to mention that it may not pan out the way you're hoping it will--at least, not initially. See, as we've detailed in previous looks at cloud gaming, a little thing called latency could sour your game streaming plans.
A lot of data transfer is involved in sending user input to a server farm, then processing that input and sending it back to you, the streamer. Your bandwidth will ultimately determine how viable PS Now will be. And keep in mind that even if you can use the service with very little latency, the video quality won't be quite as good as if you'd played the same game directly from your console, thanks to compression. Many years from now, these hurdles might be overcome, but for now they're very real challenges standing in front of an otherwise exciting future.
You can choose to rent individual games or pay for a monthly subscription
Not everyone games the same, so it's nice that Sony's offering a few options when it comes to using the PlayStation Now service. Gamers can either choose to rent individual titles as needed (no word on pricing or how long the rental period lasts--or if it's even a time-based thing at all), or pay a subscription fee (again, no word on pricing).
Sounds great, right? But consider this: It's HIGHLY likely that the sub fee for PS Now will be entirely separate from PS Plus. Maybe Plus subscribers will get a discount, or some sort of special deal--but don't count on getting automatic access just because you're already a Plus subscriber.
Are you excited about PlayStation Now? We're curious: How much would you be willing to spend on a per-rental basis, or for a monthly subscription fee if it meant having access to hundreds of PlayStation titles? And would you ever bother trying to play those games on something like a smartphone or tablet? Let us know in the comments below.