WE KNEW IT WAS COMING, but Google has officially revealed Stadia, its take on game streaming using the power of its cloud infrastructure.
Following on from its messing around with game streaming with Project Stream last year, Stadia has been designed to pipe "console-quality" games to Chrome, Android and TVs.
Stadia will deliver games at 4K resolutions and 60 frames per second, with HDR and surround sound support thrown into the mix.
Before you go nuts in the comments, we know that that's a hefty step-up from streaming games at 1080p like other streaming services, and will require a broadband connection with a good dollop of bandwidth. According to various reports, Stadia will need approximately a 25Mbps connection to deliver 4K at 60fps.
But it's likely Google will impediment some form of dynamically scaling resolution so streaming plays nicely with bandwidth fluctuations often found on busy connections and at peak hours. Google hasn't mentioned this, but defunct game streaming service OnLive had it, as does Netflix, so we'd be surprised if the search giant didn't have some similar tech ticking away in the background.
To ensure Stadia's back end is up to the task, Google has partnered with AMD to create a custom GPU for its data centres. The GPU apparently kicks out over 10.7 teraflops of computer power, which puts the 6 teraflops of the Xbox One X - the most powerful console in the world - to shame.
Stadia 'instances' will also tap into a custom x86 processor running at 2.7GHz and backed up by 16GB of RAM. In essence, there's a decent gaming-grade PC worth of power to support Stadia's game streaming in each instance. And that power will be needed as Google has ambitions for Stadia to support 8K resolutions at 120 frames per second in the future.
All of that power on the server side will also mean there'll be no need for hardware acceleration from the device Stadia is running on. So you can expect to game on Pixel tablets and Chromebooks as well as phones and ultrabooks.
Take back control
Stadia isn't just going to be a cloud and software affair, as Google is also releasing its own controller to go with the service; though you can use other controllers, mice and keyboards with it.
The controller will connect directly to the internet via WiFi, which should help cut down on latency and allow users to bounce from Stadia on one device to another without needing to sync the controller.
Looking a bit like the love child of a PlayStation 4 and Xbox One X controller - both of which are very good, by the way - the Stadia controller appears to be neatly ergonomic with all the buttons and the D-pad in logical positions.
The controller also has a share button which will allow Stadia gamers to capture their gaming and upload it to YouTube; presumably as all the processing is taking place in Google's data centres such uploads should be pretty quick and at high-resolutions.
Speaking of YouTube, the video splurging service is set to be pretty tightly woven with Stadia. People watching game videos posted by developers will be served up a "Play now" button at the end of the video to pretty much instantly hop into the game, providing it's on the Stadia service.
This looks pretty cool, but Stadia has an ace up its sleeve for people who love watching game streamers on YouTube.
A "Crowd Play" feature allows viewers to join a game being streamed by their YouTuber of choice. Said 'tuber will need to manage the queue of gamers wanting to join, which might be a headache for some, but it further expands YouTube's potential to be a gaming content related platform that could further pester the likes of Twitch.
And speaking of playing together, Stadia will even support cross-platform play and allow users to bring their saves from one game on another console to the streaming service. In our humble opinion, that's one seriously slick feature, if it's well implemented, as it properly expands on the idea of playing a game anywhere regardless of the console you're using.
But to pour a bit of water on that fire, Google hasn't said how cross-platform gaining will be supported and what consoles will be included. Sony has previously dug its heels in the virtual dirt when it's come to mingling with other consoles, so we'd need to wait and see if it'll hop on the Stadia train.
Setting the Stadia stage
All this sounds very impressive on paper, but you might be wondering what Google will do to make Stadia stand out from Microsoft's game streaming ambitions with Project xCloud and Nvidia's GeForce Now service, aside from the YouTube bits.
Well, Google plans to create its own exclusive games for Stadia through the Google Stadia Games and Entertainment studio.
There is naff-all detail about the studio's ambitions beyond making first-party exclusive titles for Stadia. But given Google's vast pull and reputation for cosying up to developers, we wouldn't be surprised if it brought in some gaming talent from well-known game studios or talented indie outfits.
For Stadia to really take off, Google will need to ensure it has a good amount of games on the platform. That'll mean striking deals with developers and publishers, but we suspect Google already has a few of those in the works.
So all in all, Stadia looks to be one of the game streaming services to watch. And it's currently accepting sign-ups to the service, which is set to roll out some point this year.
The only concern we have is the bandwidth the service needs, especially as in the UK nippy connections are still not ubiquitous.
But with 5G coming, that could change; Microsoft has already touted 5G will be one of the things that'll enable xCloud to deliver its streaming goods, so Google could follow suit.
With Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and others all working on game streaming services, 2019 looks to be the year when a shift from traditional consoles and PC gaming to cloud-based services could actually happen.
That's not to say you won't want to splash the cash on a gaming machine ever again, but proper game streaming could really mix things up for gaming world, and if nothing else it'll mean you won't lose a critical game save ever again. µ
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