I spent a good bit of my weekend revisiting the options available to me for streaming games online. After seeing some news about NVidia’s GForce Now possibly being available soon for only $5 a month, it got me wondering again about the viability of other streaming services that look to leverage cloud-based Windows machines and game streaming services like Parsec. After all, I’ve not tried any of them out since earlier in 2019 when Stadia was first announced, and even though my experience was hit-or-miss back then, I thought perhaps things had gotten better.
First up, the big change on the Parsec front for me was the fact that Linux apps on Chrome OS have become much more stable and Parsec offers a Linux application. One of my earlier problems around game streaming was the lack of pointer lock during the gaming sessions and the other was the lack of a solid, browser-based solution for streaming. Every service needed an app of some sort and the Android apps for game streaming never support pointer locking on Chrome OS.
Seeing the Parsec Linux application and knowing that I could simply flip the Chrome OS flag for GPU acceleration and pointer lock led me down the path of giving Parsec another try. Though services like Parsec and Moonlight are really meant for streaming your games from your personal, stationary gaming rig to your mobile PC, services like Paperspace offer gaming setups completely in the cloud for use in this way as well. My first inclination, then, was to set up a Paperspace machine (with the Parsec configuration), log that cloud computer into Parsec, then install and run Parsec in Linux on my Pixelbook Go with the appropriate flags turned on.
Why bother with all this? Well, going this route allows me to play all my Steam games via a game streaming since my Paperspace computer can install and run any Windows application I need and Parsec can help stream the gaming parts with better latency than Paperspace running alone. With that sort of setup, I get a monster PC in the cloud that can easily run PUBG or CS:GO and I can then stream that output via Parsec to my Chromebook. With Stadia’s limited library, the ability to play the games I truly want to play is quite appealing, so I took the time to get it all set up.
And it took some time. Paperspace, for instance, doesn’t allow you to use a Parsec-ready setup upon opening and paying for your account. Instead, you have to put in a request and wait 12-24 hours to get approved. Once I did, it isn’t exactly a plug-and-play situation. You then need to have Parsec set up and paid for as well, get logged into the Parsec app on the host computer, get the Parsec app installed via Linux apps on the Chromebook, launch Parsec and connect to the host computer.
While waiting for this all to get set up on Paperspace’s end, I curiously looked around for other hosted Windows platforms to set up Parsec on and was a bit let down by the lack of consumer options. There are others that do this on an enterprise level, obviously, but as a general consumer looking for a cloud-based PC to use, there were few options out there. I tried Frame (fra.me) and though the setup was easy enough, the latency was nowhere near good enough for gaming.
By the time I got my Paperspace set up and running, I was also disappointed by the latency. For standard apps, it was quite good and fully usable. Honestly, I had Parsec open in a second desktop and kept losing track of what was virtual and what was local on my screen from time to time. Mouse latency and typing all felt nearly-native, so that part they have solved quite well.
But once I got PUBG installed and running, the latency wasn’t just noticable; it made the game unplayable. I installed the Android version of Parsec to check it out, and though I can’t really play via mouse/keyboard with that setup since the pointer lock won’t work, I could still tell the latency wasn’t actually good enough to play even if that wasn’t a roadblock. Sure, Android and Linux applications are both being run in a virtual container on Chrome OS, so that could be to blame. But it definitely felt like the server response was the clear-cut problem across the board.
For fun, I even installed Vortex one more time and came away with similar issues. Pointer lock is missing, there’s no dedicated web player, and the lag was simply too much for any real gameplay.
Stadia has none of these issues
After hours of tinkering and trying, I finally cancelled all those cloud accounts and hung up the idea of cloud gaming outside of Stadia for now. And then, I picked up my Stadia controller and fired up a quick game of Tomb Raider, sat back, and played a section of the game without hiccup, without lag, without graphic lapses, and without much effort. I switched seamlessly over to my Pixelbook Go and picked up on the last part of the level I was working on with similar results and concluded that when it comes to playing fully cloud-based games (especially in the browser), Stadia does this so much better than anyone else that it is laughable.
The only experience I’ve had that even comes close is on the NVidia GeForce Now via the Shield TV, but I had multiple connection issues and some pretty good lag from time to time. As it stands, however, no one is even in the same ballpark as Stadia when it comes to delivering a solid, simple, and reliable cloud gaming experience 100% in the browser. This is a place where Stadia currently stands alone. Is it perfect 100% of the time? No. But it has been insanely solid for me of late and the interface and setup are so simple and so effective that it makes the same setup/interface of other cloud gaming experiences seem silly by comparison.
I don’t know if GeForce Now, xCloud or PlayStation Now will offer anything for the browser or not, but until they do, there is simply no match for Stadia from an ease of use or stability standpoint for gaming on the web right now. Just as we’ve said what feels like 100 times: Stadia just needs more games and more players. We have promises of a TON of games for 2020 and we have promises of Stadia Base giving new players a free-to-play version of coming in February as well. But for now, those are simply promises. When we do start seeing the games show up and the players that should also follow, Google will have something very special in Stadia. I just hope they get those things in order before someone else shows up with it all figured out.