Streaming Consoles, Again? Will Stadia Make the Grade?

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I know what a lot of people out there are saying right now. They are going to say that I am out of the loop, that I am sticking to the old way of thinking, that I should try something new. That is not true at all. I am always open to try out new stuff as it comes out. I want to know if it will be successful right off the bat and hope nothing but the best. But I also want to know I’m getting my money’s worth when something new comes out. I don’t want to get something and then have it become obsolete in a short amount of time, or worse yet, not work at all.

New technology always interests me, but I need to make sure it is based on a tried and true formula. Gaming subscription services have proved if done right then they can be very successful. Look at Xbox Game Pass. People made fun of it originally, claiming that you do not in the end keep your games, and that you are basically renting them. As far as I’m concerned, my response was “Oh yeah? Well that’s what I’m doing with Gamefly to begin with. And you know what? I’m more that fine with that.”

Purchasing games is still expensive for many people, with most new titles coming out at $60 apiece on consoles. Yes there are sales both on console and PC but it is still quite a large amount of money. That’s why when I look at services such as Xbox Game Pass and EA Access, where I am able to download a huge library of games, keep them on my hard drive, and play them any time I want, I find it to be a much better value. Xbox Game Pass is a steal at $10/month, while EA Access is $5/month (or a much better deal at $30/year) and both have brought me to games that I would not only consider a waste of money if I bought them outright, but also brought me some rare gems that I once passed over. Case in point, I recently started playing F1 2018 on Xbox Game Pass, and for someone who really never got into Formula 1 racing (I’ve been more involved with NASCAR myself) it was a surprisingly fun experience that I might look into for future seasons.

So yes, I am very happy with subscription services that let me download. But on the other hand we have the streaming services such as PlayStation Now and the former OnLive. I have not had any personal experience with OnLive (though they offered to show me their service and that fell through) but if many of you remember, I have tested PlayStation Now, and let’s just say my experience with it was not the best. Input lag, poor image quality due to my internet stream, and high prices just to rent games for a short period of time made it a waste of money. In addition, the previously mentioned input lag made quick input games such as twitch based shooters nearly unplayable.

But despite the issues that I just mentioned, other companies want to jump onto the streaming bandwagon. To start off, Microsoft announced their xCloud streaming service which allows you to stream any of your Xbox games on any other device. And just last week, Google jumped into the ring with their Stadia service. It will be Stadia that I will be talking about more as I know more about it than I currently do xCloud, but what I see of the service concerns me, as it does our GiN Cartoonists.

To the outsider, the initial aspect of Stadia does have some potential. Stadia is not a console, but rather a streaming service that will run on Google Chrome and a Google Stadia controller (which looks like an ugly duckling version of a Dual Shock 4, only missing the touchpad and light bar) or any HID-class USB controller. Games are streamed from their servers that Google claims will run at over 10 teraflops, compared to the 6 of Xbox One X and 4.2 of PS4 Pro. As a result, games at the server side will run at 4K resolution, 60 frames per second with HDR.

That processing power does sound nice and all, don’t get me wrong. But the fact is you still need to go through an internet connection to stream the game, and it’s there that my concerns begin. For starters, of course, is the input lag. A recent test of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey running on Stadia demonstrated input lag clocking in at 166ms, which is very noticeable to anyone used to playing a game locally. Second would be the image quality. While Stadia claims they can stream 4K/60/HDR, internet streams eventually get congested, and with that, will come artifacting, resolution degrades, and of course, buffering. The most extreme case would have your game just cut off before being able to save.

And finally there is the bandwidth issue. In this day and age of cord cutting, Netflix, Sling, YouTube, and many other streaming services, bandwidth use is increasing, but what about when using Stadia? To stream at 1080p/60, Google recommends a bandwidth of 25Mb/sec, though they also say 4K must be done at 30Mb/sec. That is still quite a large amount of bandwidth for many, and what about those who are tied to an internet service provider that has a data cap? Can you imagine how bad overage prices will be when all is said and done?

For the time being I’m going to stick with my locally downloaded services as streaming still has a long way to go in order to win me over, and I welcome both Microsoft and Google to show me their services and convince me. I want them both to succeed, but for right now they are not for me. I guess when we get closer to E3, or even this weekend with PAX East, we might hear more about this.

Currently Playing: The Division 2 (Xbox One X,) Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (Steam)

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