How PlayStation Now sets PS4 apart from Xbox One

This is a guest post by Ash Wilton from the gaming blog I Am Ash Wilton

It was with a wry smile and a nervous roll of the fingers that Andrew House introduced us to the next phase of PlayStation’s edict for the future.

But this wasn’t the poise of a man announcing a hugely significant project that has been years in the making, rather a man selling us roof insulation on our doorstep in the midst of a sweltering summer.

And yet what he lacked in delivery he more than made up for in substance. Earlier than anyone expected, and bigger than we could’ve possibly predicted, PlayStation Now is very real, and it’s only a few months away from debuting in the US.

The current situation for PS4 backwards compatibility 

Due to their completely different infrastructure, it’s unfeasible for modern gaming systems to be backwards compatible with the game libraries of their predecessors.

As our consoles have become more and more sophisticated, there has been less and less flexibility with regards to backwards compatibility, and now, with the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, our most up-to-date machines are completely devoid of any ability to play the games of the previous generation.

You may have a stack of PlayStation One titles you dare not part with, but unless you go and grab the PlayStation 2 from the attic, then you won’t have the means to play them. And if you’re an owner of an original Xbox with a penchant for revisiting Halo 2, then your Xbox One just won’t do the trick.

And therein comes the desire to have access to your entire breadth of games on one system, accessible whenever you want them and without the hassle of dusting off old covers and realizing that you misplaced your 8-megabyte memory card.

But the longing for a streamlined experience that perfectly melds a vast library of games together with our top of the line hardware may not be too far away from becoming a realization.

The glue that seeks to hold the entirety of the PlayStation experience together, PlayStation Now is Sony’s technologically fallible response to the PS4 backwards compatibility conundrum. It’s not a complete answer to the lack of backwards compatibility but it’s a start. And although it isn’t asking you to cast aside all of your disc-based titles just yet, it is an agreeable compromise to the push for an all-digital games library.

What is PlayStation Now?

What was once known as Gaikai has become PlayStation Now, a cloud-based service that allows you access to a number of PlayStation titles from both the past and present to stream and use between a number of devices.

PlayStation Now and the freedom of choiceBe it your brand new matte black PlayStation 4 console or your haggard, lint-encrusted mobile phone, the games of PlayStation have never been more accessible, and the freedom of choice is right at the heart of this groundbreaking Sony movement. It’s quite clear that Sony is continually trying to give you a variety of reasons to own a PS4 and PS Now is as forward-thinking a reason as any.

What was once an idea left to rot on the cutting room floor is now the focal point of Sony’s assault on the current plethora of console gamers who have either stuck by the brand throughout or like me, moved back to the house that Ken Kuturagi built after a six-year sabbatical on greener pastures.

But the future is bright over here now that the old, aspirational, boundary-pushing Sony have returned, and next to the PS4, PS Vita and PS Vita TV, PlayStation Now serves to compliment an already technologically dexterous set of devices that pushes forth the brand as the pinnacle of gaming freedom.

Available on a rent-per-title basis or as a full yearly subscription, PlayStation Now is set to launch exclusively in the United States in the summer, with the closed beta for the service getting underway very soon.

PlayStation Now in action

Eager to let the public get an early hands-on experience, Sony rolled out a few testing booths for the service immediately following its announcement at CES 2014.

PlayStation Now demonstration with The Last of Us playingStill in its early stages, there wasn’t a chance to show off a PS4 game being streamed onto a Vita or a PS3 title being downscaled to a tablet. But a demo of the tech did show PS3 titles God of War: Ascension and The Last of Us make an appearance on the PS Vita.

With the much heralded ‘power of the cloud’ being so untested right now, Sony did their best to get ahead of any fears regarding latency and lag problems that users of the service may face come its release. In short, Sony rep Sid Shuman stated that, “An internet connection of no less than 5Mbps” would be enough to utilize PlayStation Now without any hitches.

And as if to reaffirm his statement, Inquirer journalist Carly Page, who had hands on time with God of War: Ascension on the PS Vita noted that, “There was none of the lag typically associated with gaming streaming services”.

Sony just broadened its audience of potential gamers

Of course, PlayStation Now is a service that will provide a great sense of nostalgia for all of those who grew up with the likes of Ridge Racer, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon. And from Sony’s point of view, PlayStation Now opens up an entirely new untapped demographic.

With games in the service being so numerous, so accessible and so diverse, it’s Sony’s belief that there’s a game out there for everyone. And if it serves to cast a lasting impression, then they needn’t even go out and buy a console in order to continue enjoying the titles that they’ve just become accustom to.

Instead, PlayStation Now will allow them to enjoy some of the most critically acclaimed games ever made that have graced a PlayStation device. And PlayStation Now members can do this all in a comfortable environment of their choosing, all at their own pace, and all at their own discretion.

And if this leads to an eventual purchase of a Sony system, be it the PlayStation 4 console or a Bravia television, then all the better. PlayStation Now’s versatility means that it is as much for the battle-tested gamer as it is for the bus driver, the teacher, the baker and the preacher.

Gaming is no longer just for the ardent gamer, and without alienating their core user-base, PlayStation Now is Sony’s broadest ever attempt at incorporating every type of player all under the banner of a single, multi-faceted service.

PlayStation Now gives PS4 the advantage over Xbox One

Microsoft’s aggressive push for an all-digital next generation of consoles fell flat on its face before it even got out of the gate.

After announcing original plans for the Xbox One which would require a 24hr check-in and users being barred from lending their games to friends, the ‘No DRM’ movement began in earnest and culminated with a full reversal of Microsoft’s policies. A rare victory for the aggrieved consumer masses, many looked to Sony for confirmation that they too would be shirking away from such abhorrent practices, and after an affirmation from Andrew House that this simply wasn’t the case, the much touted push for an all-digital games library dissipated for the time being.

PS4 and Xbox One side by side on televisionsBut with both consoles practically being on the same level as far as games, features and services, there was much less to choose between them. Exclusive game series like Halo and Dead Rising on the Xbox One, and Uncharted and InFamous on the PlayStation 4 meant that many stayed with their preferred choice of brand and picked up their consoles natural successor, but unlike the previous generation in which the PlayStation 3 was grievously overpriced, the price-point of the PlayStation 4 was much more appealing this time around.

Sony’s success was reflected in the fact that the PlayStation 4 became the most popular selling console in the UK last year, and the most successful console launch of all time. This was an amazing achievement for Sony and a testament to everything that they had done right in regards to approaching this next generation.

But alongside the exclusive PS4 games like Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall, and the services like Music Unlimited and PlayStation Plus that would be available as soon as the PlayStation 4 released, if you bought one of these consoles, it was primarily with a view to the future in mind.

PS Vita compatibility, exclusive games from some of the most talented development studios of all time, PS Vita TV and now PlayStation Now paint a vivid picture of unabashed ambition and a future that is well worth being a part of, for as we stand, every one of Sony’s dominos is falling neatly in to place, and it won’t be long before the PlayStation package becomes the all-encompassing entertainment behemoth that could even go as far as being a system seller.

The wheels are still turning over at Xbox HQ, and there are many enticing games on the horizon, but next to the compulsory inclusion of Kinect with all Xbox One packages, every single Xbox app being walled behind a premium payment service (which isn’t the case on the PlayStation Network), and the somewhat forced promotion of Xbox Smart Glass, complete with the incredulous swing from a gaming focus to an entertainment one has left Microsoft somewhat in the lurch.

Not too far down the line we’ll see revised Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles hit the shelves, but whereas a potential Xbox One package could cast-aside Kinect in favor of a less-inflated price, the choices are much more varied from Sony’s perspective.

You may have already heard that there will be a PlayStation 4 and PS Vita bundle coming sometime this year, and next to that, there’s a great possibility that we could see PlayStation Now bundled into some sort of all-in-one entertainment package with a Sony exclusive tablet, phone or even a Sony TV.

PlayStation Now’s dextrous infrastructure means that it doesn’t need to be tethered to a gaming console, and as such, it opens up a whole other wealth of routes into the medium that the Xbox simply cannot.

The Xbox One console may be striving to become the singular device for all of your entertainment needs, but the depth in choice and myriad of ways to access and utilize the games of PlayStation provided by PlayStation Now is an approach that allows gaming to branch out like it never has done before.

The Xbox and PlayStation rivalry may be unending, the sheer magnitude of PlayStation Now’s intentions may be enough to not only give it an edge, but maybe even give it a victory in this afresh console generation.

A summary of PlayStation Now

  • Allows the streaming of an expansive library of PlayStation titles via the cloud to a number of devices.
  • These devices include, but aren’t limited to, Bravia televisions, PlayStation consoles and tablets.
  • As of yet, no games have officially been announced for the service, however God of War: Ascension, The Last of Us, Beyond & Puppeteer were available to play at CES, so it’s fair to assume that they will all be available.
  • And due to a patent that Sony has recently filed which will allow them to edit older games, it’s likely that some of your favorite past titles may come to the service, perhaps even with trophy and multiplayer support.
  • The games are hosted and streamed from the cloud ‘Gaikai’.
  • This means that all game saves and updates are also stored on the cloud, therefore there’s no need for any local storage.
  • An internet connection is required.
  • ‘Big Screen’ PS4 games downscaled to mobile phones and tablets will require a DualShock 4 controller to play, whilst downscaled PS3 games will require a DualShock 3.
  • You can stream games on a per-game basis, or purchase a subscription for unlimited access. This subscription would be in addition to PlayStation Plus and Music Unlimited.
  • The service will be fully available to those in the US come this summer, with a European release coming sometime in 2015.
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