Sony Expands PlayStation Now Beta: Can Microsoft Keep Up?

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Sony (NYSE:SNE) has been firing on all cylinders lately with its PlayStation products, and the company shows no signs of slowing down. The latest development is PlayStation Now, a service that will let gamers stream a wide variety of PlayStation games to various devices. Starting next week, the PlayStation Now beta will become available to owners of select Sony televisions, meaning they’ll be able to play PlayStation games without needing any PlayStation hardware at all.

So what, exactly, is PlayStation Now? It’s a service that has been in the works at least since Sony’s 2012 acquisition of the cloud gaming service Gaikai. The most important feature of the technology is that the expensive hardware that actually powers the streamed games is located remotely, which means you can play games on hardware that was never intended to play games on its own — like a television. In the case of PlayStation 4, the PlayStation Now service will make available a whole mess of games that weren’t previously playable on the console.

Even if this doesn’t excite non-gamers all that much, it will mean big things for PlayStation 4 owners. The previous generation of gaming machines — the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 — were all backwards-compatible, meaning you could use them to play games that were originally made for the Gamecube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2, respectively. Backwards compatibility meant gamers could ditch their old consoles and continue playing their library of games on the new hardware. This generation, Sony and Microsoft decided not to feature backwards compatibility in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Now that PlayStation Now is gearing up to launch, it’s clear that Sony had planned to address the issue all along. Microsoft, on the other hand, has shown no signs of letting gamers play Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. Since the Xbox One is already trailing the PlayStation 4 in hardware sales, it seems increasingly unlikely that Microsoft will be able to catch up anytime soon.

Currently, Sony is focusing on making PlayStation 3 games available over PlayStation Now, but in the future a wide selection of PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 games will become available. In addition to Sony TVs and PlayStation 4, the service will also be available on the PS Vita and certain tablets.

If you’re dying to try out PlayStation Now on a television, however, you might want to take a deep breath. Only Sony’s line of 4K Ultra HD Bravia televisions will offer the service, and they’re all fairly pricy, ranging between $2,099 and a whopping $24,999. Luckily, you won’t have to wait too long for the service to reach a widespread release, as it’s expected to see a wide launch sometime this summer.

PlayStation Now, along with Sony’s $99 PlayStation TV, indicate that Sony is putting a lot of energy into making PlayStation games available to as many people as possible. Meanwhile, Microsoft seems to be keeping its focus solely on the Xbox One. Although that means Microsoft can spend more effort making the Xbox One a terrific device, it also means Sony has the potential to reach a much wider audience. Couple that with the sales figures that show the PlayStation 4 is outselling the Xbox One, and what do you get? This console generation could be Sony’s for the taking.

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