Game-streaming solutions have evolved from the “cloud gaming” services we examined last year. Many new solutions allow you to stream a game from a computer in your house to a device in another room.
Here’s a look at all the game-streaming services you can use today, from local game-streaming options to the fancy cloud-gaming services that stream from a data center over the Internet.
Steam In-Home Streaming
Here’s the solution most people can get their hands on today, as it’s built into Steam. This solution can stream not only Steam games, but other PC games — they aren’t officially supported, but it should work.
Steam’s in-home streaming feature was designed with Steam Machines running Steam OS in mind. It will allow you to stream games running on your Windows gaming PC to a Steam Machine running the Linux-based Steam OS in your living room. Or, it will allow you to stream games to a lightweight box connected to your TV that doesn’t need much graphics horsepower of its own.
This doesn’t have to involve Steam OS, however. You can enable Steam in-home streaming on any Windows PC you own and stream games to any Windows, Mac, or Linux PC. (Eventually, you’ll be able to host streaming games on Mac and Linux PCs, too.) You could use to to run games on your gaming PC and play them on your lightweight laptop. As the name implies, it’s meant for using only on your local network, as playing games over the Internet would introduce additional latency. To get started with it, open Steam’s Preferences window and use the in-home streaming options.
NVIDIA has their own GameStream feature offered via the GeForce Experience application for modern NVIDIA GeForce graphics hardware. If your computer has the appropriate hardware, you can just open the GeForce Experience application, click GameStream, and use the options here to set it up.
There’s just one big problem here: NVIDIA GameStream can only stream to NVIDIA Shield Portable and NVIDIA Shield Tablet devices. You can’t stream to another computer — even one with NVIDIA graphics hardware — or any other type of mobile device. It may be possible to use unofficial clients like the LimeLight app for other Android devices, but this isn’t officially supported.
Like Steam’s in-home streaming, this feature is designed for streaming games from a gaming PC you own — one that must have a modern NVIDIA graphics card — to a device in your house. It can also stream games over the Internet, but there’s no guarantee that will work quite as well — it depedns on the Internet connections involved on both ends.
Where NVIDIA GameStream is focused on streaming games from your own computer, NVIDIA GRID takes the remote-server approach. Currently, NVIDIA GRID is a beta service with servers only in California. You can only use it if you’re in the western USA with a ping time of 40ms or lower to NVIDIA’s servers in San Jose, California.
And, once again, this service can only stream to NVIDIA’s mobile shield devices, not PCs or other mobile devices. It also doesn’t work with games you already own. Games optimized for NVIDIA GRID and running on NVIDIA’s servers can be streamed to your mobile devices — that’s it.
This isn’t too useful at the moment, but NVIDIA could one day opt to roll it out more widely and make it more useful. It seems like an experiment from NVIDIA to test out their hardware and infrastructure, not something ready for imminent launch as a mainstream consumer service.
Remember OnLive? They’re the service that got a lot of press and brought the idea of cloud gaming to so many people. However, they’re also a service that had very few users for all the press they received.
They’ve changed their service recently. Instead of offering a separate OnLive library you have to buy games from, you can pay $8 a month for “OnLive CloudLift,” a service that allows you to stream games you’ve purchased on Steam to other devices from OnLive’s servers. This is definitely a boost — you can use that Steam library you already have instead of creating a whole new game library at OnLive and shift between playing games on PCs and streaming them over the Internet.
This is a bit more appealing, but not all games are supported. So you’r basically paying $8 a month for the privilege of playing some of the games you’ve already purchased from Steam via OnLive’s servers. The Steam integration definitely feels like a better approach, but most people with Steam libraries probably already have gaming PCs, and they can now use Steam in-home streaming to stream them to other rooms in their houses, anyway.
Now if Steam were to buy OnLive and offer a free cloud-streaming service that works with games you’ve already purchased from Steam, that would be more compelling.
We’ve been focused on PCs so far, but Sony is offering game-streaming in console-land now. Sony spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy Gaikai, a cloud-game-streaming company using their technology for browser-based game demos. They’re now using that game-streaming technology for a service called PlayStation Now, which can stream certain PlayStation 3 games to PlayStation 4, 3, Vita, and TV devices.
This is an interesting approach, and it even offers a way to play PlayStation 3 games on the modern PlayStation 4 console. You can also use it to play PlayStation 3 games on devices without gaming chops — for example, you can use PlayStation Now to stream games directly to some Sony BRAVIA televisions.
Microsoft is also rumored to be working on some sort of Xbox game-streaming solution, but we haven’t seen any concrete leaks or official announcements yet. Microsoft’s service might even allow you to stream Xbox games to a web browser running on your PC — if the rumor is true.
Of course, there’s always the standard remote-desktop software. Some people seem to like remote-desktop apps like Splashtop to stream games from their PCs to their tablets or smartphones, but these often won’t work as well as really dedicated game-streaming solutions.