Game Streaming, the Secret to Gaming in the Not Too Distant Future…

Let’s just get this one point out of the way early, the key to next generation gaming is Game Streaming. The only real question is when. Whether connected to a cloud service or a local PC the chances are in the not too distant future the machine you are playing a game on won’t be the one rendering the frames.

While game streaming technology has been bubbling away and developing for a number of years it is only now that the technology is ready for prime time. Services are already appearing from Sony and Nvidia but Valve’s is also preparing to launch its own assault on our living rooms, their primary weapon being the Steam Machines that include game streaming functionality.

Amongst all of this progress Microsoft have been decidedly quiet on the subject of game streaming with either the Xbox One, PC’s or tablets. Are they that far behind the 8 ball?

Steam Machine

In the not too distant future, in this brave new world of electronic entertainment most of the heavy lifting or rendering of a game will be done by machines that are specifically built for the job. Currently the traditional PC fits the bill and does the job locally. Both of the heavy-weights of the gaming industry are already selling graphics cards for the task. ATI and NVIDIA both have purpose built video cards with no monitor connectors at all, designed to be stacked inside servers.

In this new modern scenario the gaming options will stretch to every display in your household, this is how PC gaming will escape the case that holds it. The machine sitting under your TV no longer needs to be the most powerful machine in your household; it can be as light as a media playback device.

The Steam Machines

highpants-game-streamingAlienware-Steam-Machine3While the Steam Machines will have varying gaming abilities there is one trick that they all will share, a talent that probably negates the need to purchase a high powered Steam Machine. Game streaming is of course that trick, every Steam Machine will be able to hijack a PC on the local network and turn it into a Rendering Machine.

The only software required to make this magic work is Steam installed on the PC / rendering machine. Once connected the Steam client gaming machine will have access to the full Steam library of the PC, any game coming to life over the network. Currently one PC is required for each client and while the Steam Machine has control of the PC the rendering of the game can be seen on the PC, like a ghost inside the machine.

Valve’s Linux based SteamOS can of course run native SteamOS games but developers must convert games for the new OS. Not an insurmountable effort but not a simple task either, just asks Nintendo how the Wii U is going, committing to a new platform isn’t easy.

Valve has a few twists to the gaming equation for their new system, firstly there’s the SteamOS’s interface has been optimized for big screen TV’s, 50 inches and over. Then there is their unique touch pad game controller, it will have to be good to displace the dual analogue layout, but it is different. And finally the Steam machines can dual boot into Windows to run PC games locally.

highpants-game-streaming-playstation-now

Sony Remote Play

The Sony PlayStation Now gaming network is already introducing Remote Play game streaming technology, in Sony’s case they will have server farms full of specially designed PS3 hardware rendering games for players vast distances away.

Many of Sony’s networkable devices will have access to the system; Bravia TV’s, PSP Vita and PSP TV will be able to stream PS3 games and play them at full speed. (For further information on PlayStation Now read our previous article). Sony consoles also make use of remote play with the handhelds, a form of local remote play between the PS3 / PS4 consoles and their PS Vita handheld.

NVIDIA GameStream and the GameShield

NVIDIA Game Shield
NVIDIA Game Shield

The surprise package of 2013 was the GameShield, about as much gaming power as can be fitted into the palm of your hands. It isn’t the most compact hand held in the world but it does have a trick up its sleeve, GameStream. Any PC running an NVIDIA GTX video card can render games for the hand held gamer, sending the frames from the PC to the handheld over the local network.

Recently at CES Nvidia’s marketing director Matt Weubbling commented that GameStream will be expanded to include tablets later this year. Going on to say he wants more Android tablet makers to include 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, high bandwidth wireless.  Gaming optimized routers are also on the way to help and Nvidia is tuning up the software in the hopes of having the games running as smooth as possible for the tablet release.

Game Streaming for the Xbox One and PC, Is Microsoft about to Miss the Boat?
Microsoft are missing the boat on this one, they probably should have been working on this technology instead of messing about with tiles. The software to make all of this happen should have been written and integrated into Windows years ago. Windows Remote Play should be available to allow every underpowered device in a person’s household play full PC games at top speed; Android, iOS, Mac, Windows RT, Pro tablets or any ATOM based PC. Then people would have a compelling reason to have at least 1 powerful PC in your household.

highpants-game-streamingAlienware-Steam-Machine

Conclusion
For the PC gaming enthusiast the use of game streaming for gaming nights could be huge. With one really powerful PC it should be easily possible to run 4 or more small client devices to allow multi player gaming session without the need to build 4 gaming machines. 4 light weight devices each with their own display is far cheaper and easier to setup. The days of the pinball arcade in our living rooms may be just around the corner.

highpants-game-streaming-ps-vitaTVSony obviously has big plans for their PlayStation Now service, going to the extent of designing their own specialized PS3 on a chip for the data centres shows serious intent. Nvidia sees a serious market selling high performance computing cards to people who want to be able to game anywhere, preferably on the largest screen in the house.  Steam has a struggle on its hands, trying to enter a very crowded market and will require some serious tricks, they have a few. But where is Microsoft?

Gaming is an evolving entertainment activity, riding on a wave of technology change. By the end of this year we should have at least 3 mainstream options for gaming via remote play services, its time is near.

Reference: Steam Machines
Reference: Geek.com: Testing Valve’s In-Home Game Streaming
Reference: Euro Gamer: Hands-on with the Steam in-home streaming beta
Reference: NVIDIA Shield
Reference: TimeTech: Gamestream is coming to tablets.