One of the big promises Google made for its Stadia streaming service was the chance to play games at their most technically powerful, with 4K resolutions and 60 frames-per-second being one of the company’s regular talking points. No need to pay for an expensive PC!
But when Stadia launched last week and tech wizards like Digital Foundry started measuring what was actually being delivered, reality was a little disappointing. Red Dead Redemption 2, the most high-profile Stadia release, didn’t run at 4K resolutions but 1080 or 1440p. (With Stadia, 1080p streaming is free after you buy a game. 4K requires a subscription.) It was being upscaled to 4K, where the lower resolution image is made to look like it’s running at a higher resolution. Consequently, the game wasn’t spitting out a native 4K image. Huh?
In a statement to Eurogamer, Google pointed the finger at developers:
"Stadia streams at 4K and 60 FPS - and that includes all aspects of our graphics pipeline from game to screen: GPU, encoder and Chromecast Ultra all outputting at 4k to 4k TVs, with the appropriate internet connection. Developers making Stadia games work hard to deliver the best streaming experience for every game. Like you see on all platforms, this includes a variety of techniques to achieve the best overall quality. We give developers the freedom of how to achieve the best image quality and framerate on Stadia and we are impressed with what they have been able to achieve for day one.
"We expect that many developers can, and in most cases will, continue to improve their games on Stadia. And because Stadia lives in our data centers, developers are able to innovate quickly while delivering even better experiences directly to you without the need for game patches or downloads."
Stadia is not the equivalent of spinning up a high-end PC, it’s a port. A port means you can’t just bruteforce performance with a new graphics card. Given how sloppy everything about Stadia was heading into launch, it’s not surprising the ports aren’t living up to Google’s lofty promises, either. But the company did little to prepare people for this unfortunate revelation.
It won’t be shocking if games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Destiny 2, which also runs at 1080p, are given a resolution bump in the next few weeks, but there’s also no guarantee.
Stadia’s basic tech works—I’ve played with it myself and it’s neat. But it’s also true Stadia was supposed to be the best of the best. That’s why you weren’t paying for a powerful PC. If Google can’t deliver on that promise, or Google can’t compel developers to hit it in the future, Stadia loses a major reason it was interesting.
Stadia has a single, underwhelming exclusive at the moment, so everything about Stadia relies on other games being excellent.
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