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PS4 Backwards Compatibility – Can you play PS3 games on PS4?

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PS4 pic

One of the most common questions we’re asked is whether the PS4 is backwards compatible – if it can play PS3, PS2 and PlayStation games as well as those made specifically for the PS4.

The simple answer is that no, you cannot simply put a PS3 game in your PS4 and play it. The two systems are fundamentally not compatible with each other.

They use completely different system architectures, which means the PS4 would need to emulate the PS3’s system in order to make the games work. The figure often quoted is that a system needs ten times the power of the thing it’s emulating in order to do so at full speed.


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Sony does claim that the PS4 meets this ‘ten times’ more powerful mark, but producing a workable emulator also requires a whole lot of work – and that means a healthy cash investment, too. Sony decided not to do this, and it’s sure to be one of the most common complaints about the new console. We can imagine many people simply assuming they’ll be able to play their old PS3 games on the thing.

There is a solution, though.

PS4 Backwards Compatibility: how it will work

Sony plans to launch a game streaming service in 2014, which will let you play PS3 games on a PS4 – and even a PS Vita. Its works in a similar manner to OnLive, perhaps the best-known game streaming service.

All the processing will be done ‘in the cloud’ by Sony’s servers, with just the video transmitted to your actual console. The one potential issue is lag, caused by the amount or to-and-fro’ing data has to do. First your controller inputs have to be sent to the Cloud, then the resulting action transmitted back – it’s a two-way process.

However, reports on the technology behind the feature have been very positive.

PS3 streaming will use Gaikai tech. Gaikai is a company Sony bought in July 2012, and before it was acquired it offered comparable game streaming services, aiming at giving publishers a way to show off their games. According to Digital Foundry, the input lag of Gaikai circa March 2012 was variable, but as little as the lag caused by the Xbox 360’s wireless controller at the best of times. That’s quick.

Which games we’ll have access to, how much you’ll pay and which systems will feature on the game streaming service is unknown. However, there are several possibilities.

It could be part of the PlayStation Plus incentive package. You could be allowed to freely stream any PS3 game put in the PS4’s disc drive. It may be a completely separate pay-monthly subscription service or – worst of the lot – we could be forced to re-buy any games digitally within a new store. This is how it works with the PSOne games currently available on PSN. Hopefully Sony will come up with a more interesting solution.

However, the only solution at present is to keep your PS3 if you don’t want to instantly consign your PS3 games collection to the past.

If you have any more questions about the PS4, drop us a line in the comments.


Next, read our Xbox One vs PS4 comparison

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