The PlayStation 4 may not be the most important part of Sony's gaming strategy anymore. At CES 2014, Sony has just announced PlayStation Now, a service that will bring streaming PlayStation games not only to PS4, but also PS3, PlayStation Vita, and even televisions, tablets, and smartphones.
It's the company's public-facing brand for Gaikai, the cloud gaming technology it purchased in June of 2012, which the company previously said would bring PS3 games to the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita later this year. Sony says the technology is already working here at CES, with attendees able to try critically acclaimed action title The Last of Us here in Vegas. The full service will let users rent games or pay for a subscription that will let them "explore a range of titles." Sony will launch a closed beta in the United States at the end of the month, and plans to roll out the service more broadly by the end of this summer.
"The tethers that have constrained consumption for decades... soon dissolve," said Sony CEO Kaz Hirai.
Games in the cloud
Gaikai works on practically any device — even smartphones — because the games don't actually run locally at all. Cloud gaming services work more like a YouTube video, where powerful servers in remote data centers actually run the games, and stream compressed video frames of that game running to your local devices. They send the input from your touchscreen or game controller to the cloud. It doesn't necessarily require an extremely fast internet connection, but it does require one with very low latency, so that the time between you pressing a button, and the time you see the reaction, is as short as possible.
Originally, Gaikai only streamed PC games to the web and to televisions, racking up deals with Samsung and LG to bring games like The Witcher 2 to their devices, but when Sony nabbed the technology it apparently figured out a way to have those servers emulate legacy PlayStation 3 titles as well. We haven't yet heard how, but it's one way to run PS3 games on PS4. Right now, games from previous PlayStation systems don't work if you stick them in the PS4's disc drive.
In addition to games, Sony also announced a cloud service aimed at television, which will offer live TV, video on demand, and even DVR recording functionality.
Update: Sony says that the PlayStation Now service will first roll out on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3, followed by the PlayStation Vita handheld, and that "most 2014 US models" of Sony's Bravia TVs will support PlayStation Now. The service will stream full games, acccording to the company, and save your games in the cloud. You'll be able to rent titles or pay for a subscription service.
European rollout may take a while, though. Sony writes that it is "not quite ready to confirm launch plans for PAL territories" yet:
"When it comes to broadband provision, Europe is a considerably more complex region, with a huge number of different providers and varying connection speeds from country to country. In short, we need a little more time to ensure a smooth and successful roll-out."
Update 2: In a press release, Sony writes that PlayStation Now will support online multiplayer, trophies, and messages.