For months now, the PlayStation community has been speculating that Sony may be getting ready to unveil a new handheld device to finally follow up the PlayStation Vita, and at Wednesday's PlayStation Showcase, we got confirmation of what that device actually is: Project Q. Unlike the Vita, Project Q won't be able to play native games installed on the system, but rather requires a functioning PlayStation 5 to connect to via Wi-Fi in order to remote play games that are installed on that console.
We don't know the Project Q price, release date, or even what the actual, official name of this device will be, but I find I'm asking myself the same question over and over again: Who is the target audience for this device?
More Ways to Enjoy PlayStation Is Never Bad
Sony has been leaning into remote play functionality for years, originally enabling a PlayStation console to connect to a PSP or Vita to access games. As time went on, this was expanded to a vast assortment of smartphones and even Window PCs and Mac computers. Sony made it easier to enjoy their titles on a smartphone thanks to the iOS edition of the Backbone One controller, and just 24 hours prior to this showcase, the company launched an Android edition of the device.
Clearly, Sony doesn't want to just dominate the living room: they want you to be able to play games nearly anywhere, something that the Nintendo Switch and Xbox's Cloud Gaming already offer fairly successfully. It's a smart move to remain competitive, but does it make sense to launch a dedicated streaming device when Remote Play is already possible on a smartphone?
The answer to that, of course, is not everyone has a smartphone. And certainly, not everyone can afford a smartphone. For large families fighting over multiple TVs in the living room, Project Q could be a lifesaver. Instead of divvying up time between gaming, movies, live sports, or anything else a family member might want to watch, the power can be returned to the players to access their games any time. It's the exact same strategy Nintendo chased with the Wii U Gamepad.
The truth is, I can see a market for this. I don't think it's the traditional PlayStation gamer or someone who organizes their home around the consoles they play (I have two TVs in my living room, with a splitter connected to the PS5, Xbox, and Switch so I can swap the display for each console with the press of a button).
So I'm not the one to buy this. But I'm not going to pretend like that demographic doesn't exist, I'm just not certain that it's a large enough market to drive sales for this device in the way Sony is hoping.
After all, there has been virtually no remote option that works better than playing a game natively when it's downloaded to a console.
Can Streaming Games Be a Viable Option?
I'm a huge fan of dedicated gaming devices, and the fact that Project Q includes fully functional DualSense controllers with haptics definitely appeals to me. But my experience with streaming AAA video games, even over a gigabit internet connection, is that you're going to get lag and frame-rate drops.
For many games, this won't be as big of a deal: I don't see someone being upset that they can play The Last of Us or Ghost of Tsushima while sitting on the toilet. But there are games and moments that streaming just doesn't lend itself to well. Any kind of quick-time event is made far more difficult when there's even a slight delay in your input registering. As for online gaming? I'm curious to see if Project Q will be a viable option. If it works flawlessly and players can access Overwatch, Fortnite, and whatever version of The Last of Us Part II Factions we'll eventually see, that's a huge win.
But I'm just not convinced U.S. internet infrastructure is stable enough to support it. Maybe this will work great in other parts of the world, but we need to see fundamental updates before accessing video games via Remote Play can become a full-time option.
And what of the cost? In a world where Remote Play is already possible through a smartphone, what motivation would someone have to shell out extra money for a device like this? Project Q was announced alongside new PlayStation earbuds, which also don't have an MSRP yet, and earlier this year PlayStation VR2 launched for $549. Sony makes amazing games and great consoles, but their peripherals cost too much for the average person to keep up with.
Maybe we'll see Project Q launch at $299 in an attempt to compete with Nintendo Switch, but the track record has shown the price will likely be more than this. Unless there is a way to ensure that the Wi-Fi connection between the PS5 and Project Q will be more responsive than what we currently get with a smartphone, this will be a hard sell right out the gate.
Project Q Is a Risk for Sony. Will It Pay Off?
People love playing their games on the go, there's no disputing that. But we need a closer look at the actual tech in play to see what Project Q is doing differently vs. what we've seen on the Vita and smartphone Remote Play options. Will this be a success or not? Only time will tell, but the price point is going to be the biggest factor that will motivate people who are taking care of their families to invest in this device.
I'm sure it will sell well, Sony accessories typically do; I just hope it provides a valuable gameplay experience that makes the PS5 even more accessible than it was before. If it can do that and run games with minimal lag on a beautiful-looking display, I'll be much more inclined to become an early adopter of this tech.
I would have preferred a new dedicated handheld as a true successor to the Vita, especially since there are millions of PlayStation players, like myself, who never got into the ecosystem until after the Vita stopped being supported. Project Q might prove to be a viable stop-gab between Vita and whatever comes next, but if they don't stick the landing, it could affect the future of any handheld plans Sony might have in mind.
I hope Project Q is a wild success and delivers on everything it sets out to achieve, I'm just not convinced that this is the device that PlayStation fans have been waiting for. But if I'm wrong? I'll be the first one to open up my wallet when the Project Q release date arrives.