Is PlayStation Now the Netflix of gaming?

We took Sony's new game-streaming service for a test drive

Published: August 12, 2014 12:30 PM

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Sony’s PlayStation Now game-streaming service lets you play PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Network games over the Web without having to store them on your system’s hard drive—similar to movie streaming sites such as Netflix, Vudu and Hulu Plus. It’s now in open beta for PlayStation 4 owners, and we gave it a try.

What’s the appeal?

For owners of the PlayStation 4 (and also the Xbox One), the lack of compatibility with older games has been a big disappointment. PlayStation Now is a way for Sony to address that issue. There are currently over 100 games available on the service, and that library of titles is expected to grow. There are some newish games on the list, but no brand-new releases as yet.

PlayStation Now is also expected to roll out to more Sony devices, including the PlayStation 3, the handheld PlayStation Vita, PlayStation TV, smart phones, tablets, and some Sony Bravia TVs. The ability to stream PlayStation games directly to your TV could be exciting for those who are interested in gaming but haven’t wanted to drop hundreds of dollars on a console.

How well does it work?

We used Dead or Alive 5 as a demo for the service on our PlayStation 4. We ran it side by side against a physical copy of the game on a PlayStation 3.

When connected to the network with an Ethernet cable, the service ran fairly smoothly. While the PlayStation Now game’s image quality was not on quite on a par with that of the physical game, that didn’t detract from the experience. We noticed some grainy halolike artifacts, especially around text, and the image quality softened a bit during fast action segments. We didn’t notice a significant lag time when pressing a button on the streaming version of the game when compared to the physical copy.

We then switched from Ethernet to a strong Wi-Fi signal and did not notice a change in performance. With a weaker Wi-Fi signal, though, the game occasionally froze, but only momentarily. Of course, a fast and reliable internet connection is recommended, and your gaming experience will be dependent on this. And the PlayStation 4 verifies that your Internet connection is able to support game streaming before it allows you to rent a game, which is a useful feature—at least you won’t pay for a game that you can’t play.

For more reviews, news, and tips, check our guide to video games, consoles, and tech toys.

How much does it cost?

Prices vary according to the game you select and the length of your rental. Rental periods are 4 hours, 7 days, 30 days, and 90 days, and the prices range from $3 to $30. Currently, there is no subscription plan for PlayStation Now to allow unlimited access to these games—which actually makes it less like Netflix, and more like an on-demand service.

Areas for improvement

We'd like to see PlayStation Now become a subscription-based service. Many of the games would get a lot more playtime if unlimited access was allowed for a monthly fee. And it might make sense to combine Now with the PlayStation Plus subscription that is required to play games online on the PlayStation 4. Although the list of currently available games is extensive, we hope to see many more, as the service matures.

Bottom line

PlayStation Now has lots of potential. Right now, it benefits only PlayStation 4 owners who are looking for more games to play or to relive some of their favorites. But in the future, Now could put gaming into the hands of a much larger audience by rolling out to Bravia TVs and mobile devices. In its current form, it’s not really the gamers’ answer to Netflix, but it has the potential to earn that title if Sony plays its cards right.

In the near future, PlayStation Now will have some competition from EA Access, a game-download service exclusively for Electronics Arts games for $5 per month, which will be rolling out to Xbox One consoles. [corrected 8/13]

—Matt Ferretti

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