We are living in the future. My PlayStation 4 is sitting on the desk at home whirring away quietly, and I'm in the Gizmodo office, playing Destiny instead of doing some real work. This is awesome.
What Is It?
PS4 Remote Play is, for me, the killer feature of Sony's Xperia Z3 and Z2 smartphones and tablets. Where the phones themselves are otherwise great but lack differentiation from the LGs, Samsungs and HTCs of the handset world, it's actually a software feature that stands out the most.
- Compatible Devices: PS Vita, Sony Xperia Z3, Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, Sony Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact, Sony Xperia Z2, Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet
- Streaming: Local Wi-Fi, External Wi-Fi
- Resolution: Varies, 720p Maximum
- Inputs: On-Screen Buttons, DualShock 4 Controller
- Outputs: 3.5mm headset, MHL 2.0
- Games Supported: All (excl. Move)
With Remote Play, your 2014-onward Sony smartphone or tablet can connect to your PlayStation 4 wirelessly — whether it's in the other room, or across the city or country or planet — and act as a second screen, giving you the PS4 gaming experience on a mobile device.
Remote Play is available on the Google Play Store, but don't rush there thinking you'll be able to download it to your phone or tablet — it's only for Sony's Xperia flagship devices, from the Xperia Z2 onwards. There's the slightest possible chance that you'll see it on other devices in the future if Sony wants to really push the PS4 as the console to buy, but I certainly wouldn't count on it. It's a reason to buy into the entire Sony ecosystem, and Sony should want to keep it that way.
The idea behind PS4 Remote Play on your Sony smartphone is simple enough; install the app, sign into your PlayStation Network account, make sure you're on Wi-Fi, tap a couple of buttons, et voila — your PS4 display, being shown on your TV, is mirrored directly onto your mobile device. From there, you can use on-screen controls or a DualShock 4 controller connected via Bluetooth to your smartphone to control everything. Of course, it's not always that simple, but you get the idea.
What's It Good At?
When it works, it's amazing. That living in the future thing I was talking about before? It's that. I brought the Sony Xperia Z3, my PS4's DualShock 4 controller, and the GCM10 Game Control Mount that connects the two into the office this morning, and played a bit of Destiny. People were amazed that I was playing the game via my PS4 20 kilometres away. Last night, I was playing DriveClub in bed with the lights off. I can see myself getting through Shadow Of Mordor without ever sitting down in front of the LG 40UB800T I'm about to buy (as much as I really want to). It just feels so incredibly futuristic to have the PS4 sitting on a desk somewhere far away, crunching numbers and processing polygons, and having that experience recreated on a mobile phone.
And there's no question that having the PS4 playing on a smartphone or tablet, unchained from TV and couch (or desk and chair, in my case), is a brilliant thing — at least for some games. In the majority of my time with PS4 Remote Play, I gave it a fair workout on Destiny and DriveClub — two games where responsiveness and low lag are a very important thing — and at least over local Wi-Fi, the experience was nearly seamless, almost as quick to respond as the display on the TV itself. (Streaming over the 'net is a somewhat different story, but more on that later.)
What is impressive is just how complete the remote usability is; it sounds so simple but I'm still genuinely surprised to get audio — both gameplay audio and microphone voice chat — through the Z3's 3.5mm jack when I plug in a pair of headphones. It just seems like one of those things that shouldn't work because of gremlins. But it does, and it's great, and it just contributes to the overall polish of Remote Play. If you don't have a DualShock 4 hooked up to your phone over Bluetooth, you can use the on-screen controls (as long as you don't need thumbsticks or the shoulder triggers). It's just like a complete mirror of your PS4's audio and video but on an entirely different screen, connected via local Wi-Fi or the 'net.
And video quality is pretty great. In the same way as the PlayStation TV mirrors the PS4, the Remote Play app can display a 720p video stream that is actually clear and detailed for the most part, with the (relatively) small text on-screen in Destiny actually readable from the distance that you'd usually hold a smartphone (with a controller bolted to it) from. The video stream is solid and clean for the most part, a bit of macro-blocking and artifacting during network interference notwithstanding. Lag is a low to moderate sub-100ms figure, not all that noticeable when you consider your TV has a bit of inherent lag anyway.
The GCM10 Game Control Mount that is an integral part of the PS4 Remote Play setup for any prospective mobile gamer is, thankfully, both easy to attach to controller and smartphone and easy to take off. The single clip-and-prong setup takes a second or two to position perfectly, but the sleeve that sits around the controller doesn't block off either the controller's or smartphone's microUSB charging port. There's one point of articulation where you can tilt the attached smartphone or tablet forward or backward, although the middle of the range seems just right.
It isn't perfect — my main issue being that it covers the headset jack on the DualShock 4, so even if you're not actively using Remote Play you'll have to take off the mount to properly use the DualShock 4 directly with your console again. It also covers the light bar, which is a bit of a pain since that's the DS4's only sign that it's switched on and communicating.
While the biggest selling point for PS4 Remote Play is its seamless use as a second screen for the PS4 while you're lounging around your house, you can take it further abroad. If you're anywhere with infrastructure Wi-Fi, with a decent enough internet connection, you can use Remote Play to log into your PS4 and play games. Like I said before, I've been sitting in the office all through this morning playing Destiny, with my PS4 sitting at home a half-hour's drive away. It's just really cool. Because there's extra layers of abstraction involved, there's an obvious spike in lag and lowered visual quality of the stream, but if you have a solid enough uplink at home and office then it's perfectly playable.
And it's free. Well, it's free in the sense that you only have to pay for the PS4, a Sony smartphone or tablet and the $39 Game Control Mount... the app is free, I guess is what I mean. You don't have to pay for PlayStation Plus, at least. What I mean is that I was fully prepared for this to be a dedicated Sony that would charge for access to, and it's nice to see that it isn't. I would have been prepared to chip in a couple of dollars a month to have the ability to log into DriveClub and run a couple of tracks over my lunch break, but I don't have to. And that means more money for games. (And for my 4G quota.)
What's It Not Good At?
I realise that Remote Play is still in its infancy, but I've had my fair share of errors with streaming — not really when I was on the same Wi-Fi network, but when I was connecting over the 'net. This introduces a bunch of spanners into the already complicated works; what kind of quality can I expect from the office Wi-Fi, is someone else hogging all the bandwidth, is my home internet connection down, et cetera.
To use the truly-Remote feature of Remote Play, you have to have a rock solid internet connection on both sides of the equation. At the moment, my PS4 is connected via Wi-Fi to a (brilliant) Dovado PRO router, which is connected to the internet via a Telstra USB 4G dongle (and sometimes a Vodafone USB 4G one, too). After tunnelling through Telstra's private IP network, it's through to the big bad 'net, then to our fibre-based office internet link, then the sometimes-flaky office Wi-Fi.
And, sometimes, there's a problem in between PS4 and Remote Play. Whether it's Wi-Fi interference at home, an internet quirk, or dropout somewhere else along the way, it either manifests as a bit of artifacting on-screen during gameplay (quite common), an entire dropped frame (less common), or a complete disconnection (rare, but I've had half a dozen in the last week). Unless you have the world's most powerful 802.11ac Wi-Fi router and fibre-to-the-premises NBN at home and at work, it's inevitable that there'll be some hiccups.
With Telstra 4G doing its own weird things to my internet experience, I have issues enough trying to play multiplayer PS4 games when I'm sitting in front of the TV itself — let alone streaming the entire ordeal across the 'net to a smartphone. Giz AU editor Luke Hopewell was actually meant to write this review originally, but even his home Wi-Fi just wasn't up to the task of just local streaming. You've gotta have a good internet connection to play remotely, and you've got to have good Wi-Fi — ideally with the PS4 wired in — to stream smoothly within your own home. Sony could make things a little easier by cutting the streaming quality or using a more efficient codec like h.265 HEVC, and giving end users a wider range of options than 'Standard' and 'High'.
The biggest issue with PS4 Remote Play is that you're not able to use the service over the 3G or 4G SIM in your phone or tablet. Officially, only a Wi-Fi connection is supported. Of course, you're able to work around that issue by using a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, but that's not in the spirit of the thing, and you'll burn through your data quota pretty damn quickly. Anecdotally, though, I can say that it actually works quite well — as long as you have a solid four or five bars of 4G connectivity, upload and download speeds are more than fast enough to make the streaming experience good enough.
Another minor complaint, but this one is with the GCM10 saddle that marries your Z3 or Z2 phone or tablet to the DualShock 4 controller; it's very top-heavy. Unless you have the hinged smartphone mount pushed almost entirely forwards, the entire controller and mount will fall forwards with the Xperia Z3 mounted when you place it on a table. This pushes both the L2 and R2 triggers and more than once I accidentally emptied an auto-rifle magazine into thin air in Destiny. Of course, this issue is lessened if you use a Z3 Compact, but it'll be even worse with the larger 8-inch Z3 Tablet Compact. Once or twice, I had the DualShock 4 controller completely wig out and lose its Bluetooth link.
Should You Buy It?
Price: Free (On Compatible Devices)
I think you can tell from the length of the last section that I wrote that PS4 Remote Play is not perfect, especially when you're not on your house's local Wi-Fi connection. It needs some tweaking to really shine, whether that's on Sony's server end in the future or whether it's on your own personal network. (I'm already planning a slight re-jig of my home network to wire up the PS4 and improve my 'net upload speeds.) Small tweaks like a sliding scale for streaming quality would add a bit of error tolerance in there and reduce the incidences of lag.
But take the nearly-seamless quality and overall adventure of using PS4 Remote Play in your home — your PS4 is in the living room, but you're gaming away in bed, with gameplay audio and a mic and great responsive streaming video — and it's impossible not to be excited. This really does feel like the future. Maybe I'm a little bit simple, but this is an implementation of cloud computing that you can really understand and use and take advantage of.
The hardware is top notch, too. The Xperia Z3 is a good phone, the DualShock 4 is a great controller, and the GCM10 Game Control Mount is a solid and nearly flawless solution for marrying the two. If you're willing to make that $1000-plus investment, then Remote Play is a great payoff for it. If you already have the goodies, then Remote Play feels like an amazing unexpected Christmas gift for your Sony loyalty.