PlayStation 4 will be backwards compatible, sort of
Sony’s next generation games console will be backwards compatible, but not in the sense that we’re accustomed to. The PlayStation 4 (PS4), Sony’s eagerly-awaited entertainment device, won’t play current PS3 optical games discs. Instead, backwards compatibility will be delivered using a streaming service whereby games are delivered in real-time over the internet from remote servers.
This shouldn’t come as any real surprise. Last July Sony acquired Gaikai, an “interactive cloud-based gaming company” for $380 million. According to the Wall Street Journal, Sony will use this acquired technology to deliver current PS3 games to the PS4, offering a form of backwards compatibility that some feared would be omitted entirely.
Back then Sony promised to “deliver a world-class cloud-streaming service that allows users to instantly enjoy a broad array of content ranging from immersive core games with rich graphics to casual content anytime, anywhere on a variety of internet-connected devices.”
Sony is widely expected to announce something big next week in New York. We’re all hoping that it’s the PS4. If Sony does announce the PS4, we could then expect to see the console on store shelves before the end of the year and, crucially, in time for the Holiday season. Alternatively, Sony may have something to announce about its mobile gaming device, the PS Vita, or simply announce new services for the PlayStation Network (PSN), like enhanced games streaming. A new Kinect-like controller with motion sensors would be nice.
Sony has always offered backwards compatibility to the previous console. When the PS2 first came out, it could play PS1 games. Similarly, most PS3 consoles still plays old PS2 games. The PS4 will continue this tradition but, for the first time, the delivery format will change.
Current PS3 games on optical discs are said to be incompatible with the PS4. The PS4 is expected to use AMD x86 chips inside, which, excluding lots of technical jargon, means PS3 games in their current format (optical disc) are incompatible.
If Sony is to deliver PS3 titles using cloud-based services, why would it not stream new PS4 titles also when released? We’ve heard nothing to suggest whether this will or will not be the case. Reliably streaming of high-resolution games over the internet, without noticeable lag times, is not a simple task. Arguably, PS3 games would be easier to stream as they’ll likely be lower resolution that games designed for Sony’s forthcoming console. It may be the case that Sony will stream PS3 games to the PS4 upon its release, and one or two years down the line introduce a similar method of delivering PS4 games – allowing time and experience to improve the technology, but also for domestic broadband infrastructure to improve as it does naturally each year.