Sony has developed model new PS3 {hardware} to energy its PlayStation Now streaming service, revealed earlier this month at CES in Las Vegas. Sources who’ve been briefed on the challenge counsel that the brand new PlayStation Three consists of eight customized console models constructed into a single rack server. It is the brand new PlayStation {hardware} that everybody can have entry to, however few will really see.

Initially, Digital Foundry has discovered that Sony experimented by putting customary retail models into datacentres, however plans to make use of this for the precise PlayStation Now service have been shelved for a lot of causes. For starters there’s the sheer area requirement, together with energy effectivity points, as even the newest PS3 {hardware} can nonetheless draw as much as 80W from the mains. Sony’s engineers have been capable of mitigate each points by shrinking the equal of eight PS3s onto a single motherboard, housed in a slimline server cupboard.

The second cause for the all-new PlayStation Three server design is that it permits Sony to make {hardware} adjustments to the PS3 configuration that claw again a couple of very important milliseconds right here and there to decrease end-to-end latency.

To know this, we begin by wanting again on the PC-driven OnLive and Gaikai providers, that are very related. The thought with these providers is that video games run at 60Hz (and even larger) on PC {hardware}, reducing end-to-end latency by one thing within the area of 50ms in comparison with the console 30fps customary. Second-gen cloud {hardware} like GeForce Grid really improves on that considerably by tying the video encoder immediately into the graphics {hardware}.

These latency-saving measures are then offset towards the cloud streaming workflow – video encode, transmission over the web, and client-side decode. In a really best-case state of affairs with OnLive and Gaikai, we are able to see enter lag that may be very, very near a 30Hz console expertise. Certainly, in our unique Gaikai testing, we have been capable of play Bulletstorm with an end-to-end latency that often hit 133ms – the identical because the Xbox 360 model. It was an distinctive outcome (one captured for posterity if you’re interested), however as a proof-of-concept it was extraordinarily efficient – and achieved on a normal ADSL connection.

Sadly, this particular avenue of latency-saving is nearly definitely not open to PlayStation Now. With the intention to retain compatibility with the present library of video games, the code-facing {hardware} inside PlayStation Three can’t be modified considerably: Cell and RSX – the CPU and GPU of the veteran console – cannot be radically modified with out introducing incompatibilities with the present library of software program. This presents an issue: the vast majority of PS3 titles run at 30 frames per second with enter latency within the area of 100-150ms. Add on the cloud overhead and also you’re a fairly unsavoury, laggy expertise.

“The vast majority of PS3 titles run at 30 frames per second with enter latency within the area of 100-150ms. The cloud overhead on high would offer an unsavoury expertise, necessitating a brand new {hardware} resolution.”

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Sony’s Andrew Home reveals the brand new PlayStation Now streaming service earlier this month at CES. The system goes right into a closed public beta on the finish of this month.

Gaikai was primarily a software program crew, however as soon as it was purchased up by Sony it was all of a sudden confronted with an issue that might solely be tackled by bespoke {hardware}. In creating new PS3 servers for the PlayStation Now, the crew labored carefully with their new colleagues in engineering, creating a brand new PS3 tailored to the cloud streaming problem. The “secret sauce” of the brand new design stays simply that – in its briefings to publishers taking part within the present closed beta testing, Sony has solely revealed tough particulars of the servers – however we are able to make some educated guesses on how the present PS3 design might be tightened up for improved cloud gameplay.

To start with, whereas we anticipate the essential designs of Cell and RSX to stay untouched, non-critical areas of the {hardware} can be upgraded. The community interface might be improved with a lower-latency interface, whereas the controller inputs might be swapped out with sooner, hard-wired options to the present wi-fi Bluetooth choice utilized by the DualShock 3. Probably, the polling price of the controller inputs themselves might be elevated considerably through a customized model of the PlayStation Three working system.

A extra vital latency saving might be achieved by bypassing the PS3’s HDMI output altogether. Scan-out – the method of displaying the present framebuffer on-screen – takes 16.67ms. A PlayStation Three cloud server may see the body dispatched to a {hardware} h.264 video encoder versus the present console’s HDMI output.

By our estimates, the design tweaks we have urged may (generously) solely claw again round 30ms. That may fall a way in need of the potential efficiency of cutting-edge programs like GeForce Grid, however there could be additional nips and tucks added to the design that might cumulatively produce a extra vital saving on general lag. The Gaikai crew have the benefit of full entry to the PS3 design and the engineers that created it, so it could be that there different latency-saving parts we merely cannot anticipate. Solely direct comparisons of end-to-end latency testing on PS3 and PlayStation Now can reveal how profitable the crew has been.

“The leaked roadmap offers some sense of the ambition Sony has right here – PlayStation Now is not simply reserved for Sony TVs and consoles. Companions are additionally invited so as to add the service to their gadgets.”

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Sony is taking its time with PlayStation Now, with a phased roll-out of the service that may take over a 12 months to finish – as this timeline reveals. The service ought to debut in the summertime within the US, with Europe receiving PlayStation Now round six months later.

Within the meantime, on the CES PlayStation Now reveal earlier this month, feedback on lag different between an enthusiastic “gameplay latency was a non-issue” from the official PlayStation blog, to a extra measured response from Polygon, who described the expertise as having “noticeable” enter lag, although gameplay remained “greater than playable”.

The expertise seems much like PS4 Vita Distant Play based mostly on Polygon’s hands-on video. The location reveals that the server was really located regionally – in the identical room, the truth is – with the belief being that PlayStation Now was operating on a neighborhood community. Fairly how good the general expertise is over the web stays to be seen, then, however it is very important level out that the notion of latency varies from individual to individual. There’ll all the time be a commerce between response and comfort, however clearly some sport sorts will swimsuit cloud gameplay greater than others, whereas some folks might not discover that a lot distinction in any respect.

That is the place we’re with PlayStation Now for now. The system is presently present process inner testing (we perceive it’s localised to southern California), which expands right into a public beta on the finish of January, in response to Sony boss Andrew Home. In response to our sources, the service then rolls out to the USA in Q3 of this 12 months (Home has publicly focused summer time), earlier than Japan and Korea will get their probability to pattern the service in the direction of the tip of 2014. Europe has the longest wait of all, with PlayStation Now set to reach within the first quarter of 2015 in response to our sources. As you’ll be able to see from the unique slide on this web page obtained from a PlayStation Now presentation, Sony’s personal “SEL” gadgets like Bravia TVs get assist in Q3 this 12 months, with “companions” gaining access to the performance somewhat later.

It will likely be fascinating to see who these companions really are, nevertheless it all factors to a future the place PlayStation is not nearly conventional console gaming, however a web-based service out there to a spread of various gadgets – not essentially Sony-branded. All that is required is an interface with a joypad and an h.264 video decoder: smartphones, tablets, televisions – in idea, the sky is the restrict. The massive questions concern the standard of broadband infrastructure, the technique behind placement of datacentres, and whether or not the quoted 5mbps video stream provides up sufficient bandwidth to a degree of video high quality ok to maintain a real PlayStation expertise. We’ll discover out extra within the months to come back.

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