Gaming On The Cloud: Hands On With The PlayStation Now Beta

The PlayStation Now open beta has arrived in North America, and even though it’s currently only available on PS4 and won’t be heading to Europe until next year, it still gave us a chance to see what the service is all about, and whether or not there’s the potential for grand appeal down the line.

To get started, I found myself going to the PlayStation Store to grab rentals, rather than a dedicated app. The section of the store that houses PlayStation Now also lets you test your connection to ensure you can play, browse all the titles available, read additional info about the service, and see which games you’re actively renting.

The actual rental process is very similar to video rentals. A connection test is required before completing the transaction, and the timer for the rental doesn’t begin until you open the game for the first time. After completing the checkout within the store, you can either launch the game there, or head to the PS4’s dynamic menu, which is also a home for all your active rentals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCyAT9PBgEc

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Once inside the stream – which takes between 30 and 45 seconds to load – you use the left and right sides of the touchpad on the PS4 controller for select and start, respectively. The options button appeared to be completely inactive, and the share button just gives a quick notification that video and screenshot capture services don’t work while streaming a game. I also found out that if you leave the service paused for more than ten minutes, it gives a 60 second warning to press a button or it boots you out of the stream entirely.

The home button brings up a sub menu, and this is where things get a little confusing. While streaming, you have the full PS4 menu at your disposal, which allows you to party chat with friends, receive PS4 notifications, and do everything else you can normally do while playing a game, but there’s also a small PS3 menu you can open that allows you to manage saved data, sync your PS3 trophies (this can’t be done using the PS4 menu), and look at your PS3-themed friends list.

It’s a little awkward remembering to sync trophies via the PS3 menu before closing a stream because if you forget, you don’t see those trophies on your PS4 list unless you go back into a PlayStation Now game and sync. Having a friend send you a message while streaming is also a little odd as you get two notifications for it, one for the PS3 menu and one for the PS4. The save data utility on the PS3 menu was also a bit of a head scratcher because you have the option to backup your saves using the cloud. Even if you don’t back them up, the saves are still ready and waiting the next time you stream a game, which made me wonder why that option even exists.

Shatter PS Now

If I haven’t lost you in all the menu madness, let’s get down to the real question: does it work? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. I tested Shatter, Killzone 3, and Grid 2, which are all games I’ve played locally on a PS3. Their streaming counterparts are a little more rough around the edges, but they’re all very playable. The input delay was noticeable when I first started playing, but it was very small and very consistent across all titles, so compensating for it was a short and easy learning curve.

Shatter was a great test for the delay as it requires very quick movement and precise controls. I blasted through the first seven levels of the game with ease, using only a few continues along the way. As with the other two games I tried, I did see a bit of video compression at work, with the end result being a little better than high quality YouTube video. The pixelation is often noticeable, but it’s still high definition video and it always ran very well. Shatter and its amazing soundtrack was also perfect for verifying that audio doesn’t take too much of a hit, and although it was a little more flat than I’d like, it still sounded great.

Next up was Killzone 3, which was the most difficult to play on the cloud. It maintains the majority of its impressive visual sheen and it ran like a champ (normal frame-rate issues aside), but the weighty controls of Killzone were all the more difficult to adjust to with a touch of input lag thrown on top. The single player and multiplayer handled all the same, but it required more time to develop a comfortable feel for the controls. That said, after about an hour of the campaign and a few online games, I went for 13 kills in my final round of team deathmatch, so it’s certainly still possible to compete with others, even with the disadvantage of playing on the cloud. Local co-op was also available and felt exactly the same as playing solo.

It’s also worth noting that all your stats and progression with Killzone 3’s multiplayer carry over to PlayStation Now, even though you can’t bring the save file from your PS3. Also, the leaderboards within all three games worked correctly and showed all my friends’ high scores, stats, and lap times. The only thing network related that didn’t seem to work was DLC. Killzone and Grid both had in-game stores for post-launch content, but both of them repeatedly threw up error messages when I tried to access them.

killzone 3 PS Now

Finally it was Grid 2’s turn to take a lap around the cloud, and I assumed this might be the game that would give me the most trouble. I was wrong, as I had no issue winning each of the races I attempted in the campaign. The input lag was the most noticeable when correcting steering while drifting around corners, but again it was small enough that I adapted after a couple of races and didn’t have to think about it after that.

As for my testing environment, I have a DSL connection that very consistently clocks speeds at around 25mbps down, and 4mbps up, with a ping of about 30ms when tested with a local server. It may also be worth considering that I live in the fourth largest metropolitan area in the United States, so wherever Sony’s nearest server cluster is, it probably isn’t too far away.

PlayStation Now strongly recommends only using a hard-wired connection for streaming, and after trying it both ways, so do I. I experienced several control issues on wi-fi that I never noticed when using an ethernet connection. I was also faced with multiple connection errors when I tried to use the service shortly after it launched, but after waiting for a few hours those errors disappeared entirely and haven’t shown up since.

The long and short of my experience with the beta is that it absolutely works as advertised, but some changes are needed to really put it over the top. The selection needs to grow, the menu system to manage trophies and save data could use a few tweaks, and yes, the pricing needs to change on a lot of the games currently offered. Having said all that, the technology behind the service seems to be the real deal. But even with the low latency and decent video/audio quality, a PS3 sitting in your entertainment room is still the best way to play these games. If that scenario isn’t an option for you, PlayStation Now certainly seems to be a proper alternative.

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11 Comments

  1. Thanks for the write up! As I feared, I don’t think this will be for me. My internet speed is a fraction of yours, and there’s no way I can use a wired connection as my set up is two floors above the port.

    • If you ever want to go wired, buy some Powerline Adapters. A few friends of mine have them and they’re great to use. It just uses your eletricity ring mains (in the walls) as the network. Sadly, a crap broadband connection isn’t going to cut it still. :-\

      • Dan Lee, I couldn’t agree more with bunimomike than if he came round my house and gave me a free Rocket lolly. Powerline adapters are a perfect solution to your wifi range problems. I work from home (have done for over 6 years now) and work every day in my converted loft (away from the family part of the house) with the wifi router being a couple of floors down from me and at the other end of the house. Also, if I get a little downtime I also have my PS4 up in the loft so I can power it up for some gaming and there are no issues with connection (no more than when my PS4 was in the living room).
        You can get Powerline adapters which provide, at the receiving end, a mix of wired, wifi or both, connections. They’re really useful and have enabled my home/work lifestyle.

      • Same for my mate, fella. Works from home and didn’t want repeaters everywhere. His place is a mahoosive one bedroom studio apartment so bought the powerline adapters a few years ago and hasn’t looked back. Gets 180 mpbs across them consistently and without worry. I’m sure he’ll grab the 500 mbps versions sooner or later.

        I now want a Rocket lolly. Thankfully, I can console myself with a FAB lolly instead!

  2. Price is really the only thing holding me back for now. No doubt Sony will try and bridge Now and Plus somehow using cross-promotions.

  3. I get the idea that this is created for a specific crowd, but I don’t think it’s a crowd I am ever likely to be a part of – For one, because I like to actually hold physical copies of my games, but for another, I can see this getting really quite expensive if you go for one of the options & then decide you want to play more, so have to cough up again. Which for some games could be an issue even if you go for the 90 day option. You would probably be better off just buying the games if you have the option to do so (i.e. you still have a PS3 to play them on), as it would work out considerably cheaper.

    Then there is the issue of streaming, where you would pretty much need a guaranteed consistent connection, which I am not sure at the moment can be guaranteed. Mine doesn’t drop too often, but it does still drop from time to time & it would be bloody irritating if that time was when I had rented a game to play.

    Not for me I don’t think.

  4. Good to hear it’s working well and as it’s still beta it should be much improved when we get it over here.
    Like Dan above my connection isn’t that good, no more than 6mbps, so not sure if my connection will be good enough to give it a go.

  5. Not sure how many of TSA’s brethren will enjoy this but it’s a great idea for those who might be a little more relaxed when it comes to gaming. It’s also very interesting reading about how you thought the service was genuinely good which builds confidence in it. God knows it needs it.

  6. I love the idea of this service but the video is grating. Playstation Now “bayder” is almost as irritating as that woman on the Argos adverts with the catch line “Argos i'” or “Call of Doodee”.

  7. Hopefully my 128Mb/s line will work fine even if the data center isn’t too close.
    It’ll be interesting to try out a few titles I’ve never played, but yes the pricing does need to be sorted out.
    Agreed about getting a line of some sort in rather than use wifi, I don’t use the powerlines I had anymore, I’ve move it into the kids room, but all my consoles, and my gaming PC kit are linked in via gigabit ethernet and switches.

  8. It all sounds fine, still not sure who it’s aimed at though. This might be a service that some gamers would like, but i don’t think those who cough up for a next-gen console will want to go down a route which compromises on visual fidelity and the freedom to play whenever and for however long as they want.
    I think it has more chance of taking off once it expands to other, cheaper devices like PS Tv or smart devices, where it can reach a more, or possibly less discerning audience..

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