Playstation Now

Sony offers a new service for PS4 users called “Playstation Now”.  What it does is offer a free “streaming” library of classic PS3 games that you can run on your PS4, much like how Hulu and Netflix offer streaming movies.  You pay a monthly fee for full access, and in return you get open access to their entire library of Playstation Now titles (currently over 400 games).

Kevin and I are trying it out right now with a free 1-week trial.  So far, it seems to be pretty decent.  Another big benefit is that with this membership you also get the ability to play all of these games on a PC.  This doesn’t come without it’s own little hitches though–your PC must meet the minimum specs to run the Playstation Now software and you must connect a PS4 controller to your PC, either with a USB cable or with an adapter available for an additional fee from Sony.

I’ve been on a 7-day free trial for several days now, and I’ve tried most features as well as dozens of games.  The pricing is currently $19.99/month or $44.99 for 3 months (about $15/month).  Somehow the games really are “streamed” too.  This means they’re not installed on your PS4 or your PC, the data they use is streamed over the internet while you’re playing the game.  There may be some temporary storage on your local drive, but this appears to be removed once you exit the game you’re playing.  I have played over 40 games from Playstation Now so far, and have noticed no decrease in the free space on my PS4.

Gladly, each time you play a new game from the service, an icon for it is added to your PS4, just like any other installed game icon.  This means that in order to play that game again, you only need to open that icon and don’t have to re-open the Playstation Now application each time (unlike Hulu or Netflix).  I love this feature!  This way, I only see my favorite games on my PS4 and I can organize them any way I wish.  I chose not to mix these titles with my installed and purchased PS4 games, so I created a folder called “Playstation Now” and I put all of those games in that folder (along with an icon for Playstation Now itself, for easy access when I need it).

Sony has been pretty active with adding new games to the service, and I believe 20+ games were added just this past month.  This is quite a few more than Playstation Plus, which is currently offering 2 games per month for PS4, 2 games for PS3, and 2 games for PS Vita–their handheld game system.

When you start a game from Playstation Now, it downloads what it needs from the server, so naturally it takes a little longer to start a game.  But with today’s internet speeds, and Sony’s Internet speed requirements for subscribers to actually be able to use the service, this isn’t very long at all.  At least not for me.  I must admit, however, that I do have the top speed tier with Time Warner Cable, so I’m not sure how much of a difference that would actually make compared to other Internet Service Providers.

I do have a few concerns about the service at this point though:

  1. What will Sony do when they run out of old PS3 games to offer?  And when will this happen?  I’m not too sure developers are still developing games for the PS3, and if they are, it has to be much less than when it was Sony’s top gaming platform.
  2. One time, when trying to start a Playstation Now game, I was told that all of the servers were busy and I had to wait in a queue.  The wait time was currently 1-2 minutes.  After that wait time, the game launched.  As the service gets more and more popular, will this happen more and more and will wait times get longer and longer just to play?  Or will Sony reliably add more and more servers as needed to keep up with the volume?
  3. Did Sony choose to not allow backward compatibility on the PS4 just so they could make more money with this subscription service?  X-Box One has backward compatibility, though not 100%, but they’re improving it more all the time.  We still have our old PS3, and plan to keep it, now that we know we can’t play any of our old games on our PS4–unless we keep paying for Playstation Now–which offers many of those games, but still not all of them, though it does include many other good games we hadn’t ever played on PS3.  I guess I’d have to add up the possible cost of the entire Playstation Now library (which continues to grow all the time) and compare that with the monthly fee times how long we’ll potentially keep our PS4 to see which would save us the most money in the long run.  That’s a tough one.

Life is but a stream…So it seems like you’re actually running your game on a PS3 server somewhere at Sony, and your PS4 (or your PC) is simply serving up the screens it’s fed.  If this is the case, I don’t know how it can keep up without severe lag, but somehow it does…most of the time.  Several times during gameplay I have noticed the announced warning icon appearing in the corner of the screen.  They explain this icon each time a game is started, explaining that this means your internet connection quality (speed) has decreased, and you should save any progress you’ve made, if possible, just in case you lose your connection to the server.  Nearly every time this appeared, it disappeared again a short time later and I noticed little to no effect.  There may have been some frame loss resulting in a little jittering in image quality, but nothing else.  In one case, however, I’ve lost connection completely and the game exited on me.  A few minutes later I was able to re-launch it and pretty much picked up where I left off pretty easily.  Basically, before you subscribe, you definitely want to go with the free 1-week trial and make sure your own internet connection is reliable enough to play the games without issue.

Another key question I had with the service was whether it worked just like purchased game licenses work on the PS4.  This is where you can purchase one license for a game, install it on two PS4’s in your household, and two players (the players set a “primary” users on each other’s PS4’s) and both play that game together or separately.  I was hoping that this functionality also applied to Playstation Now, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It worked fine for Kevin and I, and we both played a long session of “ibb and obb” together (a simple, yet very interesting mind-bending puzzle game–something, it turns out, Kevin is actually better at than me!).

But so far, overall, I’m impressed.  I had no idea at all that you could stream games this way, using virtually no local hard drive space.  I had assumed this service would end up maxing out my hard drive and I’d be constantly swapping games out and installing others just to play everything.  The price seems a bit steep, but since the entire library of 400+ titles and growing weekly or monthly, I think it beats to 2-titles-per-month that Playstation Plus gives you…even though Plus gives you genuine PS4 titles that you then own a license for and have to install locally (but on the other hand, you own that license to the game, even if you stop subscribing to Playstation Plus, unlike Playstation Now where you lose access to its entire library if you stop subscribing.  At $15 per month (paying 3 months at a time) it would work for both Kevin and I on one account, so we could split the cost.  That brings it down to just $7.50 per month for each of us, which isn’t bad, in my opinion.

That’s about it.  Now let me go play some Red Dead Redemption, which I see was just added to the PSNow library…

I’m not old, I’m “classic”

xbox-360-elite-wcontrollerWe recently dug out our old X-Box 360.  We hadn’t used it in a few years, though it was still hooked up to a TV.  Again, like our PS3, the hard drive had gotten full, so things started getting difficult, and it ended up just going unused as we moved on to other things.  I considered selling the console, and even went as far as to gather up all of the info about it, including the 26 games for it that we have on discs, and I posted it on our Slack Team’s site.

But after a day with no response–during which time Kevin discovered about 11 or 12 more games on discs that I had missed–I also found that I have about 70 more games that I purchased as digital downloads from X-Box Live that were on the hard drive!  I should have considered this before posting the ad I guess.

So I took the X-Box 360 and moved it out to the living room and set it up again so I could thoroughly go through the system and catalog its entire contents.  After doing this, and actually finding many “lost treasures” in the form of classic games from my youth, I decided to promptly pull the ad and keep the X-Box 360.  The 70+ digital games alone would be quite a chunk of cash (at least for me) to throw away, let alone the 30+ disc-based games that we had purchased.

I loaded up a few of my classic favorites yesterday, just to try them out, and quickly found myself enjoying them all over again, not wanting to close them until finishing “just one more level.”  The hard drive did start sounding pretty loud after the system was on awhile though.  It’s the system’s original 120GB hard drive.  It’s pretty maxed out with everything I purchased back in the day, leaving 2.2GB of free space on it… barely enough to hold another decent game.   And of course, you know me… I immediately jumped on the interwebs and found a replacement internal hard drive.  The largest internal drive I could find, that matched the older X-Box 360 model I have, was 500GB for $40.  So I grabbed it.  In a few days I should be able to upgrade and then have plenty of breathing room to work with on my “refurbished” X-Box 360.

Just like with the PS3, I justify it by stressing how cheap the games, parts and accessories are for these old systems… And they play all the good old classic games I love.  I hope the 360, as well as the PS3, last for many more years.  I’ll probably try to keep my youth alive as long as possible!  Let the old-times roll!

PS3

Yeah, sure, the PS3 is pretty old now.  But I’d rather like to think of it as a “mature” console.  Not unlike myself, it is “aged”.  This also makes it–and its games and accessories–a lot more affordable, which is a huge plus, in my book.  It also has a long history, and has gone through 3 versions.  I look back at my purchase history and feel good remembering those classic old games and how much I enjoyed playing them.  All 800+ purchases.  Many of them, in fact, are console versions of even older “classic” arcade games, which bring back even more memories of my past.

One of my all-time favorite games was one of the first games I purchased for the PS3–Joust.  This was an arcade video game where you ride an ostrich and fly around jousting buzzards (and another ostrich if two people play it).  If you fly into a buzzard or the other player and your sword is higher than theirs, you win the joust and kill your opponent.  Kill all of the other players on the screen and you complete the level and advance to the next–harder–level.

I purchased this game in 2006–about 10 years ago, as a digital version.  This means there’s no physical disc or cartridge, you just download the game to your console, install, and play it.  It wasn’t until just recently that I became concerned about this method of game ownership.  First of all, Joust is no longer offered in the Playstation Store for purchase, so I can’t look it up there and re-download it, like I thought I could.  I imagine there are probably several classic games that I purchased back then that are no longer in the Playstation Store.

The reason for my concern is because I decided, earlier this week, to try to get back into playing some of my favorite games, just to relax a bit, and possibly play a little during my walks on my treadmill, but I quickly discovered that the hard drive on my PS3 (320GB) is completely full!  I had cleaned it up some time ago, removing all videos, music and photos, in order to free up enough space to install GTA 5, another great game I play occasionally.  When I say “play” referring to GTA 5, I mean just driving around freely throughout the city and county in the game, driving over people, destroying properly, jumping out and chasing down people to punch them out, and basically wreaking havoc  until the police come and try to stop me.  I don’t really play many missions, as you’re supposed to do in the game, I just goof around to see how much trouble I can get into.  But I digress.  Back to my full hard drive:  As I said, I cleaned up the drive recently, removing nearly everything I could that wouldn’t effect gameplay, and after installing GTA 5, it’s pretty much full to capacity again.

The PS3 has a backup feature, allowing you to back up all of your data and transfer it to another PS3 (or the same PS3 if you’re doing something like replacing the hard drive).  So I tried this, using a 64GB thumb drive I have.  So I started this process, and after several minutes of thinking, the PS3 told me it needed about a drive with about 200GB more storage space!  Agh!  I don’t have a flash drive or external hard drive available with that much space free.  I even tried one external drive that I store TV Shows on for use with my Plex media server, but that drive is formatted as NTFS, and the PS3 requires a FAT32-formatted drive in order to use it.  I know, that’s all Greek to the non-geeks reading this, so let’s just say “that drive won’t work on the PS3”.  My PS3 currently has a 300GB drive, which was pretty huge back in it’s time, but these days it’s hardly enough.

So there I was without a backup solution, and I had a brand new, 1.5TB drive (the largest hard drive the PS3 will allow) waiting to be installed in my PS3.  The way I saw it, at that point I didn’t have much to lose moving forward and installing the new drive.  I found out that I can access my entire purchase history and I can re-download everything I’ve purchased in the past, so I figured it would just require re-downloading everything I want to play.  I would lose my old game saves from way back when, but that’s no biggie for me.  Working through all of the levels in all the good ole games again just adds to the fun! I only had a 320GB drive before, so even if I install everything I had before, I should still have over 1 TB (1000 GB) of the new 1.5TB drive free when I’m done.

So I installed the drive, which was a pretty simple operation, and the PS3 simply prompted me for the latest PS3 update data, which I downloaded to a small flash drive and inserted, then it installed this and formatted the new drive.  All went well, and then I installed a few old games without issue.  They seem really tiny these days, especially on today’s huge-capacity drives!  Over time I’ll be installing a lot more of my old purchases, as I get around to more and more of my old games, and now there’s tons of space for some new ones, if I want them.  It’s nice to have some breathing room back, and it’s such a relief that Sony allows a simple method to re-download all of one’s old purchased content!  They’re earned back a little more of my trust, having lost a lot of it with their support of Cinavia–a copy-protection method that detects copied commerical media and prevents the PS3 from playing or streaming copied DVDs, Blu-Rays, and streamed movies that aren’t originals.  In today’s world, if you don’t keep a backup of something–especially something you purchased electronically, you’re always at risk of losing it due to everyday use, damage, or disaster, so backup copies are critical.  And Ciavia prevents users from being able to use those backups–basically resulting in the PS3 user being assumed to be a pirate!  This also results in the PS3 being rather crippled as a media center, in my opinion.  Whether Cinavia is still built into the PS3 these days, I’m not sure, but I think it’s still there.  I’ll find out soon, as I just installed the Plex app and will be connecting it to my Plex server soon.  Plex is a media server I use to stream all of our movies, tv shows and music to all of our devices.  If Cinavia effects Plex playback, I’ll have to uninstall it and just stick with using it through our Roku boxes as we always have.  That would be sad though, as using it through the PS3 controller or the PS3 Remote looks like it would be fun.

I also discovered, after accepting to two-week free trial of Playstation Plus, that they now offer online storage to Plus users for storing all of their game-save data!  I’m pretty sure that gives me a window of two weeks where I can swap back to my old, full drive, save all my game-save data to my online storage, and then swap back to the new drive and still access all of my game-save data (and hopefully save it back to my new drive easily) so I don’t have to keep paying for Playstation Plus after my two-week trial.  We’ll see how this goes.

Lastly, I’m really liking the fact that all of the PS3 games, accessories, and online content is, by far, a lot cheaper than just about everything for the PS4 and X-Box One!  And since I haven’t been involved with it for a few years, everything I’m seeing is new to me, even though all this stuff is probably old to everyone else.