Internet giant Google has today unveiled a new product called Google Stadia, which from later in 2019 will begin offering the ability to remote play video games using cloud-based streaming technology at up to 4K resolution in the USA, UK, Canada and much of Europe. But what sort of broadband ISP speeds will you need?
The idea of a cloud based video gaming service is of course nothing new and in fact it was first tried in 2011/12 via OnLive (here), which never really took off. We should point out that modern video game consoles also offer various remote play and related video streaming features, although these tend to be tied to use on specific platforms.
Sadly the original OnLive never really took off and that’s partly because at that time few people had access to broadband connections that could deliver a reliable high-quality video stream (i.e. comparable to playing locally installed games that is). On top of that many ISPs weren’t well equipped to cater for the high levels of data consumption that such a service would demand.
However today’s market is very different because around 96% of premises in the United Kingdom should now be able to order a “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) capable connection and over half are within reach of “ultrafast” (100Mbps+) speeds, with Gigabit services set to be available nationwide by 2033 (aspiration). Not to mention that 4G based mobile broadband performance is often able to run at superfast or better speeds, albeit much more variable than a fixed line service.
According to Google, the new Google Stadia service should be able to deliver HD (1080p) quality streams at 60fps (frames per second) on a stable 25Mbps capable connection and 4K quality will start at around 30Mbps (HDR and surround sound should be supported but we suspect 50Mbps may be a good connection here).
The service will scale to lower resolutions and fps too, which will have reduced connection speed demands, although on modern TV screens that might look a bit rough and they’re aiming for 25Mbps to be considered as a recommended minimum.
However there are plans for 8K quality streaming in the future, which will obviously increase the connection demands significantly and probably give your ISP a headache with capacity. But that’s assuming any of this is actually appealing to consumers, who will have to pay a monthly fee in order to gain access (estimates suggest it could cost somewhere around £10 to £20 per month).
When using Stadia, players will be able to access their games at all times, and on virtually any screen (computer, tablet, smartphone and TVs that can run Google Chrome or a related app). A dedicated gaming controller will also be provided in order to play the games, which will make a direct connection via your WiFi network or USB to Google’s servers. This also comes equipped with a Google Assistant (AI) button and built-in microphone.
At this point it may be worth considering that connection speed may not be the only challenge for this sort of experience. Latency times will also be a huge consideration (server response times / pings), particularly if you’re connecting the controller over an older or generally weak WiFi connection or are streaming a multiplayer game.
Likewise ISPs will need to put serious thought toward having the optimum routing and peering arrangements on their network in order to deliver the best low-latency experience, which may in some cases increase their costs. Personally speaking, I still prefer to own the games I play and enjoy having full visual quality without any streaming involved, but others may take a different view, particularly given the high price of new AAA games today.
Unfortunately we can’t really judge the reality of all this until the service itself has gone live. Nevertheless some of those who have tried a demo at today’s launch did highlight issues with mixed image quality and the legibility of in-game text on some displays (we can imagine smaller screens may be an issue for games that were never designed with those in mind). There’s also the question of what games will be supported.