Games

What It's Like to Experience PlayStation 5 Games on a PlayStation 4

Sony updated its Remote Play app, which means you can use that old PlayStation 4 for something useful, but it's a mixed bag.
November 11, 2020, 8:59pm
A screen shot of the video game Miles Morales: Spi
Screen shot courtesy of Sony

There's a PlayStation 5 in my house now, and so I've been trying to figure out what to do with the PlayStation 4 that's been sitting on the floor of my office. Fortunately, Sony gave me an interesting answer earlier this week when they quietly added the ability to stream PS5 games through my PS4, using an updated version of the company's Remote Play app. 

In the past, Remote Play was a decent way of interfacing with your PS4 through a phone or computer. For a time, I used it to say hi to Xur, the seller in Destiny who changes locations every week, when I couldn't be near my machine. But in this case, Sony smartly recognized a lot of its fans will suddenly be faced with tossing an older piece of hardware in a dusty box.

I recently upgraded to a 4K TV, but it's only in my office. The TV that my wife and I use the most is upstairs. It's really big—70 beautiful inches—and most importantly, down the hall from our newborn daughter, so we can easily hear her if she needs something at night. But it's also a 1080p TV, which means it can't take advantage of all the nicer features of the PS5. 

The PS5 looks terrific on a 1080p TV, but I also don't want to drag my PS5 around the house because it's bulky and expensive. For the most part, it's going to remain in my office.

Setting up Remote Play is simple enough. Boot the app on your PS4, and it'll look for any PS5 machines on the same Internet connection. I needed to manually flip on Remote Play on my PS5, but moments later, the connection was found. In seconds, I was looking at a fuzzier version of the PS5 interface and able to jump into the session with Sackboy: A Big Adventure that I'd started on the PS5. There were no other hoops to jump through, really.

The "fuzzy" part is important, though. The jump to 4K broke any illusions I had that it was impossible to see the difference between 1080p and 4K, especially viewed side-by-side, and that gap becomes even more apparent when you stress those resolutions over the Internet. 

Plugging a PS5 into a 1080p set produces an understandable downgrade, but that's even more apparent when you take into account streaming video. Google's Stadia service has been an unmitigated disaster in its first year, but the technology works really well, to the point that I often had trouble poking holes in the video stream to remind myself it was a stream. 

That is not the case with Remote Play. You are, at all times, well aware it looks worse, even if you're asking the app to stream at the highest resolution that it'll allow, 1080p. (It's possible to bump it to lower resolutions, if your Internet can't handle it, but the quality will dip further.)

I tried a few different ways to mitigate this issue. My initial setup involved having both the PS5 and PS4 connected over wireless. The stream was often fuzzy at first, but usually cleared up after a minute or so. There were dips here and there, likely the result of the wireless connection having trouble with some of my house's older walls. But it worked, and most importantly, there was no noticeable lag with the controller. I could play games fine.

Hoping to improve the visual quality, though, I snaked some cords around and hardwired each machine with an ethernet cable. You cannot adjust the quality or bandwidth settings of Sony's Remote Play app, but I was hoping cable-connected Internet would both improve stability and the picture coming through my PS4. But no dice—it looked exactly the same.

The end result is a mixed bag. It works as advertised, but the lack of fidelity is stark enough to mean I probably wouldn't want to be hitting major story points in a game like Miles Morales through Remote Play. Doing random challenges and finding collectibles, though? That would be perfect for Remote Play, and it's what I ended up doing for an hour while testing this out. No more crystal clear textures, but I could swing with ease and keep doing busywork tasks in the game that aren't as reliant on the fancy tech inside PS5.

Part of the reason I've been excited about the prospects of cloud gaming is the opportunity to have chances to play games whenever it's convenient. Stuck at home during COVID-19 means I'm not looking to play my games at the local coffee shop, however, it means I want to play them in the room of the house that I find myself in, likely because I'm with my kids.

Remote Play isn't perfect, but it gets me a bit closer to that goal.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).