Big Changes to the Industry Are Coming
Google Stadia was officially announced at Google’s keynote address at the 2019 Game Developers Conference in March. This is the successor to Google’s secretive Project Stream, the company’s first foray into the video game industry.
Google Stadia promises to revolutionize the gaming industry. It will be a cloud-based game streaming service, but an entirely original and groundbreaking one. Stadia will allow players to enjoy all of their favorite games on any screen — Google’s web of data centers will provide the hardware needed to run the games.
Early tests are promising, with no additional latency due to the service. If successful, Google Stadia could make owning dedicated gaming platforms obsolete. Here is a quick overview of this soon-to-be-released service.
What Type of Service Is Google Stadia?
Google Stadia is an online streaming service that will allow you to run even the most graphically demanding games on your Google Chrome browser. The service was first tested in a closed beta for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in October 2018. The results were promising — the game could be played seamlessly.
Google’s servers will handle all of the processing power, allowing you to play any game at max settings. An added benefit is that customers who use Stadia won’t have to download games and clog up their hard drives — Stadia will take care of all hardware-related issues. The only thing you will need is a good internet connection.
Stadia will launch in November 2019. Initially, it will be available in 14 countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. During this first phase, it will only be available in the form of the premium “Stadia Pro” version.
However, Google has revealed that it plans to expand Stadia worldwide while simultaneously finishing the base version of the free service. If all goes according to plan, the free version of Google Stadia will be available in 2020.
It’s important to note that players will still have to purchase games. For those who choose to pay the monthly subscription, games will be available with discount offers. Stadia will also feature its own library of free games, developed by the newly established Stadia Games and Entertainment studio.
Many high-end studios have already announced partnerships with Stadia. When the service is released, players will be able to enjoy great games such as Doom Eternal, Borderlands 3, Watch Dogs: Legion, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Rage 2, Mortal Kombat 11, The Division 2, Metro Exodus, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Baldur’s Gate III and Cyberpunk 2077.
The Details so Far
Although Google has kept most things under wraps, there are a few details available about Stadia. The software is built on Linux servers and uses Vulkan as the graphics API.
The cloud hardware in Google’s data centers will use custom Intel x86 processors clocked at 2.7 gigahertz, which will feature AVX2 extensions and 9.5 megabytes of L2+L3 cache. As for graphics, Stadia servers will use custom-made AMD GPU’s with HBM2 memory, 56 compute units and 10.7 teraFLOPS. The CPU and GPU will share 16 gigabytes of RAM between them, for up to 484 gigabytes per second of bandwidth. All of the storage will be handled with ultra-fast SSDs.
These are certainly impressive specs, but it remains to be seen how they will function in real-world situations. One possible issue is data caps — streaming for one hour at 4K settings is estimated to use about 16 gigabytes of data.
The Stadia Founders Edition is available for $129 USD. It includes Chromecast Ultra, a limited edition blue Stadia controller, and a three-month Stadia Pro subscription, with another three months that can be gifted. Stadia Pro will release in November, will cost $9.99 USD a month, and will feature discounts and an expanding list of free games. While Stadia Pro will support 4K resolutions, the free version, Stadia Base, will only support streaming at up to 1080p.
Streaming games at different qualities will have different requirements. Streaming a game at 720p at 60 FPS with stereo sound will require at least 10 megabits per second. Streaming at 1080p HDR at 60 FPS with 5.1 surround sound will require at least 20 megabits per second, while 4K HDR at 60 FPS will require at least 35 megabits per second.
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The goal of Google Stadia is to eventually reach a streaming quality of 120 FPS at 8K resolution. Stadia will be intimately tied with YouTube, with the aim of drastically changing streaming. Players will be able to easily record or stream their gaming sessions and share them via YouTube.
But that’s not all. Any of your viewers can pause the video at any time, and, if they own the game, start playing it at the exact same point. Stadia will automatically keep a large number of save states in the cloud, allowing viewers to jump in and experience what they’ve just seen for themselves, in their own way.
Stadia will also be a boon for split-screen gaming. The service can stream multiple windows to a single screen. This clever way of using the internet to ensure local multiplayer will allow for split-screen gameplay even with titles that are not designed with this feature in mind.
Google Stadia will have its own official controller. Ergonomically, it looks like a middle-ground between the DualShock4 and the Xbox One controller. It will connect to cloud server instances via WiFi, minimizing input leg. It will also feature a capture button to stream directly to YouTube, and a Google Assistant button that will allow for voice-activated features.
The Stadia controller will allow the use of this service with other platforms. When released, Stadia will initially be available for Google Pixel phones, but support for other Android phones and even Apple iPhones is in the planning stage.
Stadia will be compatible with television sets using Chromecast, as well as tablets. As for computers, the only requirement is the full desktop version of Chrome — meaning Mac users will also be able to enjoy this service.