Last June, Sony purchased Gaikai, a company that can stream games — delivering them over the internet in real time from remote servers, by sending compressed video frames. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports what many have suspected for months: Sony will use the service to stream games to the next PlayStation game console, which the company is widely expected to reveal on February 20th. However, according to the publication, Sony won't necessarily use Gaikai to deliver brand-new games. Those will reportedly still be delivered on optical disc. Instead, the next PlayStation will allegedly bring existing PlayStation 3 games to the new system using the streaming technology.

A play for backwards compatibility

Previous generations of PlayStation have offered backward compatibility with games built for previous systems — you could put a PS1 disk in a PS2, for instance, and PS2 games worked in some PS3s — but the next PlayStation is expected to use AMD x86 chips, which wouldn't be compatible with the architecture used in previous systems. By hosting earlier generations of games on servers and streaming them instead, this could be a way to ensure some form of backwards compatibility despite the AMD chips.

Why wouldn't Sony stream new PlayStation 4 titles as well? Perhaps it could, but so far streaming game services like Gaikai and OnLive have been delivered at a maximum 720p resolution, and reliably streaming even 720p content requires a fairly decent internet connection and servers that are reasonably close. It's also worth noting that the PS3 architecture might be a leap for Gaikai itself. Previously, Gaikai had only been publicly used to stream PC games, rather than console titles. The compatibility issue works both ways. We're curious how Sony would deliver and store such games.

Should the rumor be true, however, there's not necessarily any technical reason that Sony's streaming PS3 games would be limited to the PS4. Like Netflix, it could work across a range of internet-connected devices; the company might be able to stream to the PlayStation Vita handheld, the existing PlayStation 3, or even tablets and mobile phones.

This isn't the first time we've heard rumors that Gaikai would be a part of Sony's February 20th reveal: Japan's Nikkei business daily said that it would be included last week, alongside reports that the console would cost 40,000 yen, or likely about $400 in US money. Now, though, we have an idea what the cloud gaming service might do. We're looking forward to February 20th, when we'll likely be able to verify the truth. We'll also be on the lookout for this mysterious new game controller that keeps popping up in photographs.