28 Previews

Hands-On: PlayStation Now shows huge promise at CES - but is yet to entirely convince

By Mike Jackson on Wednesday Jan 8th 2014 at 4:00 AM PDT

PlayStation Now is a big deal. It streams PlayStation games not just to PlayStation devices but, in future, to non-Sony devices with an internet connection. The big question, as with any cloud streaming service, is: how does it overcome the issue of latency?

Sony followed up its Last Vegas CES press conference - where the service was announced - with a small PS Now-focused hands-on event at which press got to grips with a demonstration version of the service.

On offer was a small selection of PS3 games - The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, Puppeteer and God of War: Ascension - which were playable on a PS Vita and a Sony Bravia TV.

Our immediate impression was positive. The Last of Us ran with commendable clarity and smoothness on a large flatscreen TV with no PS3 console in sight - just a TV, a wireless DualShock 3 and the USB cable that had been used to pair the two dangling out of a USB port on the side of the display.

The Last of Us was playable at CES 'streamed' to a Bravia TV

Glancing over to the PS Vita booth we saw Beyond: Two Souls looking absolutely stunning on that small OLED screen, running with no notable loss in clarity or smoothness.

But there was one major crux; both demo stations were streaming this slick, smooth gameplay from servers located no farther than the next room. What's more, Sony reps at the event confirmed to CVG that neither were streaming wirelessly either. Both were tethered to those extraordinarily local servers via a wired connection (the development Vita in use features wired connectivity not present in the retail unit).

Clearly, then, this was far from a real-world test. Literally, miles away - when you eventually try PlayStation Now at home there will be several miles of cable between you and the server your button commands are being beamed to.

CVG was informed that the firm is rolling out data centers across the States ahead of the Summer launch to ensure that as many potential players as possible will have a connection to a relatively local server.

"Clearly this was far from a real-world test. When you eventually try PlayStation Now at home there will be several miles of cable between you and the server."

PlayStation Now director of marketing Peter Jamshidi told us that the service will perform tests on a users' internet connection to ensure smooth functionality, and advise them of any possible insufficiencies before allowing payment for the service.

Those lucky enough to have a data center in or near their town, we were assured, will enjoy ultra low-latency cloud gaming over real-world network conditions provided the customer's home internet speed is up to scratch.

For now though, that's simply a promise. Under these beyond ideal demo conditions we would expect nothing but a flawless experience - and near flawless it was, too.

Playing via the Bravia TV offered an almost indistinguishable experience from playing on an actual PS3. The controls were responsive and the game itself ran seemingly identically. We did notice a few unusually long load times when compared to loading levels on a physical PS3, but it wasn't disastrous.

Beyond: Two Souls looked flawless on the PS Vita's smaller OLED screen.

Upon closer inspection, we could also see slight evidence of video compression on the large screen typical to live online video services - it certainly wasn't streaming lossless 720p video, but that's no surprise considering the extreme bandwidth that would be required (so a physical PS3 will still likely provide the optimum experience).

CVG was told that, similarly to video streaming services like Netflix, PS Now will automatically scale video quality depending on network conditions. A slower connection will result in a more heavily compressed picture, but with such ideal conditions for the demo no such scaling was evident.

On the small Vita display however, any video compression taking place was completely undetectable. We played Beyond: Two Souls and God of War: Ascension on the portable and both looked stunning.

PS Now on Vita appeared to work identically to Remote Play streaming directly from the PS4 (which Sony has previously said is achieved using its Gaikai tech). The Vita's shoulder buttons are mapped to L1 and R1 on the DualShock, while R2/L2 and R3/L3 buttons are handled by four designated areas on the rear touchpad.


Interview: John Koller on PlayStation Now's streaming revolution

SCEA's marketing VP discusses Sony's potentially game-changing service

Just as with Remote Play, prodding the rear touchpad brings up a small, blue, semi-opaque icon to acknowledge where on the touch surface you're pressing. Sony reps were unable to confirm whether, again like Remote Play, the shoulder buttons could be remapped. We expect they will be.

What we saw at the event was encouraging, but ultimately left the big question of latency unanswered. Little was proven other than, yes, Sony can stream a PS3 game to a TV via an ethernet cable.

But Will God of War: Ascension's fast-paced combat system and super-challenging battles be adequately playable when the virtual PS3 you're playing on is significantly farther than a stone's throw away? Or when your wife is watching Netflix in the other room? Or when everyone in your neighborhood is on Facebook chewing up local bandwidth?

We'll have to wait and see...