Author’s Note: This is less a definitive review and more some observations of what the service is as it stands, what it offers, how it works, and in what ways it could be counted upon to deliver in the future.
I signed up for the PlayStation Now free trial subscription offering last week and since then have taken to testing out three different games on the service. I was familiar with two of the games, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and God of War: Ascension. I was unfamiliar with the third, Darksiders.
In all three cases, I took to testing out the service over my wi-fi connection which when speed tested nets well above the 5mbps Sony recommends for the service. I thought this the most important way of testing it as the future of PlayStation Now is meant to be a streaming service for not only consoles, but phones, laptops, and tvs many of which are not always or rarely ever hardwired connected devices. Without further ado: Impressions!
Subscriptions Offer Peace Of Mind
I am not sure what Sony was thinking in their early pricing structure for PlayStation Now in the current open beta. It is quite clear from experiencing both the free closed beta and the free 7 day trial subscription, PlayStation Now will be a much better value for everyone as a highly functioning subscription service as opposed to an on demand rental service. The ability to switch between games rather seamlessly and save data in the cloud without worries of extra purchases for new games or an expiration date beyond your own subscription is the ultimate comfort.
With all three titles, it was as simple as going into the app on my PS4 and clicking on them to start the game. From there, the games show up in your game stream as normal PS4 apps and you can go in and out of them without re-entering the PlayStation Now store until you decide you would like to grab another game.
The idea of PlayStation Now is still in its infancy in terms of related streaming services.
The games show up in your game library if they ever drop out of your top 15 last played games and it makes it rather simple to go right back into the game after a brief connection testing window. Again, this is happening much faster than it would if you had to contemplate price, rental time, and your own availability to play each time you looked at purchasing a game. This allowed me to be less wary of using the service beyond a couple games I had not played and made me want to explore even more than I would have otherwise.
There is some weirdness in the subscription offerings however. Primarily, I find it a bit odd Sony is offering two subscription types. A monthly subscription and a tri-monthly subscription. Keeping pricing structures simple would seem to be the way to go here and Sony has made customers even have to second guess their options here. I would think it would be easier to choose whether they want to be Amazon Prime or Netflix style subscriptions, but Sony has chosen to be both and neither of them at the same time.
You can pay $45 for 3 months of the service and set it to renew automatically or you can pay $20 a month with automatic renewal. You cannot sign up for an annual subscription nor can you lock the $15 a month rate in if you choose not to purchase a lump 3 months. It is weird and I’m not entirely sure why they are choosing to segment their subscribers this way.
Lag and Latency Are Issues
Let me state a couple caveats. I intentionally chose a couple of games that were action intense, but I did not choose fighting games. As a class of games, the effect of even the slightest input issues can cause problems for a match in fighting games more than any other kind of game. I have never really liked attempting to play fighting games online too much in the first place. I have made it work previously, but I did not attempt to even think PlayStation Now would be a good option for that.
Each game I chose had latency and lag issues even after PlayStation Now told me my connection was good enough to stream the game. As with any wi-fi connection, my own connection wavers in and out. Even when playing games like Destiny, which are locally stored on my PS4, I am kicked from sessions or my friends are kicked from sessions or the audio chat may jump. This is what it is to use a wireless internet connection for a service whether it be Skype or GChat or PlayStation Now.
This is not to excuse the performance, but to provide context into the world in which these difficulties occur. This is the single largest step Sony will have to overcome, which is the national online infrastructure and their own infrastructure as well as some of the problems that come with streaming anything whether it be audio or visual.
The surprising thing is Sony built in a feedback tool to let you know if the connection falls too low and the game will cut you out at that point. I only reached the cut out point once and it gave me a bit of a countdown allowing my internet connection to catch back up again before ultimately cutting me out.
PlayStation Now is moving rather quickly in its evolution and becoming more of the service it could become after this open beta ends.
The games on PlayStation Now run fine for a good amount of time I was playing them. There is some lagging issues and latency issues. Controller input was not so much of an issue, but when the stream lags, the game misses some of your controller inputs as well. Currently, PlayStation Now is serviceable and I was still able to enjoy the games I played. These issues do exist though when using a wi-fi connection and they exist less so over a wired connection.
I would recommend using PlayStation Now over a wired connection as opposed to wi-fi as it stands. The wi-fi streaming with service has shown to be serviceable, however, it is more interrupted.
Sony Still Has Some Work To Do
The idea of PlayStation Now is still in its infancy in terms of related streaming services. Netflix hit its stride a couple years after it began streaming. Music streaming services took some time to hit their stride as well. It is not imperative the service be exactly what it will be right now 6 months in, but it is imperative for the service to show signs of evolution and that is currently what we are seeing. There are things they have in the pipeline to further evolve and we will see how things come along.
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Sony has cleared up some of the mystery around the service by additionally offering a much better subscription model, but getting this service to stream well over wi-fi is Sony’s biggest challenge. Thus far, I am impressed with what they have, and I will check in again with the service’s open beta down the line and see how things evolve from here. If they can get the wi-fi streaming even better and clarify the subscription models up, PlayStation Now is moving rather quickly in its evolution and becoming more of the service it could become after this open beta ends.
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