What is PlayStation Now and when can I get it?

Officially detailed during Sony's opening keynote for CES 2014, PlayStation Now is available in the US and Canada under an Open Beta scheme for all PS4 and now PS3 owners. And while it's not available in any other regions yet, it is a major push by the gaming division of the Japanese firm and could well change the way we access and play games forever.

But while the games industry has been talking about the prospect of cloud PlayStation gaming since the company bought Gakai and its games streaming technology in 2012, some outside of that bubble might not know what PlayStation Now is or what it will offer. We hope to put that right here and, er, now.

What is PlayStation Now?

PS Now is a cloud-based service much like Netflix or Spotify, but for gaming. It hosts a wide collection of PlayStation 3 archive titles initially (around 100 games), with the potential to include PSOne, PS2, PSP and PS Vita games too in the future. You can access them at your leisure, eventually playing them instantly on any device that has access to the service and a half-decent internet connection. At the moment that's restricted to the PS4 and PS3.

It uses technology acquired when Sony bought cloud gaming company Gakai, which allows you to play games that are not hosted on your own local consoles or other devices, but on massive servers elsewhere.

In a similar fashion to OnLive, the video of the game streams over the internet to the display you are using, with controller commands and your actions sent the other way. This happens instantly, so the effect is the same as if you are running a disc at home, but with no need for physical media or long downloads.

Do they look and play exactly like the games we can play on the PS3 now?

Streamed video is in 720p rather than 1080p. That won't matter on PSOne or PS2 titles, if and when they come along, but a dip in detail and picture sharpness will be noticeable for some of the PS3 line-up. Let's not forget though that a fair few PS3 games run in 720p anyway - including possibly the greatest game for the console, The Last of Us.

Interestingly though, there will be the ability to play multiplayer on certain titles and not just with other PlayStation Now users. Sony has said that in future you will be able to play against gamers using the disc version of the same game on their PlayStation 3 consoles.

PS Now games also reward gamers with Trophies like their disc-based counterparts, and you can still access messages about individual titles. Save games are stored in the cloud too, so you can pick up from where you left off no matter what device you played on last.

What devices is it available on?

For the Open Beta, PS Now is available on PS4 and, more recently, PS3. Next up will be PS Vita support and then, finally, Sony Bravia TVs and the forthcoming PlayStation TV set-top-box. Most of the US versions of the Bravia televisions released this year will support the service. They will also support the DualShock 3 controller - the same as used by PS3 - in order to play the games.

READ: PlayStation 4 review

Eventually, Sony plans to expand access to PlayStation Now to other internet connected devices, mobile and tablets included. There is also a suggestion that this will include Apple products too, not just Android devices.

What internet connection do I need?

It is recommended that you have a broadband connection of at least 5Mbps. Sony also suggests that you will get a more stable experience if you use a wired connection over a wireless one.

What games are available?

At present more than 150 games are available on the platform, with many more planned to be added over the coming months. Games heading to the platform soon include God of War: Ascension, the original inFamous and Ultra Street Fighter IV.

How much does it cost?

Eventually there will be two payment options. However, currently with the Open Beta it is only offering games for rental. You can rent single games for four hours from a fee of $1.99 (£1.18) for certain titles, $2.99 for more recent ones.

The fees go up to $14.99 for 90 days rental of a single game.

Sony plans to introduce a monthly subscription too, and has said it is "working on it", but the price is unknown. As is whether all games will be included or just a package of titles.

Rival service OnLive does something similar where, for £6.95 a month, you get unlimited access to a curated selection of games that changes on a regular basis, a bit like a Netflix subscription offers a finite number of films and TV shows to view, which occasionally adds new content and removes some that has been on the service for a while.

It could be this model that is planned for the subscription side of PS Now too.

When can I get it?

PS Now is now available for PS4 and PS3 owners in the US and Canada as an Open Beta. It is not known when the full version will launch. The UK will be next to get it, in 2015, although an exact date is yet to be revealed. A more global rollout will occur sometime after.

What are the alternatives?

If you can't wait for the service to launch in your area, particularly if you're a Brit and are looking at a full year until you get to try it out, there are sadly few alternatives to PS Now. However, the previously mentioned OnLive now going strong even though it suffered from some financial issues in 2012.

The idea behind OnLive is very similar to PlayStation Now. You sign up for an account and can then play cloud-streamed games over the internet on a dedicated OnLive games system box, PC, Mac, some internet-connected televisions (such as the latest line-up of Philips TVs powered by Android) or Android tablets through a free application.

A separate universal controller is available, costing £39.99, which works with almost all devices. Some games are also touch-enabled for comfortable control on a tablet.

It recently launched, as part of a rebranding exercise, a new service called CloudLift. For £4.95 a month, you can play any compatible game you've purchased through Steam on any of the OnLive supported devices. That means you can effectively play your existing PC games on an Android tablet.

OnLive currently adds compatibility for new games every week. The list is growing dramatically.