When the PlayStation Portal Remote Player was first revealed, I was skeptical. With Nintendo being so dominant in the handheld game for so long, and the much-loved but commercially unsuccessful PlayStation Vita firmly in the rearview (RIP), a device designed purely for remote play on PS5 seemed like an odd choice.
Remote Play is certainly not a new concept; you can do it on your mobile devices, with some caveats of course, like requiring a peripheral controller like a Backbone or some other Bluetooth controller solution. Then, you get phone calls and texts popping up during intense gameplay moments. It’s a clunky and somewhat tedious scenario at best, and the PlayStation Portal is designed to remove all of that frustrating nonsense and get you playing your PS5 on a fancy screen with all the fancy PlayStation touches you’d hope for. To my surprise and absolute delight, the device is bloody awesome, and I can’t put it down.
Setting up the device is the only annoying step in the process, and even then it’s relatively painless. You simply switch it on, connect to your Wi-Fi, connect to the PS5 that’s on the same network, update the firmware and you’re basically good to go. Within minutes, the console is reflected beautifully on the 8″ LCD screen, brightly lit and in full 1080p HD. The audio is also incredibly solid, coming through more than loud enough from the device to enjoy whatever you’re playing without requiring headphones.
It’s recommended that you play while connected to the same network for the best experience possible, and that was my first testing ground. The PlayStation Portal essentially works as a controller, so the PS5 is sitting there, operating as if you were on your couch looking at the big screen. This means you won’t be able to say, have one person playing God of War: Ragnarok on the console and somebody else playing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 on the Portal.
It worked very well on my inner-west Wi-Fi (5GHz recommended) and has become a go-to when I’m keen for a bit more playtime while I’m getting comfy in bed, or when my partner is watching a home renovation show on the TV that I can’t stop because they’re about to reveal the new kitchen to the crying mother who is now finally able to cook again. Or whatever.
That’s likely going to be the primary use case for the PlayStation Portal. When somebody else in your household is on the TV, you can be on the Portal, having a full PS5 experience. You’ll have access to everything that’s installed on your console, and the device has the same features as the DualSense Wireless Controllers. The actual device looks like they’ve split a controller down the middle and glued it to either side of a screen, but it still looks quite high-quality and not at all toy-like. It feels surprisingly light in my hands compared to chunkier handheld machines, and the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers that have become a trademark of the DualSense work just as well. It’s undoubtedly a cool piece of tech to behold.
I was also able to test the Portal while on holiday, which is what makes it stand out more than anything in the time I’ve spent with it so far. I was up in Cairns for a week, staying with a friend, and considering their good Wi-Fi connection, was able to play my PS5 that is sitting here in Melbourne, from Far North Queensland.
That alone feels like a sort of strange wizardry, with a solid frame rate and very little input lag allowing me to comfortably play a variety of games from the other side of the country with little to no fuss. I know that hotel connections or even those in public spots like cafes are not going to run as smoothly, but for those times you’re staying with loved ones and want to get your PS5 fix, accessing the console in this way feels pretty incredible.
“…it feels like a sort of strange wizardry, playing your PS5 from the other side of the country…”
The screen also works as a touchpad which, to be honest, I didn’t use that much, and takes some adjusting compared to its prominent placement on a normal DualSense. The touchscreen is useful for navigating the simple menu, however, when you’re connecting to your console. That “connecting to your console” part is a breeze, by the way. As soon as you turn on the Portal, it starts connecting to your PS5, and within about 30 seconds or so, you’re in. I did experience a couple of drop-outs, where the Portal lost connection to my PS5 mid-game, but a simple press of the reconnect button had me back online again relatively quickly. The games I was playing paused automatically (as if your controller had run out of battery and turned off) so I didn’t miss any key moments, either.
All of these little flourishes make it an easy decision if you’re somebody who normally does remote play on your mobile. It removes all the hassle and is slick and user-friendly, so you don’t waste any time getting into a game once you’ve done the initial setup. I even like the “portal” on the screen that zooms into your console as you connect. Smooth.
The fine print
So, a lovely screen, great DualSense implementation and you can play your PS5 remotely in all its glory. What’s the catch?
Well, the catch is that even though it works extremely well at bringing this specific concept to life, it is still a very niche concept, in some ways. If you don’t share your TV with somebody else, for example, you probably won’t have much of a need for this around the house (unless you really want to play it in bed, which, is fair). You might not travel a lot, either, and when you do you might not necessarily be cooped up in your room playing video games, or have access to fast internet.
So for $329.95 RRP, that’s a bit spenny, and only a hundred bucks or so less than a Nintendo Switch, which is a fully functioning stand-alone console. It’s potentially a high barrier for entry, especially in these trying “cost-of-living” times we find ourselves in, just for the pleasure of playing your PS5 wherever you are… well, wherever you are and wherever there is a strong Wi-Fi signal. That means you can’t really use it on public transport, or even long-haul flights, which is a bummer.
The other annoying piece of the puzzle is the lack of Bluetooth functionality on the PlayStation Portal. Instead of allowing you to use any Bluetooth headphones, you have to use the wanky-named “PlayStation Link”, which will only let you connect wirelessly with the Pulse Explore wireless earbuds and the soon-to-be-released Pulse Elite wireless headset.
The earbuds cost the same as the PlayStation Portal itself (seriously) while the headset comes in closer to $240. That’s a steep additional price to pay just to be able to enjoy the device with wireless audio and would mean $660 for the “best experience”, which, well, that’s more than a whole new PS5 console in the first place or well on your way to an ASUS ROG Ally.
I didn’t get to test these wireless audio options out as I wasn’t sent the earbuds when they were released last year, so I can’t speak to their quality, but I was at least a little grateful that the Portal has a 3.5MM jack in the bottom so that I could wear my wired headphones like a neanderthal when I needed to.
Even with caveats, I have to say that the PlayStation Portal is an impressive, slick piece of hardware. I love that I can play my PS5 on a beautiful screen from anywhere in my house, and even when I’m spending time interstate, which is still a little bit mindblowing. It has its limitations, sure… Australian Wi-Fi isn’t the most consistent when it comes to this sort of thing, and the lack of Bluetooth feels a bit mean. But PlayStation has done a brilliant job of making sure the Portal is extremely user-friendly, high-quality and gorgeous to look at.
If you can’t access your TV at all times and are constantly craving more PS5 goodness, grabbing a PlayStation Portal is a no-brainer.
PlayStation Australia sent Checkpoint Gaming a PlayStation Portal for the purpose of this review.