The news articles that came out last week when Googles gaming platform, Stadia, went live, made it sound like the sky was falling. They focused on the things Google did not deliver, or the problems a few people had, but glossed over the single most important fact. The damn thing works!
First thing you may be wondering is, what is Stadia?
Stadia is Googles video game platform. No, it is not a console like the Xbox or Playstation, but you will be able to play games available for them on it. The thing about Stadia is you don’t NEED to buy any new hardware to play on it, aside from a controller, and even there, most of the games I like can be played with keyboard and mouse. See, the games don’t run on your device, they run on Googles servers and all you do is send it the controller inputs and it sends you back the audio and video.
That’s crazy, you’re thinking. It’s way too slow, you can’t play video games remotely. That’s fine for spreadsheets and word processing, but real time video? The lag will make you want to break your keyboard!
No! It works, and it works way better than I thought it would.
I tried Steams in home streaming several times. It would let you run games remotely, the same way as Google, but using all your own equipment. It basically lets you connect your television to your powerful gaming PC through your home network. The game is actually running on your PC, but you control it remotely with a device running the Steam Link application. Like Team Viewer or Remote Desktop, but specifically to play your games.
It was laggy. The worst of it was solved when I changed a setting on my television, but there was always this slight input delay. Not terrible, but noticeable and super frustrating if you tried to play a platformer like Guacamele or Hollow Knight.
When my best friend told me he had pre-ordered Stadia, I thought it was cool, but having tried streaming games in my home, on a 1Gb network and still experiencing lag… how good was it going to be streaming across the unpredictable internet?
Amazing! That’s how good. My friend showed it to me on Saturday, just a few days after release. It looked good. He let me try out Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. It looked good, but there was still a bit of input lag. We then tried Samurai Shodown, and there was no lag going through the menu, but the game locked up before we could actualy play it, so we just stopped and got on with out Saturday board game session.
Wait, you’re thinking, you said it was awesome, that doesn’t sound awesome. On Tuesday my friend sent me a buddy pass so that I could try the system myself for three months. I registered the code, claimed my free games then opened Chrome browser on my PC and started playing Destiny 2. That’s it, just opened Chrome, typed in Stadia.com and there were my games. Playing was as simple as clicking the play triangle. No downloading, no installing, no fiddling with settings, just press and go. Oh, and it ran smoooooth. I mean, I’m still amazed that this was running on a remote computer and I was playing in a freaking browser window. There may have been some input lag, but if there was, it was so minimal that I couldn’t detect it. Maybe FPS pros will notice something, but honestly for me, it was no different than playing on a console.
Look, results will vary. Much of it will depend on your internet connection, but to give you an idea for comparison, all I have at home is cable internet with 30Mbps down and 10Mbps up. Just middle of the road broadband and I played for over an hour at 1080p, with no issues. Even better, the graphics quality settings were higher than anything my PC could normally do on its best day.
So, I’ve been a video game fan since my Dad brought home pong (yes I’m that old) and have had a current generation console connected to my television ever since. From the Colecovision up to the Xbox 360… and then I stopped. With the exception of exclusives, most of the games I wanted to play were available for PC as well as the consoles, so I went that route. I was limited to the smaller screen of a PC monitor, but I was okay with that.
The problem with PC gaming is the hardware investment. The developers are constantly pushing the graphics envelope, and while you can often get games to play by lowering the graphics quality in the settings, to get the most out of them required having an up to date graphics card, and that can get expensive.
There have been three versions of the xbox since 2001. The Xbox, the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One (with a fourth coming sometime in the next couple of years) In that time I have bought five new graphics cards and rebuilt my PC three times. I was thinking about putting Red Dead Redemption 2 and Borderlands 3 on my Christmas wish list, but a quick look at the recommended specs for the games showed… I would need a new graphics card.
Stadia says no. Red Dead 2 is a launch title for the Stadia, and Borderlands 3 is coming next month, so the only thing I need to put on my wish list are Google Play gift cards. The graphics card manufacturers should be worried.
So, what do you need to play games with Stadia? The answer is, it depends on where you want to play them, and at what resolution. At the moment, you need to buy their founders edition package, or receive a buddy pass from someone bought one.
In a few months, they will have the free plan out, where all you need to do is buy a game, which can be played in Chrome browser. If you want a controller, mine is a cheap Xbox 360 style USB game controller that works great. They say bluetooth support will be added soon.
If you want to play on your television, you will need a Chromecast Ultra, which is not super expensive, and a Stadia wireless controller. I don’t know if just any android compatible bluetooth controller will work, I have not tested it.
Now I mentioned that the free plan will be out next month, the paid plan is $9.99USD a month ($11.99CDN if you live north of the 49th parallel) which is the same as both Xbox live and Playstation Plus. I nave not seen if they offer multi month discounts like the other two services. The benefits of the subscription plan as 4k video with 5.1 surround audio. The free plan will be limited to 1080p and stereo. The really nice thing about the Pro plan, as they call it, is that, like Xbox and Playstation, the subscription plan comes with free games every month.
I’m going to continue testing, and if you want to watch it in action I’ll be streaming on twitch most nights, starting around 7pm eastern https://www.twitch.tv/grampalearns I’m also going to see if I can get it running on a FireTV 4K.