Can Sony’s PlayStation Now service replace your video game console? It depends.
I know that sounds like a cop-out. But the value of any subscription service—Office 365, Spotify, Netflix, whatever—will depend on your personal needs. In the video game space, we now have major console players like Sony and Microsoft weighing in with their own games-based subscription services.
I’ve covered the differences between the two services, Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now, respectively, in the past. But Sony’s offering is unique in a number of ways. It’s a streaming service, for starters, so it’s more akin to Spotify or Netflix than is Xbox Game Pass. And it works on PCs, not just a console.
That last bit is particularly interesting to me. You can stream games from a console (or PC) to another screen using an Xbox One or via Steam. But Sony is the only major service provider to stream games directly to your PC from the cloud. (Yes, I know there are smaller players too.)
There are a number of things to consider here if the thought of playing (many) PS3 and (some) PS4 games on your PC intrigues you.
First, of course, is Internet speed: You are literally streaming the games in real-time from the cloud, so a pokey DSL connection isn’t going to cut it. We’re currently using an 80 over 80 Mbps FIOS connection, which is, of course, fine for this usage. And in my experience so far, the performance has been excellent and lag-free. Granted, Sony only streams in 720p, but I find that to be acceptable.
Second is your PC: I’ve been playing via PSNow using my desktop PC, which is fairly high-end, with a 2.9 GHz Core i7 processor, Radeon RX 460 graphics, 16 GB of RAM, and fast SSD storage. And, as noted, the results are excellent. But I also tested the service on the new Surface Pro, which uses mobile parts (though admittedly on the high-end of the scale as well). It seems to work just as well, albeit on a much smaller and high-DPI screen that the PSNow app in no way accommodates. (The text is very small in the app; games look normal.)
Then there’s the cost: You can sign-up for a free 7-day trial at any time, and then pay $9.99 for the first month. But the normal monthly cost is $19.99, double that of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass. If you pay for a year upfront, however, the cost is just $99.99, or about $8.33 per month. But that’s a big commitment, so use that first five weeks—the free week plus the first month at $9.99—wisely.
Game selection is another big consideration. Sony advertises that there are over 500 games available via PSNow. And that’s true, but 480 of them are older PS3 games, not current-generation PS4 games. This isn’t necessarily bad, of course: There are many, many excellent PS3 games, and they’ll look and play great at 720p. But this service will get all the more interesting as more PS4 games become available each month. For an Xbox gamer like me, though, most of these games are new, so it’s a great selection.
Finally, know that you will have to purchase a Sony DualShock 4 controller—which comes with PlayStation 4—and plug it into your PC via a USB cable. (Which also charges the controller.) If you’d like to play wirelessly as you do on a console, you’ll also need to purchase a DualShock 4 USB Wireless Adapter. I’ve been testing with a USB cable since all my extraneous gear is packed away in Pennsylvania at the moment because of a pending move. (No, you cannot use a keyboard and mouse to play games.)
Setup is easy enough, though on each PC, the PSNow installer inexplicable set the default audio device to the controller’s speaker, rendering the system mute. So I had to go into the audio settings and re-set it to the PC’s speakers each time. Boot-up time varies per game, and it seems like PSNow does a bit of per-game configuration the first time you run any game. But it’s never objectionable.
I tried to play a few different types of games to see whether action or multiplayer play might uncover an obvious weakness, but the performance and quality have been good to excellent, with only occasional hitches. First-person shooters like Killzone: Shadow Fall are, perhaps, the most taxing, especially in multiplayer. But they seem to work OK beyond my inept handling of the unfamiliar controller. And a great racing game, called Split Second (for PS3) played accurately at speed, with great graphics.
What I’m most interested in, personally, are some of the high-profile PlayStation games we don’t get on the Xbox, like Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us. In Uncharted 3, I could easily handle the fighting sequences without any lag—duck, then punch—and it was easy to forget I wasn’t sitting in front of a real console.
You can play games in windowed (resizable), maximized (where the taskbar and app toolbar are still visible) and full-screen modes, and performance seems to be pretty consistent across all three. This means you could conceivably load up a game next to web browser or other application and, um, multitask. Just a thought.
Assuming you can find some games you want to play, and I’m thinking you will, this is a great value, and probably worth the $99.99 per year. You could subscribe to this service for two and a half years for the price of the cheapest PS4 console, and yet have access to all those games. (Remember you need the controller too.) And more are coming online all the time.
In short, this is worth looking at. Especially if you’ve always wondered what things were like over in the Sony camp.
Tagged with PlayStation Now