I’ve been out of town for a few days, so my tinkering on the new Chromecast with Google TV has been put on a short hold. This morning I’m back in the office and beginning to get to the bottom of some of the questions that have been floating around in my head surrounding Google’s new media streaming dongle. Of the many curiosities I’ve been entertaining in my brain over the past few days, the idea of gaming has been top of mind.
Specifically, gaming via services like Stadia and GeForce NOW have been my primary curiosity. After all, with a $49 dongle, you aren’t going to get top-of-the-line Android gaming on this thing. With streaming gaming, however, the power of the local device is really not an issue at all. In fact, gaming with these services is great on even the most meager of Chromebooks, so my hopes were pretty high going in.
High hopes don’t always deliver, however, and as I’ve experimented a bit this morning, I’m finding that there is great promise in the idea of gaming on the new Chromecast for sure, but there’s some work that needs to be done first.
After side-loading Stadia (we’ll outline how to get this done in another post) and simply installing GeForce NOW right from the Play Store (no additional steps needed), I was up and running quite quickly with both services. Let’s start with Stadia. The app is clearly not ready for prime time and the overall interface looks like a blown-up phone app slapped on a TV. Most of the thumbnails failed to load and if I sat on the home screen too long, the entire app just crashed. As long as I chose a game at the top of my queue, I could get into it and start playing. I was able to use my XBOX controller with no issues and things seemed to respond quickly with nearly no lag at all.
Mainly, for Stadia, the issue just came down to the app crashing constantly on me. That and I’d love to see Google decide to support mouse/keyboard input since the new Chromecast is completely capable of handling that sort of control. For now, it seems, we only have controller support. Honestly, had the app been a bit more stable, I’d have no problem recommending this over a Chromecast Ultra right now for Stadia gaming. As it stands, however, there’s just no way I can do that right now. Keep in mind Google isn’t planning on having proper Stadia support out the door until 2021, so some of this is completely expected.
On to GeForce NOW, I was impressed by the app and the overall interface. It installed and was up and running very easily. As this has been around on the Android TV-powered Shield TV for some time, that comes as no surprise. Once in-game, however, I’m sad to report that there is some considerable lag. I was able to easily use both the XBOX controller and my mouse/keyboard with no issue, but both input methods resulted in a very noticeable input lag. Games ran smoothly and I didn’t have crashing issues, so that was a much better experience than Stadia for the time being.
One quick note, if you choose to try any of this out, you need to make sure your television has game mode enabled and you also need to head into the Google TV settings under Display & Sound > Advanced display settings and set ‘Allow game mode’ to the ‘on’ position. Both of these things will greatly help to reduce input lag across all your games, both local and streaming.
Work to be done
I say all this to point out that, while it isn’t great right now, there is promise in the idea of gaming on Google’s new Chromecast. Simpler games like Red Ball 4 and even more intense games like Asphalt 8 can be installed and played locally, but the real win will be clean, simple setups for game streaming services. With the ease of setup that Google TV offers over the standard Chromecast, users will be able to leverage mouse/keyboard and 3rd-party controllers easily with the new Chromecast, and that’s a big differentiation. With the Chromecast Ultra, you get one streaming service and one controller: Stadia. With the new Chromecast, your options will be far, far more expansive.
It’s just not ready yet. I’d imagine GeForce NOW will get their lag cleaned up in short order, and sooner than later, Google will have Stadia ready for everyday users to simply install and play. We’re just not there quite yet, and I think that’s OK. Google really wanted to deliver an affordable, flexible, highly-usable streaming device to the living room. It has achieved that already. The gaming prowess will come, but it might take a minute and you should know that if you are considering buying one. At the moment, don’t buy it to play games. Just don’t. If you can enjoy it as-is for the present time, however, I think there will come a time in the near future where I can easily recommend this device as a gaming machine, too.