With the help of a free update, the PlayStation 4 can now stream games to computers. Sound the trumpets!
Let’s talk a bit about how it works, and who’s most likely to care.
If you have a devoted space for both your game consoles and desktop PC, Remote Play is probably of no use to you. This is basically for laptop users, in other words, who have to share TV time with other family members or friends and don’t want to spend $300 on a tiny 11.6-inch proprietary mobile screen. Even Sony gets this, illustrating Remote Play on its PlayStation Blog with a picture of someone holding a DualShock 4 controller in front of a Vaio laptop.
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Kickoff was a little inauspicious: my PlayStation 4 crashed as it was applying the 300 MB update (version 3.50), which is never good. When I tapped to restart the system, I got an arcane error code, then a worrisome “rebuilding database” screen. But once everything came back online, all seemed fine.
To use Remote Play, you have to download a tiny app from Sony here (it supports Mac or Windows PC). You also need your PlayStation 4 gamepad and its USB cable to connect to the computer. Launch the app and you’ll be prompted to log into your PlayStation account on your computer. The app then searches the Internet and links hands with your PlayStation 4, which should already be on and Internet connected. And presto, you’re staring at your PlayStation 4’s home screen in a smallish window you can optionally toggle full screen.
That’s theoretically how it should work. My first few tries failed with connection speed errors, as the app claimed the network was too slow. The second try got me right in, but launching games yielded jittery results to the point of unplayability. I don’t just mean the sort of visual artifacts or drops to low-fi graphics still part and parcel of the streaming experience, in other words, but full visual washouts and relentless rapid-fire audio stutter—the kiss of death for anything with remotely twitchy gameplay.
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Sony writes that for best results, it recommends a pretty zippy connection “with upload and download speeds of at least 12 Mbps.” I ran a Speedtest check—not hard science, but sufficient—and clocked 45 Mbps down and 25 Mbps up, roughly two to four times the rate Sony suggests.
I reset my router and tried again, ensuring my local network was clear of traffic and other devices, only to get the slow connection error ad nauseam. For the record, I’m using a souped up mid-2015 MacBook Pro, which is way ahead of the recommended specs.
I’m guessing the problem right now is on Sony’s end, with whatever’s handling the handshake, maybe because the servers are hammered as people flock to give it a whirl. That’s conventional wisdom now: online-oriented apps that feel broken at launch often recover a few days later, when user interest dies down.