Cloud gaming has long been on everyone’s lips. But what is it exactly? and what distinguishes the various cloud gaming services such as Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now or PS Now from one another?
In this article, we’ll explain which cloud gaming services are currently available, how they compare, and what to look out for with the various subscriptions – this is how you are guaranteed to make the right choice.
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Cloud gaming providers in comparison: information and differences
Your gaming PC is no longer the newest and is already sweating at the mere sight of graphics-hungry AAA games like Cyberpunk 2077? You now have two options: Either you give your computer an expensive upgrade – for example in the form of a new graphics card. Or you can opt for one of the numerous cloud gaming services.
Such services often only cost you a fraction of a powerful gaming computer per month and still allow you to play all imaginable games. But that is by no means the only reason why a subscription with one of the numerous providers could be worthwhile. We took a closer look at some of the most popular cloud services and went into detail about the respective services, options, and costs.
1. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
- Top price-performance ratio
- Includes both Xbox Game Pass and cloud gaming
- Stream games from the cloud or console to mobile devices
- Still in beta
- App in need of improvement
Microsoft has hit the bull’s eye with the Xbox Game Pass. Now the popular game flat rate is also being expanded to include cloud gaming – formerly known as xCloud.
So if you want to play comfortably from the cloud, you only have to be in possession of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for $14 per month.
While the game subscription has been fine-tuning for some time, the cloud gaming offer is still in beta. Accordingly, the service should be used with caution for now. This is particularly evident in the mobile app, which still looks rather unfinished.
Despite the beta status, you already have the option to choose from over 100 Xbox titles and stream them from the cloud to your smartphone – both via WiFi and the cellular network.
Console gamers also benefit from Xbox Console Streaming: Here you can stream the games directly from your own Xbox to a mobile device. So if you have already subscribed to the Game Pass, you could definitely consider an upgrade.
2. Google Stadia
- Stadia Base can be used free of charge (limited to Full HD / 60 FPS)
- New free games every month for Stadia Pro owners
- Optional controller with useful additional functions
- Games must be purchased separately
- Purchased games are tied to the platform
- Patchy crossplay
Google is currently pursuing a completely different concept with its Stadia cloud gaming offering. Stadia is an independent platform, such as the PC or the PS5. This means that only games that you have purchased separately for the platform or that are included in the Stadia Pro subscription for just under 10 euros per month can be streamed via Stadia.
The free version of Stadia Base supports streaming in Full HD with 60 FPS and is therefore the ideal opportunity to try out the service without hesitation. Gaming in full 4K resolution, 60 FPS, and 5.1 surround sound is reserved for the paid Stadia Pro offer.
The seamless integration of Stadia into their previous Google ecosystem is also praiseworthy. For example, if you opt for the Premiere Edition, you will receive the Stadia Controller including Google Chromecast Ultra in addition to the Pro subscription.
The latter is necessary for gaming on the television, while the controller is purely optional. Thanks to dedicated buttons for screenshots and the Google Assistant, it is smarter than ordinary gamepads.
When it comes to online titles, not every game immediately supports cross-platform crossplay. It would therefore be advisable to find out more about this and to take this into account when making a purchase decision.
3. Nvidia GeForce Now
- Free version available
- Pre-installed games make it easier to use
- Changing selection of games
- Supports ray tracing
- Limited session duration (up to six hours depending on the subscription)
- Sometimes very long waiting times
Nvidia’s contender for the cloud gaming throne is called GeForce Now and has its own concept: There is a predefined selection of games that, with several hundred titles (and the trend is rising), is significantly more extensive than, for example, the competitor Stadia.
Games that have already been purchased can also be downloaded within a very short time or they are already preinstalled and you can start playing right away. However, some niche titles may not be available, which is why it would be advisable to take a look at the list of supported games beforehand.
The next big difference is especially noticeable in the free version of GeForce Now: Here the maximum session duration is limited to just one hour. You can log in for the next session an unlimited number of times after the time has elapsed, but you will often have to expect longer waiting times, especially at peak times.
In the long run, this can quickly lead to frustration. This is where the chargeable Founder’s Edition comes into play. This solves both problems by allowing you to play for up to six hours at a time and also taking a prioritized position in the queue.
Editor’s opinion: “With 50 Mbit DSL and 5 GHz WLAN, the performance is not perfect, but especially with activated ray tracing, Cyberpunk 2077 makes a lot more of a cloud than the version on the PS4 Pro.
The PS4 controller was recognized on the Mac without any problems, but the controls are still based on the layout of the Xbox controller in places, which sometimes requires rethinking. If you don’t mind occasional jerking or increased input lag, you can hardly go wrong with GeForce Now. “
For approximately $105 per month, you can even enjoy ray tracing, which should be another incentive for the subscription in view of rising graphics card prices. If you take out an annual subscription, you then only pay the equivalent of around 8 euros per month.
- Streaming in 4K with 60 FPS or Full HD with 144 FPS possible
- Numerous possible uses outside of gaming
- Available for PC, Mac, Linux, and Android
- Even more powerful configurations in the future
- Handling the virtual machine could be easier
- Long activation time
- High price
If you are looking for a true all-rounder among cloud gaming services, Shadow is the right place. Here you get access to your own virtual Windows PC. So you can stream every game you own from the cloud. In addition, users can also use this virtual computer for numerous things apart from gaming. Photo editing or video editing? No problem.
Even more powerful configurations are to be added in the future. So if you are willing to dig a little deeper into your pocket, you get access to all the more powerful hardware and can even benefit from ray tracing or more storage space on your virtual PC.
It should be said that even the cheapest subscription is more than sufficient to play almost any popular title with up to 4K resolution and smooth 60 FPS – provided you have an internet connection.
Only the enormously long activation time, which currently seems to take several months, puts a damper on the otherwise really attractive offer. We can only hope that Shadow will optimize this even further in the future and that interested gamers won’t have to wait that long.
5. PlayStation Now
- Large selection of PS2, PS3, and PS4 games
- Numerous titles can also be played offline
- Selected PS4 exclusives playable on PC
- PS4 controller required (even on the PC)
- Often only short-term availability of games
- Game streaming limited to 720p and 30 FPS
Sony’s subscription service doesn’t even require a console. Because PlayStation Now works not only on PS4 but also on Windows PCs (optionally with Dualshock controller). The service is available for $9.99 a month, $19.99 for three months, or $44.99 for one year.
The extensive program includes over 800 games from all genres that originally appeared on the PS2, PS3, or PS4. You can get a taste of the service thanks to a seven-day trial phase.
The titles can either be downloaded (not for PS3 games) or streamed directly – depending on whether you have enough hard drive space or a good internet connection.
Caution: Some games are only available for a few months, which is why they should be tackled first. Scores remain locally or in the cloud and can continue to be used with the purchase of the purchased versions.
The selection of games is excellent: there are must-haves such as GTA 5, Uncharted 4, The Last of Us, and Persona 5. PS3 classics such as Red Dead Redemption, Metal Gear Solid 4, Bioshock, or Fallout New Vegas are also convincing.
Multiplayer games (e.g. in GTA Online or Elder Scrolls Online) are also possible via PS Now. Trophies can also be won. Sony recommends a bandwidth of at least 5 Mbit / s for streaming.
In practice, however, 25 Mbit / s and connection via LAN cable are advisable. Otherwise, dropouts and stuttering can occur every now and then. In short, PlayStation Now offers a wide range of products at a fair price.
Cloud gaming provider: This is how we tested
Cloud gaming is now available on almost all common platforms. For this reason, it was also important for us to cover each of these areas within our selection. This is to ensure that, ideally, there is a suitable provider for everyone.
Hence, in order to be able to give you the best possible overview, in addition to our own experiences, we have also incorporated external opinions into our decision.
At this point it should be mentioned that cloud gaming is still a relatively new concept. At the same time, however, this is developing rapidly, which is particularly evident from the individual providers. These offer you more and more features or new subscription models that combine both a game flat rate and cloud gaming.
Cloud gaming: how does it even work?
As a rule, most of the cloud streaming services work in the same way: You have a server with extremely powerful hardware at your disposal, on which your games actually run.
Only the output image is streamed to your respective device via an app. Therefore it doesn’t matter how much power it has. The external server does the real work.
That means: As long as the device of your choice (be it a smartphone, pc, console, etc) can play videos smoothly, you can probably fall back on cloud gaming without further ado.
What internet connection is required?
As is well known, the devil lies in the detail. The most important factor when it comes to gaming from the cloud: is a fast and stable internet connection.
Here, of course, the numerous cloud gaming services try to undercut each other by advertising with the lowest possible minimum requirements in relation to the required Internet performance. This information ranges between 5 Mbit / s up to 35 Mbit / s or more.
The rule of thumb is: The better your gaming experience should be (FPS, refresh rate, resolution, and graphics quality), the more powerful your internet must be.
So that you don’t lose track of so many numbers, here is a short calculation example. Assuming you have a 16,000 line, this would correspond to a speed of around 16 Mbit / s. Most services, however, require at least 20 Mbit / s so that you can play with at least a resolution of 1080p and a smooth 60 FPS.
Our recommendation: For the best gaming experience, you should have at least a 50,000 line and you should also look for a reliable provider – a LAN cable is also usually more reliable than a connection via WLAN.
Conveniently, you can have your Internet speed tested directly on the website of some providers such as Google Stadia. So you can find out in advance whether an upgrade of your own internet is even necessary.
This is how the services differ from each other
At first glance, the cloud gaming offerings may all look very similar, but they are very different from one another in some points. It starts with what resolution you want to play in.
While some services only offer a resolution of 1080p, with other services you can even play in 4K resolution or with an increased refresh rate of 144 Hz. Again, everything depends on your available internet connection – more pixels or FPS always need more bandwidth.
The next big point would be the games themselves. Many of the providers offer a predefined selection of games. Experience has shown that this is constantly being expanded, but should your absolute favorite game still not be there, it could be a knockout criterion.
It would therefore be advisable to find out about the games catalog on offer in advance. In the case of Shadow, you will even be provided with a complete virtual Windows PC. In this case, you have theoretically unlimited possibilities that do not have to be limited to gaming.
The future of cloud gaming
At this point, other cloud gaming services that are currently in the starting blocks should be mentioned.
So would Medion get involved in the cloud gaming sector – the company is most well known for its regular low-cost gaming computer of the same name brand.
In order to further consolidate its position in the gaming sector, the company would therefore like to launch Medion ERASER Cloud Gaming as soon as possible. Similar to the competition, there should also be a predefined selection of games here.
In the beginning, however, this should be limited to only about 50 titles, all of which will be included in the subscription for $9.99 per month. It also remains to be seen which games are involved and which ones will be added in the future.
The shipping giant Amazon also wants to gain a foothold in the cloud gaming segment in the future. Their service is called Amazon Luna and is currently still in the early access phase. It is interesting that similar to Google Stadia, there is a controller specially developed for the service – including Alexa voice recognition, of course.
You currently pay $5.99 per month and get access to a growing number of games that can be streamed on up to two devices at the same time: PC, Mac, Fire TV, iOS and selected Android smartphones are currently supported.
The separate subscription for Ubisoft games, which should also be usable in combination with the cloud gaming service, could also be exciting. However, the service is only available in the US for the time being.
In the meantime, the numerous subscription structures also seem to mix more and more and thus hybrid offers are appearing here and there. Both subscriptions not only offer you a game flat rate , but can also be used to stream games simultaneously to your console, PC or even your smartphone.
The cloud gaming trend is just getting started. It will therefore be exciting to see in which direction the market will develop. But one thing is already certain: gamers in particular are benefiting from the ever-increasing range of games and the corresponding streaming options.
Such services can be a great alternative, especially in times when high-performance hardware is increasingly becoming a rare commodity.