Video Game Streaming: What You Need to Get Started

PCMag
PCMag
Oct 16, 2019 · 7 min read
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Interested in cloud game streaming? Here are the hardware requirements and internet speeds you’ll need to game with Google Stadia, Nvidia’s GeForce Now, PlayStation Now, and more.

By Eric Ravenscraft

There may come a day when you don’t need a game console or fancy PC to play the latest video games. Google, Sony, and Nvidia are betting big on streaming video games. But how are their game-streaming services supposed to work?

Here are the basics: Companies install a game on a server farm somewhere and send its video and audio to you over the internet. You then send back all the inputs from your controller to play it in real-time.

As you can imagine, this requires pretty fast and reliable internet speeds, plus some kind of hardware on which to play your games. You might not need a console, but you’ll still need a controller and a device with a screen.

The biggest existing and upcoming services have different approaches to this new kind of gaming, so what you need will vary from one service to the next. Below, we break down existing services, such as Nvidia’s GeForce Now, as well as what upcoming platforms such as Google Stadia will require. Here’s how to get started with each of the biggest services.

Google Stadia

A limited Google Stadia rollout is set for Nov. 19 for those who preordered the $129 Foundation Edition package, and the company is pitching it as a gaming console without the console. You’ll be able to play games on almost anything with a screen, including laptops, desktops, TVs, tablets, and phones.

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For most devices, all you’ll need is something that can run Google Chrome. In terms of hardware, that means you can use any of the following:

If you have a computer that supports Chrome—a pretty low bar—you might already have all the hardware you need. You can use the keyboard and mouse to control your games, so you’re good to go.

Want to use a controller? Google says you can use any input device that connects to your computer via USB or Bluetooth. This can include the PS4 DualShock 4 Controller, Xbox One Controller, and Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, as well as third-party options.

But since pairing with your computer via USB or Bluetooth and then sending your input to a remote server can add precious milliseconds to your response time, Google made its own controller that connects directly to Wi-Fi. You can buy one of these for $69 from Google.

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If you want to play on your TV, the company also sells a $129 Founder’s Edition that comes with an exclusive blue controller, Chromecast Ultra, and three months of Stadia Pro (which lets you play in 4K) for you and a friend.

As for internet requirements, you’ll need to maintain a consistent floor to achieve specific stream qualities:

Take a moment to measure your internet speed. If you share your home internet connection or use Wi-Fi—which can be a bottleneck—the home internet speed you pay for may need to be higher. For more on that, check out The Best Gaming ISPs of 2019.

Stadia Pro goes live in November, but those interested in the free tier will have to wait until 2020.

GeForce Now

Nvidia’s GeForce Now is currently on the market, but it’s still technically in development and has been for some time now. To gain access to the service, you have to request access to the beta first. Once you get the invite, you can start streaming games on your computer for free.

The GeForce Now Beta supports both Windows and Mac laptops and desktops, so while it does not work with handheld devices, most computers should be fine:

For more specific hardware requirements, Nvidia has tested a number of different computer models. Check out the website to see if your PC is compatible.

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You can use just about any keyboard and mouse combo or USB or Bluetooth controllers to play your games. Additionally, you can play on an Nvidia Shield TV using Nvidia’s proprietary controllers.

In terms of internet speed, GeForce Now requires about the same as Stadia does, though Nvidia states outright that you should be hardwired via Ethernet connection:

Since the service has been in beta since 2013, it’s unclear when the company actually plans to launch the full service or what price it will be when it does. But for now, if you can get into the beta, the service is free.

PlayStation Now

Sony’s PlayStation Now is the only service listed here that is currently open to the public; there’s no beta or early access, and you can sign up for it right now.

It’s also one of the more limited services. You’ll need a PlayStation 4 or a Windows PC—there’s no support for phones, tablets, Macs, or TVs (unless they’re connected to your Sony console).

The service costs $20 a month or $99 for the full year, and it comes with access to a library of over 800 games from the PS2, PS3, and PS4. While you don’t have to buy individual games to enjoy the service, you also won’t get some of the latest, hottest games, as you might with Stadia or GeForce Now.

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Some of the games can be downloaded to your PS4, which makes it something of a hybrid service similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass . Even if you’re not interested in game streaming, you still might be interested in signing up for the subscription just to gain access to all the included titles.

You’ll also need a PlayStation Network account, and an internet connection of at least 5–12Mbps, according to Sony. However, the faster your internet connection, the better your game quality. The official range Sony suggests doesn’t leave a lot of room for anyone else on your home internet, so it’s better to think of it as the minimum speed you need, not that your home needs.

For controllers, you can use the PS4 controller you already have if you’re using the service on the console. This controller can also be connected to your PC. While some third-party Bluetooth and USB controllers are compatible with the service, Sony doesn’t guarantee that these options will work .

Microsoft xCloud

Microsoft opened a limited public preview of its xCloud game-streaming service in October. Gamers in the US, UK, and South Korea who made the cut can now stream Halo 5: Guardians, Gears 5, Killer Instinct, and Sea of Thieves on Android devices.

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To play, you need the Xbox Game Streaming (Preview) app installed on your Android device, which has to be running Android 6.0 or greater and have Bluetooth 4.0+ compatibility. You’ll also need a compatible Xbox Wireless Controller with Bluetooth and a 5GHz Wi-Fi or mobile internet connection capable of at least 10Mbps for smooth streaming.

Eventually, xCloud will support PCs and Apple devices. We don’t know what it will cost, which games will be supported, or when it will arrive to the public.

One key feature that we do know about is that you’ll be able to use your Xbox as a server to stream games. This means, hypothetically, you could run a game on your Xbox and stream it over Wi-Fi to your phone or laptop.

This could cut down on the lag that comes with connecting to a remote server and possibly reduce the minimum requirements for your internet speeds. but if you don’t have an Xbox, you’ll still be able to connect to Microsoft’s servers.

Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com on October 16, 2019.

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