Google’s Project Stream showcases realtime software streaming

The concept of local processing power may eventually lose its meaning as full software streaming becomes reality.

Google recently conducted a closed-beta test of its latest streaming service codenamed Project Stream. While most companies have focused on video streaming services to date, the objective of Project Stream instead lies in high fidelity video game streaming.

This means that users aren’t required to download or install the actual game files on their computer to be able to play the game in question. Instead, all game content (including the massive polygon load associated with modern graphics) are streamed through an Internet connection and delivered straight to a Chrome browser tab, similar to watching a video on YouTube.

The benefits of this are twofold: there is no need for a large installation that eats room on your hard drive or SSD, and machines previously incapable of running a particular game can stream it since graphical processing happens on Google’s side. The trade-off, at least at the moment, is that one needs a fast Internet connection, and graphical settings can’t be altered locally, meaning you have to make due with the resolution and graphical settings the game is being streamed at. Streaming an entire video game also eats up a lot of data, so it might be a good idea to try this with an unlimited data plan.

Project Stream made its maiden flight bringing Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey to the Chrome browser. (Source: Google)

Catherine Hsiao, the Product Manager for Project Stream called video game streaming the “next technical frontier for streaming.” Addressing some of the challenges associated with streaming, such as large volumes of data she stated, “When streaming TV or movies, consumers are comfortable with a few seconds of buffering at the start, but streaming high-quality games requires latency measured in milliseconds, with no graphical degradation.”

The beta test was carried out using Ubisoft’s newly released Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and reports appear to be mostly cautiously optimistic. Most participants reported that the only real downsides were not having manual control of graphical settings, and the initial run not supporting ultra-wide screen resolutions. As mentioned previously, the only real concrete requirement is a high-speed Internet connection, with Google recommending a 25 Mbps line at the minimum. The service is also only available in the U.S. at the moment, and doesn’t support the Chrome mobile browser, only the latest PC version running on either Windows, ChromeOS, macOS X, or Linux.

What do we think?

The future of full video game (and other software) streaming is definitely promising, although some technical drawbacks still exist. It’s entirely possible that in the near future, software streaming services will supplant traditional notions of software ownership just like Netflix destroyed the concept of renting a physical DVD. As network speeds continue to increase, the reliance on local processing power seems like a natural trade-off. It could allow the form factor and weight of devices to decrease even further; eventually, all you’d need is a screen connected to the Internet to run even the most high-end programs. For example, at Adobe Max this year, the company promised a full working version of Photoshop for iPad via the cloud in 2019. There are clear upsides for the CAD industry as well, as companies like OnShape have been saying. Expenditures on in-house computing horsepower go away and programs are more accessible for everyone. Also, content can be stored in the cloud and centrally maintained.

Reviews have been generally positive, but there are some complaints about latency in the forums. The downsides currently seem to lie largely in the realms of privacy and security (assuming network speed issues are solved). If you’d excuse me as I put on my tinfoil hat for a moment, it’s possible to see full software streaming as a double-edged sword in the sense that it removes physical ownership from the owner of the data completely. This might seem trivial when talking about video games, but potentially much more serious when it is, say, a sensitive CAD/CAE design or product. Not only are your files not saved locally, they aren’t even processed locally, everything is done remotely via a large corporations’ server farm. Big companies like Google are also frequent hacking targets, and has recently been caught failing to disclose data breaches to customers. There is also the recent revelation that the Chinese military has been hiding spy chips on server motherboards sold to large companies such as Amazon and Apple (among others).

But I digress, let me take off this clunky piece of tinfoil and get back to the issue at hand. At the end of the day, no one’s data is ever going to be 100% safe, period. However, companies might need to do more to assure enterprise users of the confidentiality of their services when it comes to both cloud storage and software streaming. This technology is still a few years from reaching maturity, but discussing potential issues early is certainly not a bad idea.

Check out the video below for a look at Project Stream’s video game streaming capabilities.

Project Stream in action demoing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. (Source: Google)