The home video game console industry seems to be at an inflection point. High development costs, live service games, streaming via the cloud, the Steam Deck, slowed physical game sales, and Asia’s appreciation for mobility, are all major factors in the wave of change that is hitting us at this very moment. As new roads are being paved for the future of how we play, the big names are either fighting for footing or, telling the industry they have the answer. One thing is for sure, looking down the wrong path is better than doing nothing at all.
Some are convinced that cloud streaming is the future. With streaming, cheap hardware could run the most powerful games, games that would never exist on your shelf, games that you could never trade in or sell, and games that you would have to pay a monthly fee to access. At the same time, input lag and latency are going to be here until data can travel faster than the speed of light. All of this brings us to Sony, an industry leader that does not want to fall behind. Likewise, they do not want to head too far down the wrong path. From that, we get the PlayStation Portal. Sony’s monument to compromise. PlayStations half-pregnant answer to the shifting winds.
Sony’s Monument to Compromise
The PlayStation Portal is a remote streaming device, not to be confused with a cloud streaming device. Most importantly, it does not natively play games at all. The PlayStation Portal requires your PS5 to be turned on, or at least be in sleep mode, so that you can turn it on remotely. With a solid and stable WiFi connection, the PlayStation Portal functions as a portable screen for your PS5 with an attached controller. Do not think of it as a Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck, think of the Portal as an accessory like a fight stick.
Today there are two types of connections you can make with the Portal. First, you can play locally at home. Over a shared WiFi connection, you can access your PS5 directly from your local connection, without having to reach the internet. The second is via remote WiFi, as long as there is WiFi and the connection is stable, you are able to access your PS5 and play games. Unfortunately, you can only play games, as accessing the media apps via the Portal is blocked.
LAN Versus WAN
The PlayStation Portal requires 5Mb of bandwidth at a minimum just to function. With that said, Sony recommends 15Mb. The bandwidth you will need to power the Portal is similar to what would be required to stream 4K HDR Netflix. Yet, you can’t cache gaming like you can a movie. Your connection needs to be rolling with no hiccups of any kind.
If you have a connection that fluctuates between 5Mb and 15Mb, you will see pixelation as if you are watching a video buffer. A more unstable connection can lead to long delays in input lag and significant frame delays. Dropping below 5Mb, even for a quick dip will disconnect your session. These are all things to consider if you are going to play games that are online.
A LAN or Local Area Network, is defined as the local space within a network. So when I am at home, my PlayStation Portal connects to my router, then directly to my PS5. There are only 2 “hops” between the two devices, it does not even know the modem exists.
While playing locally, the quality is solid. I tested playing competitive shooters online, games with ultra fast quick time events, as well as games like Gran Turismo 7 and NBA 2K23. Every game felt natural to play on the PlayStation Portal. I did experience a cloudy image that would come and go while playing online. PayDay 3 showed me as having a high ping time while playing from the Portal.
One thing I did notice, if I was downloading something on my PS5 while playing, the connection was at its worst. It feels like Sony has the Network adapter on the PS5 configured to allow all traffic from the PlayStation Network to own the connection. Surely a nice feature had they not released a remote streaming device.
Playing Over The Internet
WAN or Wide Area Network refers to the physical connection between two or more locations. You can play the PlayStation Portal over a WAN. As long as you have that stable consistent connection it does work but, I would not count on it.
Playing the Portal via WAN means that when I am at a remote location, the Portal makes a hop at the router, modem, and every data center within its path on the public internet, then it hits my home modem, router, then finally my PS5. In some cases, the trip to my PS5 may hit as many as 10 to 15 hops. With each hop, there is an opportunity for latency or drops in the connection. These can cause slight delays with controller input, and kick you out mid-game. I would never expect to play a multiplayer game via WAN.
Over a 35Mb Verizon 5G LTE connection, I was able to play for about three minutes before my connection crashed. Verizon and other carriers may have something in place to throttle large constant connections. WAN play is slightly improved when heading over to a friend’s house but, it is never perfect.
The PlayStation Portal Hardware
The Portal is about the same size as the Steam Deck. It is roughly 11.5 inches (29.21 cm) from left to right. Then it is about 4.5 inches (11.43 cm) from top to bottom. Its weight is far lighter than the Steam Deck, the Portal weighs 1.1 lbs (498 grams). It is almost twice the weight of a DualSense controller. It feels lightweight and comfortable to play with. Ergonomically, it is an improvement over the Switch and the Steam Deck. Although the comparison is just a reference point, were are talking about two entirely different device types here. Keep in mind, all of the computational power, takes place on the PS5 console.
What drives the Portal is its 802.11ac wireless adapter, aka “WiFi 5.” I was surprised to find out this is the case given Sony’s commitment to removing every nanosecond of latency. Plus the PS5 is 802.11ax, a full hardware generation ahead of the Portal. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) states that 802.11ax, “lets more data pass through in a given operational time slot.” Also, “802.11ax has an almost 4x reduction in spacing between the modulated sub-carriers. So that more spectrum is used for data transfer with less spent on management.” In simple terms, 802.11ax is a more efficient type of wireless data transfer. I am flummoxed Sony went with 802.11ac.
Next comes the 8-inch LCD display. The 16:9 1080p 60hz display sounds disappointing at first, but once you realize you gain nothing by streaming PS5 games in 4K, you get the idea of what Sony was going for here. More importantly, the LCD display is one of the best mobile displays I have ever seen. The quality is better than the Switch OLED display. It is better than the Steam Deck screen as well.
Sony, aware of the 4K limitations, must have rounded up the best LCD displays they could get. When the quality of the stream is perfect, the image quality is crisp and bright. Playing Alan Wake 2 on the Portal felt like I was using some lightweight high-powered handheld from the future. The Portal does a great job of keeping the colors, contrast, and brightness. I typically play on a 1,300-nit Sony A90J. If you play on a low-end TV, this might even be an upgrade for you.
Attached to the screen is essentially a DualSense controller split in half. The touchpad has been delegated to the LCD touchscreen, and the joysticks are slightly smaller. Although the rest of the functionality is identical. The PlayStation button, the share button, the 3.5mm jack, and even the mic are all built into the Portal. This comes complete with the DualSense features like haptics and adaptive triggers. The Portal even has a gyroscope for tilt controls.
The attached controller design is brilliant. Sony built the controller onto the system board of the Portal to reduce input lag while streaming. Hideaki Nishino, Senior Vice President and Head of PlayStation Platform Experience at Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE) says, that the Portal has reduced input lag from a device like a Backbone, or even traditional Bluetooth controllers. This gives the Portal a significant advantage over using your mobile phone to stream games. I have taken notice of this. I see a dramatic reduction in input lag compared to streaming from my Xbox to my phone with a Backbone.
Powering the device is a 4,370mAh battery that charges via USB-C. This is considered to be typical for a standard mobile phone today. After a few timed playthroughs, I can firmly say that the PlayStation Portal has a battery life of around four and a half hours. Which I find interesting given that Sony told influencers that the battery lasts around eight hours. I keep seeing that number out there from rushed reviewers. For sure the eight-hour number is not accurate. Charging the device depends on the power brick you use, as Sony does not include one. Using my typical Samsung phone charger, the Portal goes from 0% to 100% battery in about an hour.
The headline here has to be that the PlayStation Portal does not support Bluetooth. I can not believe I typed those words. There is a 3.5mm “aux” jack. Along with high-quality built-in speakers. If you want to go wireless, you will have to fork over another $200 for a PlayStation Link compatible device. Of course, right now there are only two you can even pre-order.
The Pulse Explore wireless earbuds will be out in mid-December while the Pulse Elite headset will be out in mid-February. The idea that Sony is trying to sell here is, that they use a proprietary connection that leverages ultra low latency. Between this and the built-in controller, it seems Sony views Bluetooth as having high latency. This would be in line with my experience streaming Xbox games.
The OS, UI, and Overall Behavior
The PlayStation Portal runs on a custom version of Android OS. There is not much there besides the foundational elements. The Portal has a small menu with options to change wireless networks, adjust the brightness, adjust the controller feedback intensity, and change the PSN Profile logged into the machine.
Once you are logged into the Portal, it will attempt to connect to your PS5. The console needs to be powered on or in sleep mode in order to connect. If you have HDMI settings that will automatically turn the TV on when the console powers on, using the Portal will not trigger the TV to power on. A nice feature that will not leave your TV on idle all day.
Once the Portal connects, it will log into the PS5 with the PSN profile that is logged into the Portal. This works with the understanding that you have already connected the PS5 and the Portal to your PSN account. Also, you must have remote play enabled on your PS5.
Once connected you can use the PS5 as you normally would from your couch. You can install games, and move through the console menu. Aside from streaming media, anything you can do from a PS5, you can do via the Portal. Remember, the PlayStation Portal is just a second remote screen.
Overall Thoughts on the PlayStation Portal
I like that Sony is engineering these solutions to remove or reduce latency with game streaming. Although, I do not understand why they went with an 802.11ac network adapter, yet require a Link headset for wireless audio. This entire generation, Sony has been struggling with an identity crisis to be itself or to try and become more like Apple. There is a middle ground here that Sony needs to find.
The PlayStation Portal is a great device but, where is the small plastic docking stand? Where is the case? Where is the power brick? Why not 802.11ax? If I am going to spend $200 to play my PS5 in another room, plus another $200 for the headphones, I want Sony to give me a quality experience with no sacrifices. The PlayStation Portal sure is a quality device but there are a lot of sacrifices.
With that said, if you have a family that has debates over TV control this might be cheaper than family counseling. If your spouse is about to leave you over a lack of Love Island time, the PlayStation Portal might save your marriage (who could put a price on that). Likewise, if you just want to play 100ft Robot Golf in bed or in the bathroom, I have the perfect device for you.
- Excellent local play, the best device for this specific use case.
- Helps with shared TV time, or play while you watch the game.
- Fantastic ergonomics and feels great to play on.
- Sony has over-exaggerated the battery life, 4 to 5 hours is fine but there is no way it is an 8-hour battery.
- No feature to stream PS3 or PS5 games directly from the cloud like you can on other devices.
- No case and no power brick included in the box.
- 802.11ac over 802.11ax.
- No Bluetooth