For any Vita lover it’s most likely a sure thing you’re getting a PS4. This is mainly because us fanboys were the ones who bought a Vita (or the fanboy’s wife bought it for him for Xmas…thanks Gorgeous!). But as sold as most of us are on the PS4, there’s been on thorn in our side for too long: Remote Play.
Originally this seemed like a bigger promise with the PS3. Play a ton of games on your Vita, wherever you are. Win! Then it turned out you can remotely play PS1 classics and some minis and that’s pretty much it. Which you can probably just put directly on the Vita in most cases. So, uh, yeah. Remote Play has been underwhelming to say the least.
PS4 brings us hope with Sony all but guaranteeing that the games we love will work on our Vitas from even our beloved toilets (yes, this was sorta promised). But that bent (maybe broken) promise of how awesome it would be on PS3 still nags the handheld PlayStation fans. What was once a gleaming ray of hope is now an anxiety filled proposition that will ultimately decide the full value of our shiny new PS4s. Well I’m here to alleviate some of that anxiety. Pull up a chair (even if you’re already sitting, go get another one) and let me spin you a yarn:
How does this **** even work?
Well the idea has been around for a long time. PSPs had a touch of the Remote Play bug but it was even more underwhelming than the Vita version. Discussing it in depth might lead to an aneurysm from disappointment. OnLive and others (like Gaikai) have done similar things (which I’ll discuss shortly) to varied degrees of success. Anyone use Netflix to stream movies? Well games aren’t much different. What’s a game except for an interactive video experience after all. So for this to actually pan out, there are only two things that need to go well. The first, using our Netflix comparison, is that something needs to push the video to our Vita. Just like watching a movie. Simple so far. Here’s where it stays simple. Know how Netflix will pause a movie when you “press” a “button?” Or fast forward or display a menu, etc? Same idea. The Vita will have to rapidly send a signal using “buttons” to influence the video experience. I (and pretty much everyone) like to call this the “input.” I know what you’re saying: “Yeah but for a game there’s all sorts of different things that could change the ‘video’ experience. How does this get juggled?” Well that’s still simple. The PS4 is still doing (almost) all of the work. The PS4 does all the calculations, computations and processingations that it normally does. All it does is send the resulting video streaming to your hands, rather than a TV. So really the biggest concern is how fast can the input from the Vita get to the system and how well is the PS4 streaming the content (video) back.
How well will this **** even work?
Well that’s the part that causes anxiety. Going back to the PSP days is not a good idea. Poor video performance, dramatic input lag and general crappiness abounded. But there’s hope for the future! Through some anecdotal evidence available today, let’s analyze the outlook for the future.
You mentioned OnLive before. What’s that?
Glad you asked! I was looking for a reason to bring this up. OnLive is a service very similar to Gaikai (that Sony bought to do some of the things we’re about to talk about). OnLive is a free application for mobile devices and computers that allows you to stream games. Starting to sound pretty familiar right? With this service, you never download anything else. You can pay for the rights to play a game but everything stays on the cloud. As a promotional deal, I received Lego: Batman (I think the Wii version) with the app download for Android. Why does this matter? Well it means I can use OnLive to play Lego: Batman (or a ton of other games) streaming on my phone. Replace “OnLive” with “PS4” and “phone” with “Vita” and we’re essentially discussing the same idea. I’m betting you want to know how well it works. Pretty great considering. The video feed is EXCELLENT using OnLive. And that’s with all three phones I’ve tried it on (HTC Incredible, LG Spectrum and Samsung S3). So the video streaming technology is easily capable. Input lag on the other hand was a problem. However, it was a spectrum (not the LG one) problem though. On the Incredible (worst processor and first time I tried the service) the lag was to the point of making the game unplayable. Moving up the chain to the (LG) Spectrum, the lag improved considerably. On my S3, the lag is acceptable under optimal internet conditions. I could play the game ON A PHONE without breaking something. So hardware matters but think about this: I can play a Wii quality game, using a cell phone. I think that’s pretty remarkable.
In a contest of sheer hardware power, guess which one I’m betting on: My S3 or my Vita?
Yup, I laughed too, there’s no contest. So what I’m getting to here is that OnLive shows us that not only is the idea viable but mobile devices can handle it. Specifically, the Vita can kick this idea’s butt!
But there’s a problem. You’re talking about a cloud based company streaming, not my PS4. So what can I expect with my hardware and my internet running every aspect?
Another question I’m glad you asked. First off I’d like to answer something unrelated. I said Sony purchased Gaikai. Well that company is generally accepted to be pretty damn awesome at what I said OnLive is pretty darn tootin’ good at. Sony has also said they’d like to bring the PlayStation Library to Gaikai to stream to PS4, Vita and mobile devices. So that’s looking pretty bright. When Gaikai is set, I expect it will work nicely. Depending on your internet connection of course. OnLive has proven to me that the service can work!
But back to Remote Play. You’re right, there is a difference streaming from the cloud when compared to streaming from my home. You may have seen me allude here or there to the fact I live in a rural area with subpar internet infrastructure. I was very worried about this. Because it means my PS4 when I get it, will need to use my crappy rural internet to stream to my Vita, which will in turn be dependent on the internet quality of where I am at remotely to send the input back. YIKES! For the record, I have no doubt the hardware on both ends will be more than capable of handling this. So the only thing you need to worry about is internet connection. To reiterate…mine kinda sucks.
But more history should have us hopeful. This entire post almost became a footnote in my 10 Minute reviews series. Recently, Ico (the HD remaster) was added to the Instant Game Collection for PlayStation Plus. I’ve never played this so I jumped at the chance based on how awesome everyone says it is. I booted it up and was informed there was a software update. Yawn…
Except I was then greeted with the message that the game was…do my eyes deceive me…COMPATIBLE WITH VITA REMOTE PLAY! Finally, a game someone might actually want to play using the Remote Play function. So I tried it of course. Three different ways. Let’s examine shall we;
- Trial 1- Running the game with my “Private Network.” This means that everything stays (pretty much) directly between my PS3 and Vita with no crappy rural infrastructure to get in the way. This would be the ideal method of play in your home. And it’s great. You heard me. GREAT. The Vita allows three video quality setting (+1, normal and -1) to help you out if your internet sucks. I ran it this way at +1 (the best setting in case some of you are unfamiliar with + usually meaning “good”). The video quality was more than adequate. It wasn’t as good as my TV but I have to say it was close. I wouldn’t hesitate to play the game like this. As for the more important piece I have one thing to say: “Input lag? What input lag?” I honestly couldn’t detect any. Apart from a much smaller screen (65″ to about 5″) and some inherent resolution differences this was like playing it on the PS3. No foolies!
- Trial 2- In my house but using the “over the internet” option. So this means that the rural internet crappiness was factored in a little as it does add a middleman to ping the information back and forth. First off, the video. I started off at +1 and I was surprised that the video was still really good. On that setting I could definitely play the game with no issues. However, at +1, the input lag was pretty bad. There were framerate drops and overall the game was not something I’d recommend. I dropped it to -1 and while the input lag was nearly gone (seriously, it was pretty smooth input) the video took a huge hit and any game relying on detail would not be playable. I put it on “normal” and…it was acceptable on both fronts. If I was hanging out somewhere and had this quality I could play it. I would choose a game loaded on the Vita over this experience though, unless it was a game I really wanted to progress further in. I literally didn’t change where I was sitting on my couch. The rural middleman made a huge difference however.
- Trial 3- And this one is why I’m getting excited. I took my Vita to work. I asked an IT guy for the password for our guest network. Where I work has a little faster internet than home and the work routers are a lot better than the one I have. I was hopeful. During a break I booted up the Vita. I started to get worried due to a long screen with nothing. Uh oh…is the Vita even going to be able to find my PS3? Yup. The XMB showed up finally. Phew! It looks “meh” though. Not good. I load Ico. Still more pixelated than I would like. The game starts in “normal.” The title screen is still not great. The game starts. It looks similar to Trial 2 on “normal.” That’s a good sign. I try to play. NO INPUT LAG. None. WHAAAAAAAAAAT?!? Let’s put it on “+1.” Anxiety rising! The video improves. In fact, it’s nearly as good as the Private Network option used in Trial 1. I hesitantly press a button. My horned little hero reacts instantly. I run around. Flawless. I enter another room. Still great. I make a chandelier crash. Everything is running smoothly. I go back to the first area to see the really pale female getting assaulted by shadows. I attack! And it’s glorious. Not the game’s combat mechanics. Those are pretty terrible I have to say. But there’s no detectable lag. There’s no framerate or video issues. It’s playing fine. Remotely. If I played longer, might I see some framerate drops or input? I would imagine so. But nothing about Trial 3 makes me think we won’t be just fine after all.
Don’t get me wrong. Sony could still **** this up royally. But the nagging question of, “can they keep their promise this time” has an answer. And it’s a “yes.”
Images for preview purposes via Playstation Japan