In the modern world, everyone loves to play Video games. Video Games require processing power, and that power is too expensive. The new consoles start at $300!, and gaming PCs can easily cost several thousand dollars. There’s a less expensive alternative that’s slowly picking up steam, though.
Game streaming services let you play as if you have a gaming PC or console right in front of you, only they’re located in a server rack somewhere else in the country. These services give you access to big gaming power for a monthly fee; all you need is a modest PC or mobile device to play. We’re here to walk you through how these services work, how much they cost, and which are the best ones we’ve tested so far.
What Is a Game Streaming Service?
Game streaming lets you remotely access hardware on the service’s servers. You use a client to log into a powerful PC over the internet, and the games you play run on that PC instead of your own hardware. The client simply provides a live feed of the video and audio coming from the server hardware and sends all of your inputs to that server to translate into gaming commands. Essentially, you’re controlling a computer that isn’t in front of you and seeing everything that the computer displays.
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What Is the Best Game Streaming Platform?
Most of the time services feature Windows 10(recent windows launch Windows 11) clients, which effectively let you turn even a cheap work laptop into a high-end gaming PC. PC clients have the added benefit of supporting Ethernet connections, as well as Wi-Fi. Every publicly released game streaming service is available on Windows 10 (recent windows launch windows 11) in some form, either as a dedicated app (GeForce Now, PlayStation Now, Shadow etc) or in a web browser (Stadia, Amazon Luna). Xbox Game Pass Ultimate’s cloud gaming feature doesn’t have a Windows 10 client (its coming to the Xbox app later this year), but you can give it a try via a web browser.
Use a smartphone to play games on most streaming services. Every service except PlayStation Now has an Android app, though the iOS game streaming ecosystem is a lot shakier with some disputes on letting certain services run on iPhones and iPads. Just remember you’ll be playing console and PC games on a smaller smartphone or tablet screen, which can feel awkward.
Several of the services also have straight-to-TV options, with extra hardware. For example, Google Stadia features a Stadia controller that you pair with a Chromecast Ultra to access Stadia on your TV (the service still doesn’t work yet with Chromecast with Google TV, but functionality will be added later this month). PlayStation Now works on any PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5. Amazon Luna works with Amazon Fire TV devices.
How Do You Stream Games?
If your internet is slow or inconsistent, the inputs you send won’t come through properly, and you’ll experience gameplay lag and glitches. More than a fraction of a second of lag between your commands and the system responding can make a game unplayable. Need to improve internet speed.
Depending on the game streaming service, you’ll need an internet connection with speeds that are at least 5Mbps to 20Mbps.if you have already that is perfect. You don’t need a wired hookup, but it helps, as does 5GHz Wi-Fi. You don’t want to skimp on your router for these services, and you should seriously consider a fibre(LAN: Local area network) connection if it’s available in your area.
With a fast and consistent connection, gameplay can feel instantaneous, with an input lag of milliseconds. This makes most games perfectly playable, though it might still be too slow for competitive gaming. If you’re controlling a multiplayer shooter or fighting game, every frame can make a difference, and you might not want to rely on a streaming service in those cases.
What Else Do You Need?
Almost certainly need a gamepad. Stadia works best with the Google Stadia Controller, but it’s compatible with the Xbox Wireless Controller, the Sony DualShock 4, and some Bluetooth controllers. Amazon Luna works with some Bluetooth gamepads, but the Luna Controller is the best way to play over that service. GeForce Now works best with an Xbox Wireless Controller, but you can also use any XInput-compatible wireless gamepad. PlayStation Now is compatible with DualShock 4, DualSense, and Xbox controllers.
Shadow, while, works with any gamepad that’s agreeable with Windows 10, but you’ll also want a keyboard and mouse. After all, you’re accessing a Windows 10 PC immediately, so the capacity to move a pointer and enter text is helpful. You can use a touch screen and on-screen keyboard if you’re using the Shadow Android app, but if you want to get the most out of a Windows PC, you really need a mouse and keyboard.
Ready to stream video games? Here are the best game streaming services we’ve tested.
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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate isn’t a streaming service on its own, but it covers all of the bases, whether you’re a PC or Xbox gamer. For $14.99 per month, it includes a selection of more than 100 games for both Xbox and Windows 10, rotating regularly and including appealing choices. It also features cloud gaming as part of the membership, accessible on Android devices. In this case, the game streaming is a bonus feature that’s still in beta, but we’ve been impressed by how well it works so far.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Review
Amazon Luna is another early access service, but it impressed us in our tests. It offers multiple, channel-based choices for game streaming, starting with a compelling (if uneven) games selection on the $5.99-per-month Amazon’s Luna+ channel and $14.99-per-month Ubisoft+ channel. We strongly recommend getting the $49.99 Amazon Luna Controller, as it uses its own Wi-Fi connection to improve performance (the controller also makes it easy to switch between Luna-compatible devices).
Amazon Luna Review
Nvidia GeForce Now
GeForce Now doesn’t provide any games, but it lets you stream titles from your own Steam, Epic Game Store, and UPlay libraries (including Fortnite and more than 80 other free-to-play titles). If you own a gaming PC with a RTX graphics card, you’ll be happy to know that GeForce Now supports ray tracing, too. The rather sudden removal of Blizzard’s games last year means that you can’t be certain if a title you want to play will stay on the service. Still, if you want to try GeForce Now without paying the $9.99 monthly Priority subscription ($99.99 per year), you can use the service for free, with the limitation of one-hour sessions, less access to servers, and no RTX compatibility.
Nvidia GeForce Now Review
Sony PlayStation Now
PlayStation Now’s $9.99-per-month membership ($4.99 monthly, with an annual subscription) doesn’t let you buy games but provides access to a library in the hundreds. In fact, the streaming catalogue spans the entire PlayStation family’s lifetime. It’s hardly a complete library, but it’s a huge list with numerous gems. Think of it as Netflix for PlayStation games.
Sony PlayStation Now Review
Shadow was originally one of our top picks, given its $12-per-month subscription offered full access to a remote Windows 10 PC (with higher tiers adding power features like ray tracing). Since we reviewed it, though, the company changed ownership and the subscription price increased to $30 per month, with no ray tracing option. Shadow still lets you play your own games in a lag-free fashion, but the service is closed to new subscribers until later in the year.
If you like retro gaming, check out AntStream. This streaming service focuses almost exclusively on 1980s-era arcade and computer (Amiga, Commodore 64, and Spectrum ZX) games. Featuring more than 1,000 titles, Antsream has one of the largest streaming libraries, but most of those games are at least 30 years old, and may not appeal to everyone.
Antstream Arcade Review.
Google Stadia is the most limited video game streaming service. You can play free games every month with the $9.99 Stadia Pro membership but otherwise must buy your games individually through Stadia. These titles remain on Stadia, and cannot be downloaded or incorporated into any other digital game library. More than 100 games are currently available on Stadia, but it’s still an extremely limited list.
Google Stadia Review