The future of gaming is Now, PlayStation Now. Sony’s cloud based gaming service PlayStation Now is that future according to Sony in any case. It may seem like pie in the sky stuff until you consider the recently released details.
Powering the Now cloud will be custom silicon that manages to cram 8 PS3’s onto a single sliver of silicon. Silicon that will not only be driving PS3 games to the latest generation PS4 but will also see PS3 games delivered to Bravia TV’s, PS Vita, tablets and other partner devices.
With silicon at the ready Sony Now is in testing, the services beta period is expected to last through the first quarter of 2014.
What has come to be known as PlayStation Now was initially discussed six months ago by Sony. The service was mentioned after gamers over-reacted to the fact that the PS4 would not be directly backwards compatible with the PS3. At the time Sony quelled the masses by promising cloud based emulation of PS3’s.
The fun and power of PS Now however isn’t going to come from bringing PS3 games to the PS4, a desirable feature for the new console but not essential. It will come from bringing gaming to other members of Sony’s gadget family. Currently Sony has announced that Now will be available on certain Bravia TV’s, the PS Vita, and tablets along with partner devices (Sony may open the platform to other devices), all now capable of playing PS3 games in all their glory.
The technology that Sony has built its cloud upon is far more exotic than anyone could have expected. Early experiments powering their cloud were based around using actual PS3 consoles racked and networked. This presented space, heat and electricity requirement issues that combined to severely limit the number of consoles that could fit into a server farm. Emulation was also a possibility but again the power and number of servers required made this an unfeasible.
The only option left for Sony was to create some custom silicon for the job, they did and it was good. The result crams 8 PS3’s onto a single piece of silicon. Shirnking 8 complete PS3’s into a single chip not only solved most of Sony’s issues it also improved latency by removing the HDMI output from the system.
Latency is the enemy of all cloud based services, especially gaming. Having a console in the living room ensures fast frame rates and low latency, typically 30 frames per second and 100-150ms latency. A tough act to follow for cloud gaming.
Initially cloud gaming will be very sensitive to the latency and speed of your internet connection, Sony recommend at least 5GBs for smooth frame rates. Latency is another issue though, 3G or 4G mobile connections with 250ms will make gaming difficult, bad enough that your brain will try to compensate for the lag and eventually hurt. Cable and Fibre connections with 7-10ms latency will do the best, fast and smooth. ADSL connections sit somewhere in the middle with about 100ms and may be just enough to get the gaming going.
The release schedule will see the USA and Canada receive the service in Q2 2014 on PlayStation devices. Q4 2014 will see the service launch in Japan and Korea with the service extending to other Sony/Partner devices (everything besides the PS4 and Vita). 2015 will see the service launch in the EU. While Australia and New Zealand aren’t mentioned in the schedule industry insiders are suggesting the antipodeans launch will also be in 2015.
Pricing is still a bit of an unknown. Talking to the PlayStation Magazine UK Sid Shuman, Sony social media manager said “you can rent by title for specific games, or you can choose a subscription that delivers additional value with a wide variety of genres. For example, you can try out a game by rental first, before deciding to actually purchase the full game and download it to your console”. Still no mention if there will be a monthly fee to access the system.
Sony is about to set server farms of super PS3’s loose on the world, the future looks fully rendered and ready to play.