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 like Google or Sony 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 pretty 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 like Google Stadia will require. Here’s how to get started with each of the biggest services.
A limited Google Stadia rollout is set for November, 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.
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.
If you 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, Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, as well as third-party options.
However, 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.
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 don’t know how fast your internet is currently. If you share your home internet connection, or if you 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.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now is currently on the market, however, it is still technically in development and has been for some time now. To gain access to the service, you will need 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.
You can use just about any keyboard and mouse combo, or USB or Bluetooth controllers to play your games. Additionally, if you happen to own an Nvidia Shield TV you can play on your television using Nvidia’s proprietary controllers.
In terms of internet speed, GeForce Now requires about the same as what Stadia needs, though Nvidia states outright that you should be hardwired via Ethernet connection:
The service has been in beta since 2013, so it’s unclear when the company actually plans to launch the full service, or what price it will be when it does. For now, if you can get into the beta, the service is free.
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 like you might with Stadia or GeForce Now.
Some of these games can also 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.
Of all the big-name cloud game-streaming services out there, we know the least about xCloud. Microsoft announced at E3 2019 in June that it will begin public trials in October. Eventually, it will support PCs, as well as Android and iOS phones. However, we don’t know what it will cost, what games will be supported, or when it will arrive to the public.
One key feature that we know is that it will allow you to use your existing 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. However, if you don’t have an Xbox you will still be able to connect to Microsoft’s servers.