PlayStation Portal is an interesting gadget, an official, Sony-designed streaming device designed for Remote Play with PS5. It’s not a console or a gaming handheld in the traditional sense, which makes reviewing it a little challenging as the quality of the experience is entirely dependent on the quality of your home network. Take on board some simple advice and it’s relatively easy to get the best out of Remote Play and therefore the best out of PlayStation Portal – but there’s still the sense that Remote Play itself isn’t as good as it should be.
My recommendations for optimal conditions for PlayStation Portal starts with setting up a hard link between your PS5 and your router via a LAN cable. You see, there are two steps to data transfer between Portal and console: firstly, the console communicates with your router, then data is beamed out over WiFi to the handheld. By hardwiring the console to the router, you cut out one stage that could potentially increase latency and data loss. Secondly, you should aim to have your Portal as close to your WiFi router as possible for it to get the strongest signal. If you can’t do all of those things, the Portal experience will inevitably be degraded or become less consistent to a certain extent. To be clear though, there’s nothing stopping you from trying to run the Portal anywhere you want within the constraints set by the device – you can even access your PlayStation 5 over cellular when out and about. However, the further away you get from your console/router in both real and/or internet space, the less optimal the experience is likely to be.
You may have noticed a wealth of varying experiences with PlayStation Portal when looking at reviews or social media posts from new owners – and that may well be down to things like the individual perception of latency or image quality, but equally it may well be down to varying levels of quality over WiFi. My advice to prospective Portal owners? Download the Sony Remote Play app for your phone or a laptop and give it a go. It’ll set the expectation level for the experience perhaps encourage experimentation with moving your console or router about to improve streaming quality and consistency.
PlayStation Portal itself arrives in a basic box with few frills – and the only accessory is a USB-C to USB-C cable. You can replenish the battery with any USB charger, but equally the cable can be used to charge from the PS5 itself. Beyond that, there’s little else. The manual is entirely unsatisfactory really, with no real explanation of how the Portal works and how you may improve the experience using some of the tips I’ve already outlined. Typically, a console product from a platform holder ‘just works’ and maybe Sony thinks it will – but some may be puzzled or disappointed in the Portal’s results depending on their network set-up. This is no Wii U GamePad, which generally just worked.
The Portal itself is a nice piece of kit. Fundamentally, it is a DualSense controller sliced in half with an eight-inch 1080p tablet LCD placed in the middle, but these two elements separate it from other Remote Play contenders. As it is a DualSense, you’ll get the complete DualSense experience down to the excellent haptics and adaptive triggers. The eight-inch 1080p 60Hz screen is typically larger than Remote Play experiences on a mobile phone and the display itself is pleasingly bright and vibrant with nice deep colour reproduction. Weak blacks aside, it’s impressive.
On the back of the unit, behind the display you’ll find the USB-C socket that seems to be for charging only, with a 3.5mm stereo jack next to it. On the top, there’s the power and pairing buttons along with volume controls. Everything else is standard DualSense. It takes about 2.5 hours to charge and you should get circa five hours of play, but expect that to vary according to the intensity of the haptics in the game you’re playing, the brightness of the screen, even the loudness of the speakers.
Inside the Portal, according to Sony’s open source disclosures, is a Snapdragon 680 processor – a decent enough 6nm mainstream mobile phone SoC – which means that there’s plenty of horsepower for the basic interface plus support for HEVC video decoding at 1080p 60fps. I mean, there’s a lot of potential for the Portal beyond streaming but right now, streaming’s all it can do – and streaming just from the console, by the way, not from the cloud.
We’ve not been particularly complimentary about Remote Play in the past and even now with PlayStation Portal, I’d rate it as OK but not great. It’s fine as a value-added feature for the PlayStation 5, but as a streamer it means you’re going to get extra lag and image quality compromises. With my PS5 attached to my router via Ethernet and the Portal around 1m away from that – the best conditions I could muster – I observed a four to five frame difference between the same gameplay from console HDMI vs Remote Play on Portal. That’s essentially 60-80ms of extra lag compared to my LG CX TV running with game mode enabled. I tried a second router and even the PC client running fully wired via the router to PS5 and couldn’t appreciably change that latency. It seems to be a limitation within the PS5, but who knows, your mileage may vary.
My colleague, John Linneman, repeated the test with his own LG CX, but this time using the Wii U GamePad, which seems to use a custom off-shoot of the Miracast format designed by Nintendo in collaboration with Broadcom. As you’ll see in the video atop this page, remarkably, the GamePad delivered identical latency to the LG CX television. The GamePad has its limitations, of course, but ultimately, the comparison reinforced to me the difference between an optimised, plug-and-play piece of console hardware and Remote Play, which up until now was always just a value-added feature, not a marque piece of technology.
Everyone’s perception of latency is different, so PlayStation Portal may work out just fine for you. If you don’t have game mode active on your TV, Portal may feel very similar. Even so, since almost all PlayStation 5 titles have 60fps performance modes, I’d highly recommend using them when gaming with PlayStation Portal. It’ll reduce lag significantly on the console side, allowing you to claw back precious milliseconds from the streaming latency Remote Play brings to the table.
In terms of image quality – well, you can’t capture the Portal screen, but it is seemingly using standard Remote Play with no bespoke enhancements and in ideal network conditions, there’s no reason to suggest you’re not getting the 15Mbps 1080p 60fps HEVC stream that is Remote Play at its top spec. I used the open source remote play client Chaiki to ensure I was streaming that quality level to my PC and I captured that while at the same time capturing the raw output of my PlayStation 5 set to 1080p. So, with this head to head we should be seeing Remote Play before and after compression – and there’s a screenshot zoomer below where you can see the difference.
First impressions aren’t great as there’s obvious macroblocking and banding on the PlayStation 5 front-end – the first thing you’ll see when connecting Portal to PS5. Graduated, flat colours can be tricky for video streaming but even so, I expected better. Gameplay is much better: the quality can be impressive, especially when downscaled to be viewed on an 8-inch tablet screen. Even though there is a 1:1 pixel match with the stream, it is not quite pristine though but on slower moving content, a good amount of detail is still retained even in a rich game like Horizon Forbidden West. Slower paced content with muted colour such as Alan Wake 2 can look very, very close to native. However, fast action and varying colour is the nemesis of streaming tech and it presents on the screen as a subtle smearing effect, or not so subtle depending on how much the encoder is stressed. More obvious is that Portal does seem capable of losing frames even when the source game is not – something I’ve seen on all Remote Play clients. While a 60fps game generally presents as a 60fps game, there is some stutter at points and this occurred even in optimal conditions.
In summary, I really like the PlayStation Portal hardware. It’s a nicely presented Remote Play device but at the heart of it, it’s still Remote Play with its historic limitations and I hoped for more. Still, the full DualSense experience does set this apart from other Remote Play experiences – the haptics are just as good as the standard controller as are the adaptive triggers and that’s because it is a DualSense controller, basically. The screen isn’t OLED-class loveliness but I have few complaints with it – it’s bright, vibrant and attractive. However, even in best-case scenarios, there seems to be frame dropping issues on the device, the lag will be an issue for those sensitive to it and due to the basic nature of streaming itself, image quality will be variable. That’s on top of actually ensuring that your WiFi set-up is optimal for Portal in all the places you want to use it.
There are also clearly big misses in terms of the feature set, in addition to the mystifying lack of Bluetooth headset support (only Sony’s own wireless system is supported). First of all, PlayStation Portal should support cloud streaming. It’s a no-brainer and would add a bit more value to the rather expensive top tier PlayStation Plus subscription offering. Why this isn’t included already is frankly baffling. Secondly, a mode to use your highly expensive ‘DualSense with a Screen’ as an actual, local DualSense controller seems like another oversight. I’d also like to see actual diagnostic tools that can be used to optimise your home network for the best possible Portal experience – right now the device just automatically assumes that everything is fine with only the most minimal of warnings when image quality crashes and the lag makes everything unplayable. Finally, there’s the concept of fan service. A brilliant value-added feature would be to emulate prior Sony handhelds and maybe the PSone. Perhaps that’s a little niche for today’s Sony but there’s no reason why it could not be done – the hardware itself is clearly capable of so much more than Portal delivers.
Ultimately, I’m impressed with the PlayStation Portal hardware, but I don’t feel Remote Play is good enough or robust enough to support a hardware launch of this scale. However, if you disagree, that’s absolutely fine – the diversity of opinion on this launch has been fascinating. Thankfully, owing to the existence of a plethora of existing apps across many systems, it’s easy to test how good Remote Play is before you lay down your money. On the hardware side, Sony has delivered a good piece of kit – but hopefully we’ll see improvements and new features added further on down the line.