With the Wii U already on shelves and Microsoft's next-gen console imminent, Sony will be looking to set its PlayStation 4 apart from the competition. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, one such feature may be the inclusion of games streamed in real-time over the Internet.

In 2012, Sony acquired Gaikai for $380 million, a company who's claim to fame is streaming graphically-intense games from the cloud.  "Our technology is such that we can stream the world's most graphically rich video games and other content instantly to almost any device, anywhere," Gaikai claims. The PlayStation-maker may be leveraging Gaikai's game-streaming technologies for its own use in console gaming.

Cloud-based gaming brings a number of potential benefits to PlayStation 4 owners, although what we'll actually see remains unknown. Sony is expected to announce more details about its plans for streaming (amongst other things) this Wednesday.

The PS4's backwards compatibility with PS3 titles despite its anticipated architectural overhaul is just one possible example of the benefits of streaming. Other potential advantages include persistent game worlds, persistent progress saves, platform independence by way of virtualization (playing high-end games on any type of low-end hardware -- PS4 games on the PS3?) and on-demand-style gaming for ultimate convenience. Additionally, Sony and other game makers will likely be pleased by the natural anti-piracy effect which accompanies hosting protected content remotely.

Despite its perks, streaming also brings with it a few conceivable perils for gamers. With the disappearance of physical discs, gamers will also see the evanescence of both used games and local game rentals. By extension, borrowing, swapping and selling games may become tougher, if not impossible. Of course, any form of Internet dependency also comes with its own set of obvious drawbacks, not the least of which are availability and down times -- some people simply don't have access to quality connections or even broadband at all.

If all of this "cloud" talk makes you nervous, it's important to note that it won't all be streaming though -- Sony is still expected to incorporate a physical media drive into its next-gen console.