Summary

Review Price to be confirmed

Key Features: Stream PS3 games; Subscription and rental service; Resume games on other devices; Runs on Gaikai cloud platform

Manufacturer: Sony

PlayStation Now liberates the Sony PS3’s vast back catalogue from the last-gen device. Is strong it enough to pioneer a new era of cloud based-gaming for console classics?

Both the Sony PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One came to the market without backwards compatibility. This wasn’t entirely surprising, given the entirely new computing architecture at the heart of both consoles. Supporting old discs would have meant piling all of the old components in alongside the new ones, and these boxes are big enough as it is.

However, gamers don’t want to hear excuses, they want to hear solutions, and one of these companies had a back up plan. The other one said ‘yeah, you should probably hang onto that Xbox 360 for a bit.’

Back in June 2012, nine months before the PS4 was even announced, Sony forked over a whopping $380m (about £250m) on a company called Gaikai, which specialised in providing games over the cloud.

PlayStation Now, which is now available in public beta in the United States (and more recently as an invite-only, free to try, private beta in the UK), is borne of that purchase.

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So, what is PlayStation Now?

The PlayStation Now app gives gamers access to a library of titles from the previous generation, streamed completely over the cloud (which partly solves that PS4 backwards compatibility issue). Gamers can take out a monthly subscription, or chose timed rentals of a wider range of titles.

There are AAA titles like, The Last of Us, Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham City, Irrational Games' BioShock Infinite, brawler Street Fighter IV Ultra, and Uncharted 3, as well as various entries from series like F1, Saints Row, inFamous and Assassins Creed. There’s a host of smaller titles like the recent Sonic 4 games, the PS3 version of NBA Jam and popular independent gems like popular platformer Guacamelee.

Over all, there are currently 125 games that are part of the monthly subscription plan and well over 330 that can be rented individually for various periods and various fees. As the service remains in beta, according to Sony those numbers are growing all the time as more titles are added.

See also: PlayStation Now vs Nvidia Grid

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PlayStation Now - How to play?

Naturally, the PlayStation Now open beta app is available on the PS4 in the United States, but PS3 and PS Vita can also benefit from the new streaming library. Other compatible devices include the PlayStation TV box, select Bravia TVs and new Sony Blu-ray players. The first non-Sony devices to get access will be Samsung’s newest smart TVs.

The multiple device compatibility promises to be a real boon, with PlayStation Now offering cloud game saves, allowing users to continue their progress on other devices.

Naturally, gamers will need a DualShock 3 or DualShock 4 controller, a Sony Entertainment Newtork account and an active internet connection hitting somewhat modest speeds of 5-12Mbps. From there it’s all about navigating the sign up process, choosing some games games and just cracking on.

See also: PS4 vs PS3

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PlayStation Now Price - How much does it cost?

The subscriptions are currently priced at $19.99 (around £13) for a month or $44.99 (about £30) for three months, which is a considerable saving. Sony is also offering a 7-day trial for those willing to test the waters in the U.S.

However, I’m in two minds about the value proposition at this stage. I enjoyed my 7-day trial, but I’m not sure I’d want to pay monthly given the relative paucity of the streaming library right now (I’ll get to that later). At the moment, it seems priced to high and offering too few titles to be a ‘Netflix of gaming’ as many have coined it.

In terms of rentals, Sony hasn’t quite hit the sweet spot here either.

See also: PS4 HDD Upgrade - How to increase your PS4 storage

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Ultra Street Fighter IV, for example, is $4.99 for a four-hour rental, $7.99 for a day, $14.99 for 30 days and $29.99 for 90 days. The game disc is available for around $20 to buy outright from the likes of GameStop. Prices vary depending on the title, but none of it seems too appealing.

Sony might argue that $4.99 is the same as you’d pay to rent a movie from iTunes, but once that movie is over it’s over. It’s not the same with a game like The Last of Us, where four-hours doesn’t really scratch the surface. Daily rentals can’t compete with RedBox prices, which offer nightly rentals for $3, but PS Now has the advantage of not needing a PS3, or even a dedicated console to play them.

Unfortunately, there are no options to extend rentals. So, if you bought a game for four hours, liked it and wanted to pay the difference to keep it for a week, well you can’t. You have to rent it again. That’s something Sony needs to iron out before the service fully comes out of beta.

Users don’t need to be PS Plus members to join the fun, so that’s a plus, so to speak.

See also: Upcoming PS4 Games 2015

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PlayStation Now - Streaming Quality

Of course, everyone will want to know whether the experience stacks up to placing a disc in the console. During my tests it did, for the most part.

Naturally the quality of the game streams will be subjective depending on your home internet connection and during set up you’ll take a speed test to ensure everything is in order. My speeds measured at 25Mbps, even though my web connection reaches 60Mbps. However, this was more than twice Sony’s 5-12Mbps advisory, so streaming was an absolute breeze.

Apart from a couple of times when the app was unable to locate an internet connection, playing games felt no different than doing so on the console. The Gaikai technology powering this enterprise is some powerful stuff.

Game loading times were comparable to, if not quite as fast as discs or fully downloaded games, but even with fast moving titles like F1 2014 the frame rate felt smooth, the HD quality was reflected in the output and aside from the occasional ‘screen tear’, there were no complaints.

Other reviews have mentioned being kicked out of games due to connection failures, but during my tests it wasn’t something I experienced. There was no buffering or freezing either. The only connection issues I felt were the occasional inability to locate a connection when attempting to load a game.

We mentioned handy cloud saves earlier, but all games are fully integrated with the PlayStation Network, so you’ll be able to earn achievements, play in online multiplayer battles, and interact with friends. This is no half-baked experience.

See also: What is PS TV? 10 things to know about PlayStation TV

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PlayStation Now - User interface

The user interface on the PS4 app is one of many areas PlayStation Now feels like a completed product rather than a beta. It’s entirely in tune with the rest of the system, there are no bugs or strange anomalies and everything is easy to find. Top marks here, but that’s to be expected.

PlayStation Now - Library Quality

Until the PlayStation Now launches as a full consumer product, it’s difficult to fully judge the library. Titles are being added at a rate of about five a month right now, but that includes smaller, little known titles alongside some of the classics from yesteryear.

June’s offering included Puppeteer, Braid, Way of the Samurai 3, Sniper Ghost Warrior 3 and an Adventure Time game. Make of that what you will. It’s very subjective.

Indeed, there are some bona fide classics in there, as we’ve mentioned above, but right now there’s nothing from EA Sports or Rockstar, No Call of Duty and No Skyrim. Some of the games featured within the 125 seem only there to boost the numbers. At the moment, I’d say the library is decent, without being spectacular, but that’s not enough to make me hand over $20 a month.

Again, once it comes out of open beta and is a fully-fledged consumer proposition, then we’ll be in a better position to judge.

See also: PS4 vs Xbox One

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PlayStation Now - Who is it for?

There are various ways PlayStation Now in its current form should appeal to gamers. For those buying a PS4, a Now subscription offers a cheap way to access loads of games while they build-up their next-gen library. For those without a console at all, it’s a host of AAA games available for a relatively modest fee.

Who is it not for? PS3 loyalists hoping to play their favourite games on the new PS4.

PlayStation Now - How it could be improved?

Although PlayStation Now effectively brings backwards compatibility to the PS4, it means nothing to the folks who have an army of discs and downloads stored on their PS3 consoles. Even if those games are available in the PS Now library, users will have to pay for them all over again via rentals or subscriptions.

Although Sony wilfully presented Gaikai as the answer to the ‘why isn’t the PS4 backwards compatible?’ kerfuffle, it’s not really showing any signs of panning out that way. All it is now is a way for Sony to earn more money from its older titles through new customers on different devices.

Even in the PlayStation Now FAQs Sony poses the question: “Can PS Now be seen as a backwards compatibility feature on PS4?” The firm definitively answers: “No. PS Now is a stand-alone service offering the ability to seamlessly stream PS3 games on a variety of enabled devices.”

That’s fair enough, but a means for PS3 gamers to play the games they’ve already bought is a must. It only seems fair and it’s not like the tech isn’t there to make it possible.

See also: Best Games 2015

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I’d also like to see PlayStation Now more aggressively priced both in terms of rentals and subscriptions. Neither option hits that sweet spot where intrigued gamers or impulse buyers will willingly pull the trigger.

A 12-month subscription is $180 if taken out three months at a time, or £240 if paying month-to-month. That might be ok for those who own a Vita or a PS Vue box, but for PS4 owners, that buys a good few PS4 games. Unless the library becomes a who’s who of PS3 games, it’s a difficult from a value proposition standpoint.

Any why stop with PS3 games? Sony has the opportunity to place its 20+ year back catalogue on PlayStation Now and truly make it a Netflix of gaming. Right now Sony says that is part of its ‘longer term’ vision for PS Now, so don’t expect it any time soon.

Early Verdict

PlayStation Now isn’t the democratic road to backwards compatibility, but it does unshackle an army of popular PlayStation 3 games from the last-gen console and allows them to be played on a huge range of devices, thanks to the sterling work done by Gaikai.

Sony has all of the other pieces important in play - a nice interface, multi-device compatibility, seemingly reliable streaming, PSN integration and cloud saves. Because of the cloud streaming, there’s little limit to how many devices it could appear on either. It’s all very promising.

However, in this beta phase, the library isn’t quite strong enough to justify the subscription and the rentals are pitched too highly to trigger impulse buys. There’s plenty of work to be done, but PlayStation Now can and probably will kick on and take an important and valuable place in the ever-expanding PlayStation ecosystem.

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