Jul 10, 2015

Posted by in Featured, Hardware | 2 Comments

Distributed Gaming

SteamStreamingDiagram

It seems the days of being tethered to your platform of choice directly are pretty much over.

The PC’s domineering distribution channel Steam has it’s in-home streaming option which requires you to have a Steam Machine* on the receiving end. Of course, you can also get a supported Nvidia card and it’s own set-top device to stream any** game to any other viewing rectangle of your choice.

The Playstation 4 has streaming to a limited number of devices. The Vita is one, although you have to contend with the remapping of the controller’s shoulder buttons to the back touch panel on the Vita, which is something you need to practice with. There’s also the PSTV, a slip of a box that can be hidden almost anywhere, sports the Vita’s UI, and can receive PS4’s signals.

Upcoming Windows 10 has XBox One streaming baked in. While Microsoft has gotten hammered in the past for tight coupling of products and services to their OS, I think this one is a real winner. The only problem is that you need to have a Windows 10 device connected to your viewing rectangle, so unless you invest in a dedicated box to hook up to your TV’s and monitors, you’ll be gaming on the couch (at the XB1) or at your desk (via Win 10).

However, in playing with the Windows 10 preview and streaming XB1 to the PC, I wondered what the options were for connecting devices to other TVs in my house. In essence, it’s not at all different from what you’d have to do for Steam’s In Home Streaming, since SteamOS can run on a PC. The PS4 streaming is a no-brainer: you just need to buy a bunch of PSTVs and connect them to the TVs in your home. But there might be a bit more work involved in streaming XB1 or Steam.

According to the FAQ on the subject, the destination device must have the following specs:

For best performance, we recommend that your Windows 10 PC have:

  • At least 2 gigabytes of RAM
  • 1.5-GHz CPU or faster
  • Network connection to your home network:
    • Best performance: Wired Ethernet connection
    • Good performance: Wireless – 5-GHz 802.11 N or 802.11 AC wireless access point
    • Limited performance: Wireless – 2.4-GHz 802.11 N or 802.11 AC wireless access point

My first choice was the Raspberry Pi 2. Microsoft has a Windows 10 “Internet of Things” (IoT) edition that will run on the Pi. The Pi itself doesn’t measure up to the “best performance” specs, which isn’t to say that it wouldn’t work, only that your performance might suffer. Upon investigation into Win 10 IoT, however, I learned that it’s not a “Windows 10” so much as it is the Windows 10 bedrock: the libraries and base OS, but no UI and therefor no features that would allow for streaming.

The next investigation lead me to the “PC on a stick”. These look a little more promising, such as the Intel version which features a 1.3Ghz ATOM processor, 2GB of RAM, built in wi-fi and Bluetooth, SDXC slot, USB 2 port, and 32 GB of onboard storage. The linked product comes pre-installed with Windows 8.1, which should qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 10. Other manufacturers are pumping out their own sticks with roughly similar specs:

While the specs on these aren’t a dead-match for the “best performance” recommendations for Xbox One streaming, they’re pretty close. With 32GB of on board space, and for those who support an SD card, you could even install Steam and have the device perform double duty Xbox One and Steam In Home Streaming. Of course, this is speculation based solely on the “on the box” specifications and requirements for the setup to perform; these sticks will not sport the best GPU, but it seems that both XB1 and Steam requires H.264 encoding and 1080p video support — which I believe these sticks do, though I’m not a hardware guy — so they just might work.

 

* “Steam Machine” meaning a machine running the dedicated SteamOS, or another system running Steam client (I believe)
** Not sure if there’s a laundry list of restrictions on the games you can stream via Nvidia’s “Shield” technology.

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  1. FWIW when I tested this my laptop was on a WiFi connection and it seemed to work quite well.

    You might also want to note that XB1 to Win 10 streaming requires an XB1 or Xbox 360 controller. There’s no way to emulate controller commands via keyboard or anything. So your device has to have a USB port (which most probably do) and drivers (though XB1 Controller drivers are baked into Win 10, I believe).

    • Scopique says:

      I do believe that the PC on a stick (the ones I actually looked at, at least) have at least one USB port on them. I guess that would allow for a USB cable and/or the eventual USB dongle for the XB1 controllers.

What do you think?