Thursday, January 17th 2019

Impressions of Google's Project Stream: Game Streaming in 2019 Actually Seems Feasible

What happens when Google, AMD, and Ubisoft get together? Aside from pleasantries, it leads to Project Stream- a surprise announcement in late 2018 from the online giant, which clearly was part of their getting into the gaming space. Google had teased entries into more dedicated gaming hardware and software alike, with those presumably on the way, and Project Stream is going to be a big part of that equation in 2019, if not the gaming market in general.

Picture being able to play AAA games at 1080p and 60 FPS on an internet browser, with the only requirements being a decent enough internet connection (the test called for 25 Mbps down, and no mention on minimum upload speeds) and a controller or keyboard/mouse combo. This would have been a pipe dream even with NVIDIA's own take on this, GeForce Now, having been announced significantly earlier. However, that has yet to come out of a private beta test, and even so shows no sign of leaving a limited test region centered around the USA and EU. Perhaps it was fitting then that AMD, with their RadeonPro GPUs providing the horsepower, helped lay the ground for the most convincing public test of game streaming to date.


Okay, so I was not convinced when I first read about it in October last year. After all, why would I want a potentially sub-par gaming experience that can change graphical quality at a whim, challenge my poor ISP-mandated data cap, and play more Assassin's Creed of all games? I had burned out on that series after trying out Unity, but gave Syndicate a chance and, while it was better, it was still more of the same. I skipped Origins (at least for now), and Odyssey seemed to be an entry back after not a whole lot of time for Ubisoft into that series. TechPowerUp's own testing of the PC port was encouraging, but what really got me to pull the trigger was (a) to see if I could perhaps do some form of performance analysis of Project Stream, especially given this was limited to the USA and there are not too many of us TechPowerUp editors over here, and (b) news coming out that testers who had a minimum of an hour of gameplay would get a copy of the game for free on Uplay for PC, and have their save files transferred too.

Indeed, it appeared that I was either not the only one skeptical or Google simply wanted a lot more people involved. They had even offered $10 worth of in-game currency for the usual microtransactions Ubisoft sees fit to add to their $60 games, an offer which no doubt was from Ubisoft more so than Google themselves. So here I was in December, with not a whole lot planned over the holidays, and decided I might as well give this a shot. Boy, was I glad I did..
Before I could actually go about playing, Google had to make sure I met all requirements (which included using Google's Chrome browser) and a quick, ~20 second speed test confirmed all was good to go. Hitting the play option effectively then started the game stream immediately, with subsequent activity leading to the game starting with the usual Ubisoft game loading screens. Indeed, I could not have predicted that this would be such a smooth launch- with first impressions being so important for new technology, this definitely worked well in its favor. The game menu itself told me I was not playing a typical Uplay game, however, with tiles informing me I have 1000 Helix Credits (the aforementioned $10 for microtransactions), and that in turn leads to the in-game page where I could redeem it for whatever I wanted. The last tile at the bottom was telling me that I had to open Uplay on a new tab to access Ubisoft's Club, to check my social activity, game credits, and redeem them for more Club rewards. Indeed, it was confusing on how to actually exit the game and stream from the forced full screen mode- especially if you missed the short notice that plays upfront- and holding down Esc brings up a nifty play/exit option and minimized the window back to the browser tab at any time which is handy for when you want to take a break but not actually exit the game.
Before I could do any gaming, I simply had to check the options menu and, well, it was basically the PC version port except without the graphics sub-menu. Ah, of course, this was more akin to a console game experience thus, with Google effectively telling me I could get up to 1080p/60 FPS gameplay but without any mention of the quality setting. There was no in-game benchmark either, because of course this would also depend a lot on my internet connection and what other network activity was ongoing, so all I can tell was Project Stream's beta test of Assassin's Creed Odyssey ran somewhere around the "High" setting on the PC when all worked well, but could dip into lower categories if needed. Such an adaptive gameplay experience can be jarring to PC gamers, but is absolutely critical for game streaming to work at this time.
If the experience thus far was smooth, what happened next was rough- literally, with the starting cutscene alone displaying choppy framerates, quality dipping firmly into the low setting, and a "Spotty Connection" notification popped up at the bottom right corner which, when expanded for details, was not really any more useful than saying my internet connection could have been less-than-optimum. Well, of course, I was on Wi-Fi here and had many other tabs open but it was still surprising when the initial speed test was successful, and I typically exceeded 100 Mbps download speeds on Wi-Fi on this very PC. Perhaps this was a one-off, so I exited the game to switch over to Ethernet and also check what was going on with Wi-Fi, and was promptly greeted by a feedback survey. This does not come up each time you quit the game, and you can also pull it up at any time, so that was good user experience design already.

As it turns out, my NETGEAR XR500 router (review here, for those interested), was still set up for geo-filtering close to my location for when I was doing that review. I don't really play online, and clearly that was what was causing the issue here. There have also been some complaints about others, without this filter and the same router, having an adverse effect with Project Stream, so I am discussing more with NETGEAR about this. A quick switch of routers solved that issue, but I used Ethernet connectivity henceforth (until the very end for more testing).
I tried a variety of factors to try and influence my gameplay experience outside of just controlling internet speed- be it a controller, a wireless keyboard and mouse, a wired peripheral set, and stream latency was generally not an issue when the internet connection was good. No complaints either as far as performance or graphical fidelity goes, with ~90-95% of my nearly 50 hours on this service being extremely satisfactory. I kept monitoring how much data this service took, and this is definitely one of the things to be aware of. The entire game by itself is about 46 GB to download off Uplay, but each time you exit the game and come back on Project Stream, the same environments are loaded over and over. I estimate approximately 70 GB to have been used up by this service in my 50 hours, which is not a lot for most, even in the USA where the test was localized to, but will definitely be a challenge when this service eventually goes global. There are some built-in measures, however, including a 20 min inactivity tracker that closes the game automatically in case something came up, so such small quality of life improvements will be handy.

[Update: January 19, 2019- With the test complete, I went back and did a more comprehensive calculation. The final numbers for data usage appear to be a lot more than 70 GB and closer to 300 GB instead, which does change things a lot. Indeed, others noticed 6-7 GB/hour on Project Stream and this can be a definitely deal breaker for those with a capped internet plan.]
The other ~5-10% of my time testing was not perfect, however, with two random crashes out of nowhere and occasional spotty connection-related issues. Above is a quick video on how it appears in-game, and note that the first few seconds show off what I presume is Ubisoft's game engine bugging out rather than Project Stream itself. I then throttled internet speed to 20 Mbps down for the PC to see what would happen, and it got bad. Graphics quality dipped down first, sacrificing visuals for performance, but then the framerate dropped as well and now input latency was a real issue. There was a noticeable lag, as much as 0.5-1 second at times, from when I hit a button to trigger an action to when said action occurred. Looking at the online Google community for Project Stream, which has since been taken down as well, it appears that the vast majority of users were more than happy with the gameplay experience.

Sure, the draw distance may not have been as high as it would have been on my PC, and very likely I could have upped graphics to 4K and Ultra giving better shadows and lighting. But the convenience of being able to play whenever, wherever without worrying about what PC you are on was something I could get used to. Not having to deal with Uplay much is always nice, but note that you still need to be connected to Uplay for saves to be retained given there is no local storage here. Google will also have to defend the use of Chrome as the exclusive browser in the EU or risk another lawsuit, when this eventually goes live and public around the world, and pricing as well as game title availability will make or break this service. With the more accurate data usage numbers in hand, that is another issue for Google to tackle as well. I suspect Project Stream will lead to a live service to tie into Google-branded hardware consoles that are not the strongest as far as processing capabilities go, but capable enough to stream games for more than just the casual gamer. There are many questions left to be answered, but I leave the test, which ended a little over a day ago as of the time of this article, mostly convinced and wanting more.
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58 Comments on Impressions of Google's Project Stream: Game Streaming in 2019 Actually Seems Feasible

#1
Darmok N Jalad
Curious how this will pan out. As mobile chips get more powerful, is streaming 1080P/60Hz at random quality and reliability depending on your connection going to be worth it? I also wonder how many users such a service could host before the hardware is exhausted. I mean, there are millions of 1080p consoles out there. What would the data center look like, a wall of consoles?
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#2
eidairaman1
The Exiled Airman
It won't. Local software is still faster
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#3
hotrippr
Great, just what we need, more stupid services nobody asked for. Its already bad enough that we have to have an internet connection in order to play some games in single player mode for campaigns. Now we have this load of a turd service? Come on get with it. Theses idiot publicly traded corporations don't know jack crap about what gamers actually want, EA and Activision I am looking at you. Well at least google has the cash to blow on this load of donkey waste, they can sustain the losses but I am not sure about poopisoft. Good luck with that as smaller studios move in to take the market share while you try to stuff this down our throats like unwanted broccoli during thanksgiving dinner.
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#4
Tartaros
hotrippr, post: 3977753, member: 21654"
Great, just what we need, more stupid services nobody asked for. Its already bad enough that we have to have an internet connection in order to play some games in single player mode for campaigns. Now we have this load of a turd service? Come on get with it. Theses idiot publicly traded corporations don't know jack crap about what gamers actually want, EA and Activision I am looking at you. Well at least google has the cash to blow on this load of donkey waste, they can sustain the losses but I am not sure about poopisoft. Good luck with that as smaller studios move in to take the market share while you try to stuff this down our throats like unwanted broccoli during thanksgiving dinner.
It's another service, you aren't loosing anything. No one is asking you to hand over your game collection.

Actually it could be a good solution for more casual playing for people who hasn't nor do want a gaming system or console. If it has a treatment like the Microsoft Game Pass I think they might have a winner. I sometimes travel for work and getting a gaming capable laptop apart of my work laptop is a hassle, in the future I'll just need only one pc. Like everything at first this will have a lot of limitations but there you got Spotify: the majority of people can't care enough about their music collection and just want a system that lets them listen to everything easily online, I personally don't like it and prefer the files under my control but for each their own.
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#5
Darmok N Jalad
I guess I forgot to even mention above in my first post, but, being a Google service, we have no idea how committed they even are to it. They dont exactly have a reputation for sticking with their pet projects.
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#6
Tartaros
If they can make money out of it since the beginning, you bet they will be commited.
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#7
R0H1T
eidairaman1, post: 3977752, member: 40556"
It won't. Local software is still faster
It'll always be that way, but with streaming & "Potentially" even 5G, this opens other "streams" of revenue & who knows game streaming AAA titles via phones or portable consoles?
If there's more money to be made, you can be sure that game studios, publishers & even phone makers will try their hand at it. Not to mention mobile & cable operators, this directly increases their revenues & makes investment into fiber or 5G viable & justifiable.
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#8
Ferrum Master
It does not work okay using steam streaming via my local network. Why this should?

Fast paced action games or driving are no go.

The heck, I cannot even do rally driving games on my DLP projector due to the native latency because of the color wheel. I notice the corner sign too late.

This? Well... I want to see the latency numbers, not the compression, IQ etc...
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#9
Joss
Every institution is so keen on taking us away from local compute and into the cloud.
But it is all for our own good :rolleyes:
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#10
Vayra86
5-10% is still too much. At home I have 0% fail rates, at higher quality, lower latency and more control.

Nothing has changed. Its still a streamed service that still means you own nothing but a login/account. Your rights extend as far as being able to use the service, conditions may change right under your nose and you're a plaything of the content provider.

NOTY. This is console crowd grade stuff, and they are effectively on a streamed service already with their paid online services.
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#11
Readlight
If its cheaper than ps4, electricity and game than it's win.+ max settings and frame rate on optic internet.
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#12
Gasaraki
R0H1T, post: 3977763, member: 131092"
It'll always be that way, but with streaming & "Potentially" even 5G, this opens other "streams" of revenue & who knows game streaming AAA titles via phones or portable consoles?
If there's more money to be made, you can be sure that game studios, publishers & even phone makers will try their hand at it. Not to mention mobile & cable operators, this directly increases their revenues & makes investment into fiber or 5G viable & justifiable.
Yeah 5G that you have to pay per/GB for so at 5G speeds you'll be paying for than $60 to play a game.
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#13
TheDeeGee
For that cinematic 5 second delay.
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#14
willace
Still not the same quality as local.....Tried it for about 30 minutes. It is an improvement over last time someone tried it (I forgot the name of the company, but I have 9800GT at the time).
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#15
R0H1T
Gasaraki, post: 3977909, member: 168493"
Yeah 5G that you have to pay per/GB for so at 5G speeds you'll be paying for than $60 to play a game.
5G should be cheaper wrt $/GB longer term, as compared to LTE & I'm obviously talking about mobile phones or some kind of portable console.
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#16
hotrippr
Joss, post: 3977823, member: 152251"
Every institution is so keen on taking us away from local compute and into the cloud.
But it is all for our own good :rolleyes:
Vayra86, post: 3977846, member: 152404"
5-10% is still too much. At home I have 0% fail rates, at higher quality, lower latency and more control.

Nothing has changed. Its still a streamed service that still means you own nothing but a login/account. Your rights extend as far as being able to use the service, conditions may change right under your nose and you're a plaything of the content provider.

NOTY. This is console crowd grade stuff, and they are effectively on a streamed service already with their paid online services.
Exactly.
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#17
Vayra86
Gasaraki, post: 3977909, member: 168493"
Yeah 5G that you have to pay per/GB for so at 5G speeds you'll be paying for than $60 to play a game.
Exactly this. Such major data streaming will once again prompt discussion about net neutrality, DPI and all sorts of prying eyes into what exactly it is you're doing with your connection.

The result will be that data is going to cost more, and the bottom line is likely that you'd have been better off staying local.

The cost will be paid somehow and you're paying it, whichever way it goes. Its the same as borrowing money. You can do that, or you can just save up beforehand and buy things out of pocket. It doesn't require a whole lot of logic to consider what is better, and ultimately cheaper.
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#18
Darmok N Jalad
R0H1T, post: 3978039, member: 131092"
5G should be cheaper wrt $/GB longer term, as compared to LTE & I'm obviously talking about mobile phones or some kind of portable console.
Yeah, but devices like the iPad/iPhone and high-end Android devices might be able to handle the game natively at 1080p already. And just how much mobile “desktop” gaming are people going to attempt in the first place? Mouse and keyboard and aiming on a 5-6” 18:9 display? Even using a controller is still asking the user to carry something extra, plus there’s the issue of eating mobile data and hitting data caps. The existing mobile gaming market is already a solution to this.

All that aside, MS and Sony have a plan for game streaming, but even they plan on launching another generation of consoles. Personally, I don’t trust my 100Mbps connection for a pleasurable game streaming experience. Streaming live video is just unreliable enough already, and that’s just the usual congestion issues.
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#19
Prima.Vera
I only care about the input lag. How many ms was it of fastest and slowest connections please?
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#20
timta2
"the test called for 25 Mbps down"

Which is much faster than most American's download speeds. A large portion of people still use dial-up, because there's no alternative.
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#21
hathoward
I could imagine game streaming overtaking consoles in the (very) long run. While visual fidelity suffers there's a lot more to be gained in portability. I run Moonlight on all my devices to stream games from my home network while abroad and it works surprisingly well with total latency typically below 20ms on a decent network. Play GTA V on your phone w/ an Xbox controller? Why not? Only thing stopping growth is US shitty broadband carriers.
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#22
FYFI13
Won't happen due to latency. But hey, it's a Google project, they will abandon it in a year or two anyways.
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#23
yakk
If google doesn't do this, then Amazon probably will, doesn't matter who. It might be 20-40ms laggy, but for many (most?) games that doesn't really matter. Streaming h.265 could actually help and if it does matter to you, then you still (for now) have the privilege of spending hundreds, or more likely now on track for thousands of dollars on a GPU to reduce lag.
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#24
FYFI13
yakk, post: 3978310, member: 158293"
If google doesn't do this, then Amazon probably will, doesn't matter who. It might be 20-40ms laggy, but for many (most?) games that doesn't really matter. Streaming h.265 could actually help and if it does matter to you, then you still (for now) have the privilege of spending hundreds, or more likely now on track for thousands of dollars on a GPU to reduce lag.
Thousands of dollars for a GPU? GTX1070 can be had for less than 300 bucks sometimes. Now let's wait until Project Stream starts charging you for every hour spent in game and then we will compare prices ;)
Heck, i'd rather build small form factor Ryzen 2400G machine and game on it without dedicated graphics card then rely on some streaming service.



420 pounds and you game on it as much as you want, whenever you want.
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#25
Vayra86
FYFI13, post: 3978322, member: 105256"
Thousands of dollars for a GPU? GTX1070 can be had for less than 300 bucks sometimes. Now let's wait until Project Stream starts charging you for every hour spent in game and then we will compare prices ;)
Heck, i'd rather build small form factor Ryzen 2400G machine and game on it without dedicated graphics card then rely on some streaming service.



420 pounds and you game on it as much as you want, whenever you want.
I guess some people live in an alternate reality or something. Prices go up by 10-30% and people think PC gaming is dead, local gaming must make way for streamed services on subscription basis, and every publisher has left the game to cater to the mobile market.

Meanwhile, its just same shit different day. There's no radical change. Just a diverse market.
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