Earlier this week Sony revealed some key details about the PlayStation Portal. The upcoming handheld lets you play streamed games from your PS5 console, beaming them straight to the palm of your hand. But the new details Sony revealed comes with a rather prominent downside — and not the one you might think.
The most obvious disadvantage to the PlayStation Portal is the fact it can only stream from a PS5. It’s incapable of running software locally, and it can’t be used to play games from the cloud — which feels a little short sighted, but isn’t exactly what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the situation around wireless headphones.
PlayStation Portal doesn’t support Bluetooth
The main thing you need to know about the PlayStation Portal is that it does not have Bluetooth — just like the PS5 console. That’s not ideal for a console, but at least you’re playing in the privacy of your own home where (presumably) you can pump the sound through your TV unperturbed.
A handheld is a different matter thanks to its portability, and so long as there’s a stable Wi-Fi connection you could be playing PS5 games in any number of locations. Locations where video game noise would disturb and irritate the people around you. With that in mind you’d think that Sony would have made it very easy to use the same headphones that you’d normally take with you on your adventures into the real world.
But no. Instead the company has come up with a new proprietary audio system called PlayStation Link. It’s a lossless audio, low latency audio format that Sony claims will help bring “next level audio performance to the gaming experience”.
So far we only know about two PlayStation Link devices — the $150 Pulse Elite headset and the $200 Pulse Explore wireless earbuds. As it stands they are the only wireless audio devices that are compatible with the PlayStation Portal.
It’s unclear whether other PlayStation headsets, like the original Pulse 3D, will be able to connect wirelessly. So if you want to use anything else you’ll have to resort to using the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Yes, that’s right. Unless you’re going to drop at least $150 on a brand new set of headphones you’re going to have to rely on a fragile wire like some sort of mid-2010s barbarian.
Console gaming lacks proper wireless audio support
It’s rather bizarre that right now, in 2023, device makers think it’s acceptable to release products without support for Bluetooth audio. And let’s be honest, games consoles are the worst offenders in this department.
In the past the excuse for consoles has always been that Bluetooth isn’t good enough. Using 2.5 or 5GHz Wi-Fi means that the audio quality can be better, and crucially the latency will be lower.
Which sounds good in theory, but it still feels like a pretty crappy situation all round. Not only do you have to buy a specialised wireless headset, they’re not always multi-platform — especially not if you’re buying first party. So that Pulse 3D PS5 headset won’t be working wirelessly with the Xbox Series X.
It's enough to make you jealous of PC gamers, who don’t have to deal with all this proprietary nonsense.
Do we actually need a dedicated handheld for PS5 streaming?
The question we really have to ask is why we need a dedicated device just for PS5 streaming in the first place. I say this as someone who has spent many an hour streaming games from my Xbox Series X to my smartphone. There have been some problems, primarily when due to weak Wi-Fi or 4G connections, but that doesn’t stop Remote Play being one of the best features the Xbox ecosystem has to offer.
Streaming from a PS5 doesn’t have the best reputation, especially among my colleagues here at Tom’s Guide — one of which called the experience “sub-par”. I’ll admit I’ve never had much issue with it. Not since the days when the feature was exclusive to Xperia phones at any rate. I just don’t do it nearly as often as I would with an Xbox because I only have a single DualSense controller — and I don’t feel like constantly pairing and repairing between my console and phone.
Is it as good as it could be? Probably not, but is it necessary to have a dedicated piece of hardware instead? I’m not so sure. I do wonder how things would be if Sony invested the resources into making PS5 Remote Play better, instead of focussing on a hardware solution. It would be even better if Sony added cloud gaming to mobile, much like Xbox has done with Game Pass.
Especially since remote play on my phone doesn’t ask me to pay an extra $150 to get a compatible wireless headset.