As a married man with only one TV at home, I don’t always have access to my gaming consoles. As such, I’m very familiar with features like remote play and cloud gaming, though my interest and regular use of the features date back to well before I tied the knot. The concept of being able to play my console games on the go was something I dreamt about since I was a wee lad who wanted nothing more than to play Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3 during recess on my GameBoy Advance SP. My dreams would slowly but surely become a reality, albeit in ways that never seemed quite perfect.
Whether it were games like Daxter on the PSP—which, though very good and at the time was considered “console quality,” never seemed to match up to Naughty Dog’s PS2 counterparts in terms of visual scope and fidelity—remote play on my PS Vita being a blurry, janky mess even with a decent internet connection, or the Nintendo Switch’s laughably dated chipset, the whole ‘console games on-the-go’ dream has yet to fully become a reality. Although, we are very, very close, and cloud gaming could be the thing that pushes us over the hump.
Sony, however, seems to have yet to realize this (at least for now), announcing a new portable console named the PlayStation Portal, whose entire function is for you to play your existing PlayStation 5 games via remote play; omitting even the ability to stream cloud games for PS Plus Premium subscribers. Not to mention the handheld will likely never be fitted with other cloud service apps from the likes of Xbox and NVIDIA, making its $200 USD price tag a tough sell.
As mentioned in my previous article about Netflix’s recent foray into cloud gaming, I’m a huge fan of Microsoft’s GamePass and Xbox Cloud Gaming. I was an early user of the service back when it first launched in 2020. Using my Razer Kishi to play Gears 5 and Halo: Infinite while on vacation thousands of miles away from home felt almost surreal. It wasn’t perfect, sure, with noticeable artifacting and other hiccups, but it was playable and the service has only gotten better with time. My only hope now is that Microsoft tweaks their servers to allow for proper 1080p streaming at a higher bit rate.
Having to play both cloud games and local games via remote play at 720p in 2023 is, frankly, unacceptable. Even Sony’s remote play app offers decent 1080p streaming, and Xbox’s cloud competitors, NVIDIA’s GeForceNow, and Amazon’s Luna+ offer not only a 1080p resolution but a higher overall bit rate; making games look almost as if you were playing them natively, at least according to tech journalists throughout the web.
Remote play is nothing new, and cloud gaming services are continuing to grow and improve. What hasn’t improved, however, is a way to use these features and services in a way that’s portable, seamless, and comfortable. For as much as I liked the experience of playing AAA games on my phone with the Razer Kishi, it still didn’t feel like I was playing a proper handheld console like the Nintendo Switch. Due to the aspect ratio of most modern phones, the screen size of even the largest phone never feels quite big enough. Also, the simple finagling nature of having to attach the accessory every time you wanted to play was a tad cumbersome.
And when it comes to tablets, I’ve yet to find a proper gamepad accessory like the Kishi or Backbone that turns iPads and other tablets into a makeshift handheld. Cheap, third-party ones do exist, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t have some quirk or another that makes the experience frustrating. Yes, you could connect a Bluetooth controller and set your tablet down in front of you, just like you would a laptop, and play the games that way, but the ergonomics of that setup leaves much to be desired when compared to a proper handheld like the Switch or Steam Deck.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the Steam Deck. Valve’s incredibly successful handheld PC not only has the ability to remote play your PlayStation and Xbox titles with their respective apps, but it can also use any of the aforementioned cloud services, on top of obviously being able to play much of your Steam library natively on the console itself. Seems perfect, right? Well, not exactly—at least not for me.
If you haven’t noticed, the Steam Deck is quite the big lad. At 12 inches wide and weighing in at a fairly hefty 700 grams, this is not a device you can simply toss around. Couple that with its subpar battery life, and the overall portability of the device comes into question. Not to mention its 720p screen with less-than-stellar color accuracy is a corner I wish Valve hadn’t cut. There is a device that exists, one that I myself actually bought on an impulsive whim just last night, that (hopefully) accounts for all of my pedantic desires; and it’s not the PlayStation Portal, though let’s speak more on that first.
Fitted with an 8-inch, 1080p, 60hz LCD display, the PlayStation Portal (I sure hope we don’t start calling this thing a ‘PSP’ soon) looks like someone hacksawed a DualSense controller in half and jutted a big screen in the middle of it. Its design is…interesting, to say the least. The display on the PlayStation Portal is easily one of, if not the biggest, amongst its handheld competitors, but this apparently doesn’t keep the device from being relatively lightweight—at least according to Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller who went ‘hands-on’ with the device.
This is to be expected as the internals of the Portal essentially only have to worry about powering the screen and gamepad, and not the games themselves. Beyond the screen, Sony has stated that all the features of the DualSense, including haptic triggers, will be available on the PlayStation Portal, which is definitely a nice and uniquely PlayStation 5 touch.
During Miller’s time with Sony, he made it a point to ask about the ability to use the Portal away from your home network—a feature that is, at least for me, the backbone of remote play. Curiously, the representative didn’t give a definitive answer, focusing instead on the marketing of this being a ‘portal’ to a player’s PS5 while at home. This almost had me slack-jawed in disbelief, though thankfully a quick read through the footnotes of the official product page revealed that as long as you have a stable internet connection, you’ll be able to access your PlayStation 5. Phew.
Still, as mentioned above, for as nice as the display might be, as good as the controllers may feel, and as seamless a connection it might have to your PS5, the PlayStation Portal’s inability to not play cloud-enabled games via PS Plus Premium is a baffling omission. Sony has never played nice with others, and so them not allowing apps like Xcloud and GeForceNow is to be expected, but to not allow streaming of your cloud-enabled games for your paid premium members on a supposedly ‘cloud’ device is absurd.
I feel as though Sony has released the PlayStation Portal ahead of its time. As reported by Tom Warren in The Verge a couple of months back, the company has begun testing cloud streaming of its PS5 titles with VP of global services. Nick Maguire said, “We think it’s important for Premium members to be able to enjoy as many games as possible via cloud streaming.” Clearly, Sony has both an understanding and an interest in cloud gaming, but doesn’t have the infrastructure as of yet to bring it to market. This is more than understandable, so why launch a product like this that most are already considering dead on arrival?
I would’ve happily waited another year and paid an extra $50 for this device if it meant that I could play all of Sony’s exclusives via the cloud with a premium membership, without the need of a PlayStation 5 console. That’s the console I was hoping we would get, but alas that’s far from the case, at least for now. Here’s hoping that the Logitech G Cloud—the device I mentioned earlier—ticks all of my handheld cloud gaming boxes.