Sony unleashed its latest major software update for the PS4 on the world last night, and with it came Remote Play on PC and Mac. The idea is pretty attractive, especially for those with families or large sharehouses where there's a high possibility of the TV being in use. I've toyed around with Remote Play for a number of hours across a variety of games. And so far it's pretty impressive — with a few caveats.
What You'll Need
Before we get into specifics you will at some point need to download the Remote Play app from Sony. The full list of requirements and specifications for PC is:
Windows® 8.1 (32-bit or 64-bit) OR Windows® 10 (32-bit or 64-bit) Intel Core i5-560M Processor 2.67 GHz or faster 100 MB or more of available storage 2 GB or more of RAM 1024 x 768 or higher display resolution Sound card USB port
And for those keen on getting Remote Play going on your Mac, you'll need at least this much grunt:
OS X Yosemite OR OS X El Capitan Intel Core i5-520M Processor 2.40 GHz or faster 40 MB or more of available storage 2 GB or more of RAM USB port
The specs are pretty damn low and the application itself isn't too large either. On PC the installer was just over 17mb; the Mac download weighs in at 5.6mb.
What's not listed in the specifications, but you should still consider absolutely necessary, is a wired connection for at least the PS4. Whether or not you do so for the client computer is another matter. I'll explain more on that later.
Regardless of whether you're playing on PC or Mac, you'll also need a DualShock 4 controller connected via USB to the computer. It doesn't matter whether or not your DS4 is already paired to the PC. Fortunately, Remote Play didn't have any issues with my PC that already had third-party DS4 drivers installed (in the form of the excellent DS4Windows).
How Does It Work?
When you first install Remote Play you're asked to hook up a controller via USB, although you can start the connection process without one. You can also modify the streamed resolution and frame rate at this stage, which you'll want to do since it's set to 540p and 30fps by default.
In case you're curious, the full list of resolutions and options are: 360p, 540p and 720p, along with Standard (30fps) and High (60fps). One small quirk: if you do choose to play at 60fps, you won't be able to use the PS4's in-built recording functions.
You can also change the PS4 you're remotely connected to, as well as the PSN account you're logged into. It might come in handy if you've got a housemate that keeps playing your console; the PS4 stores a history of all remote connections made.
Once you're happy with the settings, simply press start and wait. When a PC and console are paired together it'll only take a few seconds for the devices to find each other; it'll even turn on the PS4 if it's been left in rest mode. If it does have difficulty locating the console for whatever reason, you can manually force a connection by entering in an 8-digit code located within the PS4's settings menu.
What's The Performance Like?
The question that matters most. Fortunately, it holds up really well — but as I mentioned before, the PS4 has to be running through a wired connection. But we'll get to that.
To get a thorough idea of how Remote Play performed, I used two systems: my 11" MacBook Air (a 2014 model, which doesn't have an ethernet port) and my main gaming/video editing PC. The latter has a couple of GTX 780s, 32GB RAM and an i7-4770K — it wouldn't have any issues with the requirements. I thought it'd be a different story with the MacBook Air, but I managed to play through a story mission of Destiny with no perceptible input lag and no grievances beyond the degraded visual quality.
I started by making sure my main gaming PC and the PS4 were wired, and then proceeded to fire up some AAA games: namely The Division and Destiny, two games that would surely put Remote Play through their paces. Neither game runs at 60fps natively, but I figured it would be a good enough starting point for the game's performance.
Both games ran without a single hitch. Apart from the drop to 720p — which, oddly, seemed to spoil Destiny's visuals far more than The Division — both titles performed as admirably as they would have if I was playing directly on the console.
Interestingly, the Remote Play window remained at 60fps throughout. I kept DXTory running as a way to capture screenshots and monitor the frame rate, and the PS4 Remote Play window barely dropped below 60fps despite streaming games that run strictly at 30fps. I don't have the engineering background to confidently say why, but it's interesting to note nevertheless.
You can see the DXTory overlay and the current frame rate in the top left
But I wanted to see whether it was capable of handling higher frame rates, so I turned to two games I knew ran at 60fps — Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, and NBA 2K16.
Again, the performance was largely flawless. Some initial stutters in NBA 2K16 were immediately rectified with a replacement Cat5e cable for the console, and I didn't experience any stuttering of note in Borderlands whatsoever. The responsiveness was just as sharp as Destiny and The Division had been, which was nice as it allowed me to post a healthy 20/8/2 line against the Celtics.
Boston's pretty good this year
Satisfied, I decided to see how Remote Play would hold up when the PS4 was streaming over Wi-Fi. News flash: it's pretty bad.
The artifacting was immediately noticeable this time, and the stuttering was so severe that Remote Play was lagging even in the PS4 menus. It settled down eventually, but the lag would always return — with a vengeance. Destiny and Borderlands both dropped to 10fps at one stage, and the artifacting made Borderlands look like a game from the 80s.
Even older, less strenuous titles struggled. Star Wars: Racer Revenge was beset with regular jitters, although the frame rate would eventually kick back up to 60fps after a second or two. You'd get much more consistent performance at the lowest settings — such as 360p/30fps — but the drop in quality is so severe that it's hardly worth the effort.
Curiously, I didn't have any issues whatsoever streaming from the PS4 to a client that was connected via the Wi-Fi. As you can see in the screenshots above, I fired up Destiny on my laptop without changing any settings just to see how it'd handle matters. It coped admirably, blasting the sound of gunfire out the MacBook Air's tiny speakers while I went for a wander with my Titan.
Once again: no perceptible input lag, although I had to keep brushing the touchpad occasionally to stop the screensaver from appearing. Apparently the Remote Play app on OSX doesn't automatically prevent the machine from going into an idle state.
But in the spirit of thoroughness, I went through the process on my MacBook Air with the streaming set to 720p and 60fps. And apart from some late-night Steam updates causing a few Fallen to teleport, the game was just as playable as it would have been on my TV.
There Are Other Benefits Too
If you have a computer and console hooked up to the same screen or monitor, you'll be familiar with the annoyance of having to swap audio cables around or having two sets of headphones/speakers plugged in at all times.
Playing remotely through the PC eliminates that problem; the sound came through my regular speakers just fine, which was a blessing since it meant I didn't have to rely on my slightly-too-small headphones on a muggy Sydney evening.
And because Remote Play is an app just like anything else, you can feed the stream through your regular recording and streaming software. It certainly doesn't eliminate the need for capture cards; recent devices support full 1080p/60fps uncompressed streaming via USB 3.0, something which is a bit beyond Remote Play.
But for people who just want to stream once in a while, it's a handy alternative. It's also far more versatile than using the PS4's in-built streaming tools — remote Play, after all, is just another window. So if you need to ALT-TAB out to ban a pesky troll or just respond to a few questions in Twitch chat, it's not a pain in the arse.
Put simply: Remote Play works. That in and of itself is not a surprise if you've been playing with it on the PS Vita for years. But it was never guaranteed that Sony would be able to support the PC — and Mac! — without a hitch, and the fact that they have is fantastic for PS4 owners.
Of course, things aren't perfect. Xbox One owners have had game streaming for almost a year now, with an update last August making 1080p/60fps streaming a possibility. In fact, it's a pretty poor effort to only enable 720p almost 12 months later. And the fact that only wired controllers are supported is weird, especially since Remote Play's in-built overlay has a battery indicator. Could wireless controllers be supported in future updates? Who knows.
But the Xbox One can't stream to your Mac, it doesn't support Windows 8.1 and people who only own a PS4 aren't going to care anyway. I can now sit in bed and grind through The Division or games as a backup point for the Cavs, provided I've got a USB cord and a controller lying around.
It works. Perfect? Hardly. But good enough to play through games without complaint? Absolutely.