How a new portable PlayStation could work
Reports suggest that Remote Play is the answer
Welcome back to Multicore for Thursday, April 6th.
Tom Henderson at Insider Gaming reports that Sony is working on a new handheld PlayStation device. Henderson is known for leaking accurate information on games like Call of Duty, but I can't speak to his sources on this sort of thing, and I haven't heard any local rumblings myself. Still, this feels like something worth thinking through.
The handheld is codenamed "Q Lite", according to the report, and is said to require a PlayStation 5. In other words, it'd be focused on the PS5's Remote Play streaming functionality and would likely offer little to no use outside the home. Henderson says it'll have an 8-inch LCD touchscreen and the key features of the PS5's DualSense controller, including haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. This report followed earlier comments from Giant Bomb's Jeff Grubb that he'd "only ever heard about a cloud-streaming handheld".
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The obvious reaction to this is that there are countless ways to handle PS5 Remote Play already. You can do it on the Steam Deck, on your PC, or on your phone with or without a controller attachment. Logitech just released its $350 "G Cloud" gaming handheld based around this sort of use case, and several Android gaming devices will do the exact same thing just as well.
This raises the question of how Sony could compete at all. I think the answer is simple: they make it feel more like a PlayStation. With control of the hardware stack, Sony could theoretically offer a better streaming experience with minimal lag, like Nintendo achieved with the Wii U GamePad. For all that system's flaws, in-home streaming quality wasn't one of them thanks to its custom Broadcom Wi-Fi solution.
Using my iPhone or Steam Deck for PS5 Remote play never quite feels native, and it's possible that Sony could deliver a more effective end-to-end solution here. Between that, a large (good) screen, and a comfortable control layout with DualSense haptics, I think there’s space for a differentiated product.
If this “Q Lite” device is real, I don't think it'll make a meaningful difference to Sony's gaming fortunes. It'd be the sort of nice-to-have that could boost revenue from the most committed PlayStation customers, but it wouldn't really matter if Sony doesn't sell a ton of them. It's an accessory more than a platform play — more like the official add-on screen for the PSone than the PS Vita or the PSVR2, since it'll run exactly the same software as the PS5.
It's also the only way I can really see Sony providing a solid handheld experience at this point. If Sony were to develop a whole new portable console, it'd ideally be built around an ARM CPU (like the Nintendo Switch), but that would require a whole new library of software. If Sony went with x86 hardware (like the Steam Deck), it'd be easier to port PS4 games, but there'd be compromises in bulk and battery life. Given Sony's experiences with the Vita, which struggled to gain software support (including from Sony itself), it's hard to imagine the company competing with either the Switch or the plethora of Steam Deck-like devices.
I can't see a world where Sony is a big player in dedicated portable gaming again. I can, however, see a device like the “Q Lite” being a nice — if niche — thing to have for PS5 owners who often find the living room TV occupied or who want to continue their game in bed. That's where I think this product will land, if at all. If Sony gets the price and design right, I might well be interested.
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